Upcycle Lifestyle has recently become a 100% waste-free handmade business and I'd like to share the importance of reducing textile waste.
Upcycle Lifestyle is a handmade business focused on sustainably produced, reusable alternatives to single-use products and grow-with-me children's clothing. All of the products are made by me (Ann Gibson) in my home sewing studio from new and upcycled materials with 100% waste-free production. Before I started my business, I always wondered what happened to the ugly sweaters and other textiles at thrift stores that no one wanted. I wanted to help reduce the amount of textiles being sent to landfills each year. So I began "rescuing" the ugly sweaters from thrift stores and making them into blankets that would be loved, cherished and well used; the first Upcycle Lifestyle product. My vision for Upcycle Lifestyle has always been to reduce consumer waste through reusable alternatives and repurposing fabrics.
Throughout my studies in Environmental Engineering and now my Masters in Environment and Sustainability, my passion has always been waste management. I have a wide range of experience related to waste management from working at a landfill to environmental compliance reporting and consulting. This year I decided to take reducing consumer waste one step further with my business. I made the conscious decision to make my production 100% waste-free. Through the introduction of new products, market research and community outreach, I have achieved that goal.
For me, waste free means keeping wasted resources out of the landfill and also reducing the amount of recycling I produce. Basically, all raw materials that come into my studio will leave as product. Packaging materials have been the hardest part to reduce as I am stuck with what my suppliers use. I make bulk purchases to reduce the amount of packaging and donate all empty thread spools and boxes to the local youth groups and classrooms. The smaller products, reusable facial round and nursing pads, are made from the fabric scraps left over from the clothing. Once the scraps are too small to sew with, they are used to stuff pet beds which are donated to the Stratford Perth Humane Society.
Along the journey to waste free production, there have definitely been challenges and frustrations. Researching ways to deal with the textile waste was definitely the biggest challenge. We are increasingly aware that we over-produce waste but finding feasible solutions is where we struggle as a society. Most of the research I found would be more applicable in a large city, where drop-off locations for textile recyclers are available. The City of Markham has already diverted 1.4 million kilograms of textiles from the landfill in their first year with a textile recycling program, so there clearly is a need. This forced me to become more creative in my search for solutions and think more critically about the problem; shifting my thinking from where to take it to what can I make with it. Once I had decided to use the scraps as stuffing, the next challenge was to find a shelter that was interested in the donation of beds. I am frustrated by the amount of unnecessary packaging used by some suppliers and have sent some emails requesting change.
Being able to share the importance of reducing textile waste as well as replacing single-use products with customers is a huge benefit of moving to waste-free production. As a consumer, it is important to know where your products are coming from, how workers are treated, and the environmental impacts of the production as well as the product itself. Education on the issue is so important and the best way to pass on that knowledge is to talk to more people about it!
Are you a maker or consumer looking to reduce waste in your production and/or daily life? My advice to you is research and be creative in your solutions. There likely isn't a simple answer to the problem or we would all be doing it already. Don't give up when you find barriers; find a way to work around them.