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Braden Quinn modelling his upcycled apparel.

How a growing community is diverting clothing waste from Vancouver landfills

Clothing is a significant contributor to the global waste problem

By Braela Kwan , in City Feature story , on October 22, 2018

When clothing designer Braden Quinn watched a documentary about the impact of fashion on the planet called The True Cost, he went to his sewing machine and decided to make a change.

“Nobody was really saying or doing anything about it,” said Quinn, who has been sewing clothing for almost two years.

Concerned with the wasteful culture of the fashion industry, Quinn founded Tapes – an online clothing business — in February 2018 to provide a trendy alternative to throwing away clothes. Tapes, which launched its online website this month, collects secondhand clothing items and transforms them into new garments for sale, a process called “upcycling.”

“We’re being inventive with what we have and creating something beautiful out of something perceived as waste,” said Quinn.

Quinn is a part of a growing community in Metro Vancouver that is spearheading innovative clothing projects to mitigate the environmental consequences of the fashion industry by diverting textiles from local landfills.

Clothing is a significant contributor to the global waste problem, with Canadians sending over 12 million tonnes of textiles to landfills annually. In Vancouver, that’s 40,000 tonnes in the garbage.

Rethinking textile waste

Metro Vancouver proposed a ban on textiles in landfills in 2016, but it wasn’t implemented because the government couldn’t find a viable alternative.

Instead, individuals such as Quinn are taking it upon themselves to re-think the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra that has become the dominant paradigm for waste management. The second day of this year’s national Waste Reduction Week, which ran from Oct. 15 to 21, put the spotlight on reducing textile waste.

Clothing-swap attendees shop for pre-loved denim.

Rachel Cheang  encourages participation at the reuse level of the hierarchy for clothing.

“We can acquire new clothing not by purchasing new pieces, but by finding pre-loved items that someone else doesn’t need anymore,” said Cheang, an assistant director at the University of British Columbia’s largest student sustainability organization, Common Energy.

Cheang organized a clothing swap at UBC’s Vancouver campus this fall. Over 200 students and community members brought in their previously worn clothing and shopped among other attendees’ secondhand clothes, enabling participants to reuse clothing instead of throwing away or purchasing new items.

Reinventing the waste model

Other environmental advocates are concentrating on reinventing the traditional waste hierarchy altogether.

At Frameworq Education Society, a local non-profit organization working to extend the lifetime of clothing items within communities, director Irina Molohovsky is doing so by transforming waste perceptions towards “reduce, reuse, repair, then recycle.” Molohovsky hosts Fix-Its, clothing repair workshops across the Lower Mainland. The 22nd Fix-It of the year is scheduled for Oct. 28 at the Mount Pleasant branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

Molohovsky provides supplies and guidance so that attendees can complete repairs on their clothing. She said Fix-Its encourage people to “continue using what they have for longer,” eliminating the need to replace them with new clothes.

Quinn hopes that if more people participate in these textile reuse and repair projects, overall waste production will be reduced.

“The more you buy used clothing, the more you reuse, the more you even just talk about it makes a difference. As more people start to do it, other people will follow along,” said Quinn.