Taking what’s old and making it new again is a very traditional concept, and one that, sadly, current society has all but abandoned. There isn’t a whole lot of mending or fixing going on these days, at least in the richer parts of the world.
The innovative Renewal Workshop has plans to change that, though, and is whisking tons of clothing and fabrics away from landfills and giving them a second life by transforming them into “renewed apparel, upcycling materials, and recyclable feedstock.”
The Cascade Locks, Oregon company is crystal-clear about its mission: “We don’t believe in living like everything and everyone around us is disposable, and leaving our planet damaged and depleted because changing the system is too big of a challenge,” the entrepreneurs say. “It’s not. We’re doing it every day. We’re recovering value and reducing waste.”
The company takes designer-label clothes that are excess inventory, were returned by customers, or were damaged during shipping and thoroughly inspects them. If the items are deemed fixable, they are put through an environmentally friendly cleaning process that restores them to “clean-as-new”—without using water. (We know—it sounds magical.) Any clothes that are beyond repair are “upcycled,” so they are transformed into something new or separated and recycled. “Our goal is to ensure a zero waste system that recovers the full value out of what has already been created,” the company says.
Renewal Workshop’s fixes include replacing broken zippers, finding buttons to match any that are missing, and locating thread that will make sewing repairs invisible. The business works with brands to come up with repair standards that meet with approval on both sides, and it adds its own label to the garment to prove that it’s certified and has gone through a thorough renewal process.
Because of the nature of the product return process, there’s no way to predict which clothes will come back and get a second chance. Often Renewal Workshop offers just one of an item on its website, and that adds to the desirability. Think of it as a hunt for the perfect piece!
Currently Renewal Workshop is working with several brand partners, such as Ibex, prAna, Toad&Co, Mountain Khakis, and Indigenous, that share its environmental concerns and a desire to reduce waste and boost the life-cycle of clothes. At the moment there are only a few companies represented, but the clothes are for both men and women, and you can filter by clothing type to narrow your search. Sizes depend on availability, so patience is required to find the perfect fit.
There’s a lot of buzz these days about “closing the loop” in manufacturing, and Renewal Workshop is helping clothing brands to do just that. Think of it as the circle of life for products—if you can repair, reuse, and recycle everything, that ring remains intact.
The prestigious Ellen MacArthur Foundation acknowledged the company’s work recently when it announced that Renewal Workshop is one of six new Emerging Innovator members of the international Circular Economy 100 Programme.