Jess Schreiber started FABSCRAP to curb commercial textile waste and inspire an ethos of … [+]
Jess Schreiber grew up in rural New Mexico. She enjoyed camping and hiking in national parks with her family – yet environmental stewardship wasn’t on her radar. That changed in college when she grew interested in recycling, then obsessed, later taking a job with the New York City Department of Sanitation. Ashoka’s Annie Plotkin-Madrigal sat down with Jess to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey, how she came to focus on a waste stream few were paying attention to, and what she’s doing about it.
Jess, not everyone gets enthralled by textile waste. How did you?
Ha! I joined the NYC Department of Sanitation for a waste characterization study where we got to sort trash into categories – 180 of them – and analyze waste patterns across the city. This was fascinating and led to my overseeing the city’s clothing recycling program and a chance to look closely at what was happening with post-consumer textile waste – all the garments and shoes and accessories and home goods that city residents throw away.
How much stuff is that?
New York City residents throw out 200,000 tons annually, 14 times the weight of the Brooklyn Bridge – that’s every single year and just one city. Nationwide, it’s about 12.8 million tons of post-consumer clothing discarded per year, or about 6-7% of the waste stream of most cities. That’s all used textiles.
Wow – those are big numbers.
Yes, but that’s just what families and individuals throw out. I started to hear from clothing brands that they needed an outlet for fabric and leather and yarn and trims – the excess raw materials. Turns out, this was a huge need across brands – it was a problem in the industry. I wanted more details, so I pulled some brand reps, about 30 of them at the time, into an informal working group.
Why were they open to joining? I mean, reducing waste wasn’t in their job description, was it?
No. But many were working independently of their brands, looking for solutions where they could find them. So when we got together, they non-competitively shared a lot of information about how much they were throwing away, what material type it was, how often it was tossed. It felt like we had landed on a big problem that wasn’t getting the attention it deserved: commercial textile waste from the fashion industry. What started as one get-together became a focus group and the basis for the organization I started, FABSCRAP.
So now you focus on pre-consumer textile waste?
Correct. We’re creating a thrift infrastructure for raw materials similar to what exists for used goods. Nothing that we pick up is used – it’s all excess from fashion companies. We work with brands to keep fabrics out of the landfill, and sort and redistribute the material to extend its life.
How big is this waste stream?
Good question. The answer is: we don’t really know. Companies don’t have strong or standard reporting requirements, so we don’t know how much businesses throw away, what they’re throwing away, how often, or where it’s going. Discovering this gap made me really passionate about wanting companies to develop more transparency and more accountability for their resource use.
So now FABSCRAP provides a snapshot of commercial textile waste in New York City, cumulatively in annual reports. And every brand that works with us gets a customized report: how much we collect, if it was reused, recycled, landfilled, and why – and the conversion to CO2 savings so these efforts can be immediately understood, marketable internally, and shared with shareholders and consumers.
What else does FABSCRAP do?
In New York, FABSCRAP runs a textile waste reducing service for the fashion industry, interior design, costumes departments for Broadway, and now TV/movie sets. Our volunteers, many of them design students, help sort incoming material for reuse and recycling. We make high-quality designer materials available at thrift store prices at our warehouse in Brooklyn and our new shop in Manhattan.
We’re working to reframe the conversation about textile waste and show that it is a commodity stream/resource more similar to glass or plastic or paper – and it needs, and increasingly demands, fully circular solutions. Companies pay our nonprofit for this service – which helps them to both internalize the costs of their waste and fund the infrastructure needed to solve it. So we are careful to use words like reuse and redistribute rather than donate.
Ultimately, we want to stop the waste before it happens, which means working alongside designers and companies. For example, there’s currently no recycling solution for spandex so making designers aware of this at the design phase is an important first step. We try to encourage designers and consumers alike to opt for natural fibers like cotton, linen, silk, wool, as opposed to synthetic fibers which are essentially plastics. We’re seeing some tech in development for ‘end of life’ circularity of certain fibers, and we try to share these updates too.
You’re adding 15 new brands to the service every month, how do they find you?
Almost everyone who introduces FABSCRAP to their company is not C-suite level. We’re hearing from people at all levels in the industry who are just doing their jobs, but with an openness to finding solutions and being part of a bigger shift. We see a lot of employee engagement and people acting as changemakers in their workplace – this is the new way change is happening, in fashion and other industries.
Why is now an important moment?
A few reasons. Many companies are still in the measuring and benchmarking phase – they want to understand more about inefficiencies in their current supply chain so they can make smart decisions. But they are ready to invest much more in sustainability. And on the consumer side, there’s growing demand, similar to the way that the organic food movement got traction and went from niche to mainstream. Sustainable fashion has a lot of similar aspects: what we wear everyday has implications for our health, resource use, and the rights of people and animals. And millennial shoppers and consumers are especially tuning in – they want to put their money behind brands that they see prioritizing the planet, people, and our future.
The article was origianlly posted at: %xml_tags[post_author]% %author_name% Source%post_title%