photo credit Ryan D Matzner
An article came across my feed this weekend which caught my attention. It is understandable if you missed it amongst the whirlwind of news activity during these unsettling times. This article described an encounter one gentleman named Ryan Matzner had with discarded sneakers outside of a Nike store in Manhattan’s Soho district, left to be tossed in the garbage. While investigating the bags of what appeared to be perfectly usable sneakers, he noticed one major issue: All the sneakers had been intentionally slashed to make sure they couldn’t be worn. As the founder of Wearable Collections, a NYC based clothing and shoe recycling company, this article brought to light a practice that has been bothering me for years.
I am not writing this to bash Nike because I know they are not alone in protecting their brand by this method. I also believe Nike has made great strides in bringing transparency to their supply chain and taken on a leadership with sustainability initiatives and membership in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. What I do find troublesome is that the company who internally developed their own shoe recycling initiative – Nike Reuse a Shoe – doesn’t have built in logistics to handle these sneakers in a better way than tossing them into landfills. If this is happening at Nike, you can only imagine what is going on at other apparel companies across the world.
Nike, better than almost any company, knows what goes into the production of a pair of sneakers. From a labor perspective, from an energy and materials perspective and from a distribution perspective. They have done a tremendous amount of research to figure out the environmental impact and have done a great job of reducing their negative impact. So how can a company so well versed on the issues of sustainability be slashing and tossing it’s own product?
Operating a clothing and shoe recycling company based out of the fashion capital of the world, we have seen our fair share of slashed goods. Probably enough to dress a small country. We are constantly in conversations with apparel companies who want to discard unusable merchandise properly and make their design floors more sustainable. I understand the issues a company may have with trademark and proprietariness but I think some of these are outdated, short sighted and need to be evaluated. The idea that there are trade secrets behind a garment in an industry that rife with designers finding “inspiration” from other designers and brands seems laughable. I also have a hard time accepting the notion that it is a fear of flooding the market with underpriced goods since the amount of garments that are slashed doesn’t make a dent compared to the amount actually sold. Brand protection? Do people really look down on a brand for being compassionate? Let me tell you, once the shoes are purchased and donated at the end of first wearers use, it’s likely that the brand can end up on anyone’s feet in any part of the world.
Slashing goods is an ancient practice that really needs to be updated. But if you must slash the goods, please know that there are myriad companies that can help you handle these goods in a more responsible way. It may even be worthwhile to engage some of these companies beforehand to help re-think end of life uses for these garments that can better utilize these materials and re-purpose them bypassing the need for slashing. In an era where our government is trying its hardest to discredit human impact on the climate, it is important that both individuals and corporations take every step possible to protect the progress we’ve made. It wasn’t that long ago that a similar episode of trashing its own goods led to a PR nightmare for H & M, even trending on twitter for several days. One positive outcome of the incident was that H & M created a take-back/recycling program which has been an industry leader. We can only hope that Nike learns a lesson from this and goes a step further in educating the public on the needs of recycling and providing solutions to do so.
Its December and we are steamrolling into the holiday season. This is a sentimental time for all, a time for reflection and a time for celebrating. It is also a time for indulgent shopping. Many of you are probably in full swing having begun with the incredible deals thrusted upon us on Black Friday. I am not about to stand on a pulpit and tell you how much and what to buy, but I do ask that you take a moment of reflection to think about how much these goods are really needed and all that went into the producing them.
I have been collecting and recycling used clothes and shoes in the New York City Metro area for over a decade with my company Wearable Collections. On a daily basis we see the incredible amounts of excess that surrounds the city. While our focus is on clothing, shoes and home textiles, we have become part of the conversation in broader discussions of waste management and sustainable living. One of our missions since the inception of the company has been to raise awareness to the value of items in the wastestream. Clothing and textiles make up around 5% of the municipal waste stream nationally. While this percentage isn’t as much as materials such as food waste, plastics or paper, clothing is an item that people have a nostalgia for and in many cases remember what they paid for it. When people hand us bags directly at one of the 31 weekly greenmarkets we host collections, we are often blessed with a story of what the clothes meant to that person and how happy they are that they will be enjoyed by another person.
A lot has changed since our founding in 2004 and worldwide people have woken up to all the damage we have caused the environment. The Fashion industry is especially culpable, being dubbed the second largest polluter after Oil. An incredible amount of water is used in producing cotton and polyesters which are then dyed and bleached by harmful chemicals. All of these processes leak into waterways, according to the WHO (World Health Organization) 17-20% of all industrial water pollution resulted from textile dyeing and finishing. Fast fashion companies, with their race to provide us with the lowest prices, demand the people who actually turn these fabrics into wearable garments to work in dangerous conditions at meager pay rates. The fashion we wear to make is look so good can have a very dirty history. Does it have to be this way?
We have just gone through a vicious election cycle. Our president elect has made lots of threats about shutting down borders and penalizing companies who produce goods outside the country to sell back to Americans. While I don’t agree with a lot of his positions, the idea of producing goods locally has been on my mind for a long time. When something is produced locally, we are supporting our local community economically and also have a deeper connection to how the item was produced. How much more are we willing to pay to have a level of transparency and standards built into our consumption? Most folks would say they are willing to do so but in my discussions with fashion executives this theory doesn’t translate into purchases where pricing plays a bigger factor.
It’s easy to point the finger at corporations being profit driven pushing down costs as much as possible to move more product at higher margins. But we do have options. First of all, we have the choice of not buying. Is your friend or family member going to love you more because you showed up with that gift in hand. I am sure a giant hug will suffice. If you are compelled to buy something take a moment to think of all that went into producing that garment. In a year when we are having large debates about how votes are counted, I assure you that every purchase you make is a vote for the company you are buying from. A vote for their methods and practices of production and a vote for their future success. When kids walk into a friends house, they attack their toys with unbridled enthusiasm. Each of these toys is a new toy to them. There is a lot to take from this lesson. Yes, there is a feeling we get when receiving something new but keep in mind, something new to you could be used to others and visa versa.
There’s a lot changing out there from leaves to Presidents, but the one thing that is constant is Wearable Collections desire to make it convenient to participate in our clothing, shoes and home linens collection service. With America Recycles Day coming up on November 15th, what better way to celebrate then then hosting an easy-to-set up drive for your community. Just email us firstname.lastname@example.org so we can coordinate a date that works for both of us and we will customize a flyer for your drive. Afterwards simply Print, Post and Poof! – you got yourself an InstaDrive
Wearable Collections has been a clothing, shoes and home textile recycling business in the NYC metro area since 2004. As you can imagine a lot has changed in the landscape since our inception. Though we have been collecting for over a decade, rarely a day goes by that we don’t get an inquiry about what we accept. This is understandable considering our service reaches hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers annually. While I could quickly write down what we do and don’t accept and hope that message comes across, I’ll save that for a flyer. What I have noticed in my conversations with people on the phone, through email, and face to face is that there are some misconceptions about textile collections, so I would like to use this space to educate and clarify. But to do that I think it’s important that I go back to the beginning.
Wearable Collections was created in 2004. It was created as a fundraising tool for Spinal Cord Injury Research, a topic near and dear to our hearts since one of our co-founders was paralyzed when hit by a car in 2000. Three friends got together and utilized the tools and experiences we had to engage our community in a project to support a cause we cared deeply about. Our goal was to place large bins inside of residential buildings to collect used clothes. A portion of the proceeds generated from the collections and sale of the clothing would go to support Spinal Cord Injury Research. Our friends were very enthusiastic in helping and great at convincing their residential managers that this was a worthy cause for placing such a large bin in their building. Through this grassroots effort we were able to place a couple of dozen bins for what would be the foundation of Wearable Collections. At the same time, we got a crash course in the logistical difficulties of servicing that many bins spread all throughout Manhattan.
Yes, I know this may sound crazy but we actually were founded before the movie Inconvenient Truth came out. As you may know, this seminal movie made by Al Gore had a tremendous impact on raising the consciousness of the environmental impact that humans are having on the planet. It was the beginning, in my estimation, of bringing environmentalism mainstream. We realized that not only what we were doing was impactful by raising funds for Spinal Cord Research, but by keeping clothes, shoes and home textiles in motion rather than in landfills we were also doing something that was very positive for the environment.
Our roots are important to understand, because they explain how Wearable Collections has been a local company that has connected dots where they haven’t been connected in the past and at the same time, doing good! We did not write a business plan, raise a ton of money and set out to be New York’s largest clothing collector. We are a small business, navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of waste management. What we lack in size we make up for in innovation, sometimes planned and sometimes by luck. One of those lucky instances is that from the very beginning we called ourselves clothing recyclers. This placed us in a unique space as most of our “competitors” were charities who accepted “donations”.
Industry standards according to our friends at SMART dictate that for every bag of clean and useable donations:
45% will be re-used as second hand clothes, 30% as rags and 20% will be converted to fiber while discarding only 5%. Being naive to the industry and focused on transparency, we were very early bringing these numbers to light and thought “since the end product of our collections can be turned into either, clothes, rags or fibers, why not say that we accept everything as textile recyclers”. In the early years this worked to our benefit and we were able to ride a wave as a unique, innovative company that was changing the way people thought about their clothing discards. It also helped us garner a lot of media attention and to establish amazing relationships that we are still blessed to have to this day.
In the years following we have been doing some amazing things. Growing our residential building network to over 250 bins. In 2008, we established a relationship with GrowNYC to power the clothing and textile collections at Greenmarkets that has grown from 2 to 30 weekly locations and responsible for diverting over 4 million lbs. We have hosted drives with hundreds of schools across the NYC metro area even piloting a citywide drive with the DOE Office of Sustainability this past April as part of Earth Month. We have consulted and provided services to some of the leading fashion brands in the world to help them reduce waste and keep goods otherwise destined for landfills in motion. We also proved that no task was too big when we partnered with the New York Road Runners to clean up the starting line of the New York City Marathon diverting over 30,000 lbs of clothing and shoes. Where others see problems, we see opportunities.
How We Work
Wearable Collections position in the clothing, shoes and textile recycling industry hierarchy is thus: we are front-end collectors focused on educating people on the need to dispose of their clothing properly while providing convenient solutions to do so. Once collected, we bring the bags of clothing untouched to a sorting facility who pays us a market rate for these items. These sorting facilities play a huge role in the recycling industry as they process and grade millions of pounds of used clothing monthly determining the final destinations for these materials. The majority of second hand clothes will be exported to emerging markets in Africa, South America and Central America. While there is a recycling component for rags and fibers, it is the reuse of second hand that economically drives the whole textile recycling industry. The sorters rely on a certain percentage (45%) to be reusable as second hand, and they demand this from the collectors as well. For the past several years the American dollar has been a very strong currency, putting pressure on companies that export goods. This is not something you hear much in America as we are net importers. But for those of us that rely on the exporting of goods a strong dollar has affected demand and required that we provide the sorters with a higher quality product. With the advancement of distribution channels via apps and e-commerce websites selling used clothing and the influx of low quality fast fashion goods entering the market it’s not hard to understand our feeling of swimming upstream.
What We Accept
All of this brings us to the initial question:
We accept clean and gently worn: clothing of all types, shoes of all types, hats, bags accessories, and home linens. If some damaged or stained goods are placed in those reusable bags for donation, don’t worry, we will make sure that they get recycled! The real problem occurs when people break down their donations to wearable and non-wearable and then for some reason bring their wearable items elsewhere while bringing their non-wearable items to us. PEOPLE!! CHECK OUT OUR NAME – its WEARABLE COLLECTIONS. Think of us as a one-stop shop. If we dont bring loads to the sorters that are in-line with the industry standard, we will cease to exist, putting over 2 million lbs of clothing collected annually in jeopardy of being landfilled. We love operating in a city where residents are so educated on global issues so we ask you to be understanding and helpful to us as we work through this global down cycle.
In the meantime be assured that we continue to stay abreast of technological advancements that we hope will make all of this a moot point. There are many incredible companies, like Evrnu, creating a “regenerative supply of high-quality, bio based fiber through the renewal of cotton garment waste.” and Jeplan– taking “used or unwanted personal belongings and bringing them back to their original state and then selling them as new product”. Both of these companies have piqued our interest and offer reasons for optimism. The world seems to be waking up to all destruction the fashion industry is causing led by the fabulous Fashion Revolution movement and their Who Made My Clothes campaign. There are campaigns like #30wears which encourage people to slow down their consumption and amazing fashion companies popping up like Everlane, who focus on “Radical Transparency” creating a quality line of basics at affordable prices even dropping prices of silk garments recently as the price of silk had dropped. Great organizations doing great things!
Working with Wearable Collections
Whether you’re an individual bringing clothes to a bin in your building or a greenmarket, an organization desiring to raise funds through the collections of clothing or a fashion company who needs to move clothing in a responsible way, you can count on Wearable Collections to help develop convenient solutions. This ought to be the takeaway. We place bins inside of buildings, do drives with schools and for those not covered by those two options there is likely a weekly greenmarket collection not too far away from you. Heck, if you have enough bags we will come right to your doorstep. Our programs have been part of a movement that has seen not only more clothing recycling but also e-waste being collected in buildings and composting at both greenmarkets and at residential buildings. It has been amazing to be even minimally be part of breaking down barriers that have led to those other materials being collected conveniently and are very proud to be part of the NYC waste ecosystem. We are driven to raise people’s consciousness of the value of items in our waste stream and believe clothing is a perfect material to start the discussion. We will continue to evolve as the demands from the outside require. We have no choice. While we cannot predict the future, we can stay on top of the present so follow us on social media or join our newsletter. Better yet, set up a drive, request a bin in your building, or email us for a home pick up, your simple actions can go a long way.
All of these are fantastic reads for anyone looking to learn more about fashion and its effects on our environment
The ‘Chilling’ Moment This Father Realized his Kids’ Clothes Come From – Gregory Beyer via The Huffington Post
What if the Unworn Clothes in Your Closet Could Tweet at You to Wear Them – Elizabeth Cline via BK Accelerator
No One Wants Your Old Clothes – Alden Wicker via msn.com