STRATEGIES | Sustainability

Sustainability In A Shared Economy

Investing in Tech and Operational Efficiencies to Meet Consumer Demands.
Katherine Yaphe, Founder of Oliver Yaphe.  

By Suzanne Blecher. Eco-conscious consumption is leading the way, especially in the Millennial mindset and notably, in apparel. One in three women shopped secondhand last year, according to thredUP, the largest thrift store online. Buying a secondhand item extends its life by an average of 2.2 years, as noted in thredUP’s 2018 Resale Report, thus reducing carbon, waste and water footprints by a whopping 73 percent.

ThredUP spokesperson Samantha Blumenthal attributes some of this change for good to the rise in our world’s “sharing economy.” While “a few years ago you would never get into a stranger’s car or stay in someone else’s home, now these practices have been normalized by Uber and Airbnb. Companies like Rent the Runway and thredUP are doing the same for secondhand clothing,” explains the exec.

ThredUP, as well as recycling firm TerraCycle and textile studio Oliver Yaphe, are all on missions to help make buying sustainable goods easier for consumers and rid them of their eco-anxiety. Here’s how.

“We hope this idea sparks other ideas, a little chain reaction of common goodness, consciousness and creativity.”
Katherine Yaphe, Oliver Yaphe Studio

Clever Consignment

ThredUP competes directly with off-price and fast fashion retailers, offering mid-priced brands like J. Crew and Banana Republic, as well as upscale labels such as Gucci and Prada. The site is searchable by category, brand or price. For consumers looking to clean out their closets and sell their wares, you can order a free Clean Out bag from the site, fill it with women’s or children’s clothing, send it back with a prepaid shipping label and the folks at thredUP will evaluate, price and list the items, paying the seller for pieces it can resell. The firm processes a million items a month, with high-end handbags, mid-priced activewear being top performers.

Since its inception in 2008, thredUP has grown to over 1,000 employees and plans to open 100 retail stores by 2020 (there are currently stores in California and Texas). “Our goal is to keep 100 percent of the clothing we get out of landfills, whether that means reselling it on or working with our network of textile distributors to turn clothing that can’t be resold into useful aftermarket products such as pillow stuffing,” says Blumenthal.

Left to right: Donating from your Closet to thredUP, The TerraCycle Lobby.

Riveting Recyclables

Trenton, NJ-based TerraCycle recently created a sustainable waste-management system solution that allows consumers to recycle difficult-to-recycle items, from 3D printing materials to action figures. For textile or fabric waste, the Zero Waste Box (ranging from $98 for a small box to $298 for a large box) can be purchased online and shipped to TerraCycle using a pre-paid FedEx label. A Zero Waste consultant is assigned to address any questions or concerns. Once received, collected fabrics are put into categories and either reused, upcycled or recycled. Mono material fabrics (100 percent cotton or polyester) are recycled. Synthetics are shredded and cotton is pulled apart and used as insulation.

Since 2016, the firm has added 75 employees to its roster due to new and growing programs including a division that collects and processes marine plastic (found on beaches and in waterways) for use in new products. “We are always looking for new solutions for tough waste problems,” comments Lauren Taylor, global VP of communications for TerraCycle.

When asked about the dichotomy in the growth of TerraCycle versus the amount of clothing Americans waste, Taylor notes, “consumerism and disposability are two things that contribute to the amount of waste going to our landfills. The first step is to think whether you really need to purchase the items, and then look for brands doing environmentally positive things. It doesn’t have to mean a massive life overhaul.”

“Our goal is to keep 100 percent of the clothing we get out of landfills.”
Samantha Blumenthal, thredUP

Conscious Collaboration

In May 2018, Oliver Yaphe, a NYC-based textile studio offering handmade textiles, launched a Zerowaste collection. Through this initiative, brand founder Katherine Yaphe worked with kids’ clothing brand Luvmother, turning its fabric waste into one-of-a-kind pillows, rugs and runners. Luvmother designs durable children’s merino wool clothing.

Since Yaphe started the initiative, she says she has “become more aware of my impact as a maker and consumer. If you make something, you will likely have less waste. I don’t want to limit the creative process or the ability to grow my business, but I want to produce goods that will stand the test of time.”

Yaphe has worked with other brands and consolidators who store fabric waste (for example, Fabscrap) to repurpose their remnants and unused treasures. For implementation, the scraps are cut into strips and hand-woven into “zerowaste” yardage. “It’s a labor-intensive process to prepare the scraps for use and then these scraps are woven by hand in Brooklyn to give this otherwise wasted material a new life,” explains Yaphe. The designer hopes to find more collaborators and partners in the future. “We hope this idea sparks other ideas – a little chain reaction of common goodness, consciousness and creativity,” she says.

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