Textile waste at Ryerson is so last season

In just one year, Canada produces enough textile waste to create a mountain three times the size of Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Ryerson’s fashion design program creates a small part of that mountain, due to the lack of fabric recycling in labs on campus.

Although prestigious, the school of fashion doesn’t recycle the extra textiles used in labs. In fact, there is no policy that requires students or faculty to recycle extra fabric or textile scraps.

The Ryerson School of Fashion is housed within Kerr Hall South. (Josie Mills)

Textile recycling is a vital part of caring for the earth, but is often overlooked. According to the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency, 15 per cent of all unwanted fabrics are recycled, but the remaining 85 per cent ends up in landfills. These abandoned clothes and scraps take up valuable space, release methane and toxic leachate and also contribute to climate change.

In an email, Ryerson professor Anika Kozlowski, a contract lecturer at the school of fashion teacher, said that sustainability isn’t part of the curriculum as a whole and that there is only one master’s course that covers ethics and sustainability in fashion.

Otherwise, sustainability is introduced to first-years through one lecture.

“They are made aware, but it is not woven into the curriculum where say, pattern drafting courses or garment construction is accomplished using sustainable methods or taught about alternative sustainable materials or processes,” Kozlowski said.

Waste is not a topic that the curriculum thoroughly deals with.

Kozlowski said that part of the issue is that Ryerson’s primary focus is on education, not research. She added that funding for equipment and labs is difficult.

“We don’t even have knitting machines or studios for dyeing (or) screen printing for students to even explore other methods,” she said.

According to Kozlowski, it is not that the issue of waste is ignored, but that it’s difficult to embed it into a curriculum that isn’t focused on it at its core.

“A new curriculum will be introduced in the next couple of years, but I do not know the level of focus on sustainability in the new program,” Kozlowski said.

Ryerson fashion design graduate Olivia Sparks also found that fabric recycling is taught in theory, but not in practice.

“It’s mentioned in your textiles class, in first and second year, but it’s a lecture-based course,” Sparks said. “It’s not talked about in the lab classes where you’re actually cutting things.”

Sparks said that Ryerson has very high standards, but these can hinder how sustainable the program is and how much waste is created.

The program teaches a step-by-step way of making clothes, which could be compared to the structured way an essay should be written. The student creates a first draft of the design as a sketch on paper and then creates a blueprint of the design pattern. The draft is traced and seam allowance is added to make physical paper pattern pieces. Then, they buy the amount of fashion fabric they think they need.

From there, they make a physical draft that is cut and sewn with muslin, a lightweight plain cotton cloth. Finally, the last piece is cut and sewn with their chosen fabric.

“We often buy too much because having too little in the end is a nightmare,” said Sparks.

Sparks said that one of the rules the school enforces that causes a great amount of waste is that students can’t use muslin that has been drawn on with marking pencil. The muslin has to be pristine, even in the first draft. This means that after the muslin is used for drafting, it is trashed.

Typically, 15 per cent of the material used is left on the floor after using traditional cutting methods.

Luke Severin, a fourth-year fashion design student, put most of the responsibility to recycle on the students.

“They can get lazy when projects get crazy and it’s not really the sort of thing they think about. We just sort of end up throwing everything in the same garbage bin unconsciously,” he said. “I’ve definitely been guilty of that during long nights in the lab.”

Like Sparks, Severin said that most of what is taught about the environmental impact of fashion is theoretical topics like sustainable design methods such as zero waste or up-cycling.

“It would be nice to have more actual hands-on projects using these techniques. I think that might help us be more conscious about throwing scraps into a scrap bin, rather than a garbage bin,” said Severin.

Fabric only bins in a fashion design lab on campus. (Photo by Lauren Street)

Fashion consciousness is exactly what first-year fashion design student Lauren Street has set out to achieve. She noticed the large amount of waste the program was creating and wanted to make a change.

Street and a friend in the fashion program created Ryerson Fashion Conscious Club, a group of students that aims to sort and recycle or re-purpose the waste fabric from the fashion design program.

Street said the program faculty have been supportive of her efforts and there haven’t been any roadblocks in the re-purposing of fabric. She also attributes the lack of a faculty-led recycling standard to time restraints.

“They are so busy with their own projects, they haven’t had enough time in the past,” she said.

Initiatives to recycle the scraps come from students who are environmentally conscious, but students graduate and recycling efforts don’t usually leave a legacy.

The group is still in its early stages and its first meeting was held in September. Street hopes her initiative will stick.

“I’m here for four years. Hopefully we have time to build it up to be here for the long run,” Street said.

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