Fashion Zone startup creates unique garments from diverted waste material
On Jan. 6, Natasha McKenna discovered large white garbage bags full of brand new baby clothes, all tossed away outside Toronto’s Dufferin Mall.
The clothing items, from manufacturer Carter’s Oshkosh B’gosh, had been purposely cut up and discarded.
McKenna posted pictures of the clothes online and called out the company’s wasteful practices via her Twitter account. Her post was retweeted by thousands and the story about the discarded clothes was picked up by major Toronto news outlets.
Carter’s has since issued a statement, saying that all of the clothing and merchandise — there were also toys and picture frames — were damaged and not fit to sell.
But according to Andrea Romero, manager of the Ryerson Fashion Zone, this is a common practice for many major clothing retailers.
“This is not just happening at Carter’s Oshkosh; they just got caught,” Romero said.
Romero says that after the news broke, she was teaching a fashion class at Ryerson and asked any students who worked at a retailer where this was a common practice to raise their hands. She said several people put up their hands, confirming that what Carter’s did was not out of the ordinary.
McKenna’s post may have received the attention it did because the discarded merchandise was mostly children’s clothing. “They don’t care about kids and they don’t care about the environment kids will inherit by sending these clothes from the rack to the landfill,” McKenna wrote.
The post currently has over 12,000 tweets. The backlash has resulted in Carter’s forming an agreement with the charity Brands for Canada. Brands for Canada is an organization that distributes unsold clothes from retail donors.
Romero suggests that scandals like this one create an opportunity for sustainable fashion startups to work together with large corporations and to make changes, “It is about finding a way to take a story and make a positive twist out of it. This happened and this is what we’re going to do.”
The Ryerson Fashion Zone is one of the several business incubators running on campus. Entering the offices at 110 Bond St. you immediately notice through a glass door a wide workspace with large tables that are covered with fabrics and tools. On the floor above there are several conference rooms with space to work on projects and chat with other Fashion Zone members.
There are three types of memberships within the Fashion Zone; company, associate or apprentice. Apprentice members are Ryerson students who want to learn about entrepreneurship within the world of fashion and garner hands-on experience. Associates are Ryerson students who have ideas for fashion brands but need help with formulating a business plan. Company memberships are for Canadian companies that are looking for support to help grow their business.
One of the Fashion Zone’s company members is Nudnik, a sustainable fashion startup that is in the same market as Carter’s.
Nudnik is a children’s clothing company that has partnered with ethical factories overseas to obtain their pre-consumed fabrics. Pre-consumed fabrics are any scraps of material that are discarded within the process of making clothing. So far, Nudnik produces only one item, “the DISRUPTOR tee,” but it plans to produce children’s pants and even adult clothing by the end of the year. The tee is a colorful collage of carefully sewn together pastel fabrics, topped off with a little pocket.
Co- founder of Nudnik, Lindsay Lorusso, says the process involves carefully planning how to use wasted fabric effectively. “It involves auditing the textile waste (and) engineering patterns that utilize it to the best of its ability.” Those pieces are then used to create unisex patchwork basics for kids. Lorusso explains that Olena Vicharyuk, fashion technician at the Fashion Zone, helped shape the DISRUPTOR tee’s patchwork design in one of the Fashion Zone workspaces. To Lorusso the communal environment of the Fashion Zone has been one of the most beneficial elements. “We love working alongside other ambitious entrepreneurs looking to shape the future of fashion.”
Lorusso co-founded Nudnik with her sister, Alexandra. They both entered the world of fashion with extensive knowledge of the world of waste disposal. Before creating their company together, they had long careers at their father’s waste management company, Wasteco.
Children’s clothing can be a particularly wasteful subsector of the fashion market. Children constantly grow out of their clothes and this leads to constant waste. None of Nudnik’s clothing is made with a mix of synthetic and natural fibres, because recycling clothing can be incredibly difficult when those two pieces of fabrics are combined.
The clothes are made to be passed on due to their unisex design and all around durability. “Children grow fast, which is why we put a lot of thought behind our products so they can be passed down and around.”
Lindsay Lorruso was not surprised by Carter’s actions. “The Carter’s OshKosh B’gosh controversy is certainly not exclusive to the kidswear sector. Trashing unsold stock or returned items is a common practice of many large brands around the world.” Lorusso says there are several precautions larger brands can take to avoid similar situations. “Right-sizing inventory, slowing down the narrow sales window for new items, utilizing secondary markets for resale and donation are all steps a brand can take to ensure their goods never make it into the trash.”
Nudnik is currently piloting a few projects with some major brands where they upcycle that company’s unsold stock. The company repurposes the unsold items into new collaboration pieces between them and the original label. “It’s really a win win for brands, us as collaborators designing from waste, and loyal customers who want a limited piece from their favourite brand that showcases their values.”
These collaborations would be similar to the one between Carter’s and Brands for Canada.
For Romero, one of the greatest benefits of being a member of the Fashion Zone is becoming part of a hive mind of creator. “You join a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.” She adds that membership provides a company with “community space, mentorship, equipment, as well as having access to events that we hold.”
The Fashion Zone has a network of 33 advisers that all specialize in different aspects of the fashion business.