November 13th, 2014

Stacy_Headshot

Stacy is a textile and apparel specialist with a BS in Textile Development and Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology and an MBA in Sustainable Systems from Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot University. She is actively reinventing the textile and apparel business model to preserve the future of apparel.

After a diverse background working with both start-ups and large multi-national corporations like DuPont, Target, Eddie Bauer, and Rethink Fabric, Stacy launched Future Resource Collective (FRC), a collaboration hub and incubator for sustainable innovations in the apparel and textile industry.

In 2014, FRC launched its first social purpose corporation, Evrnu, which uses a patent-pending technology that recycles cotton garment waste to create premium, renewable fiber.

From her years in the field, Stacy brings a strong understanding of customer needs, deep knowledge of the industry's supply chain, and the creativity necessary to build trust and develop relationships in order to collectively solve tough issues. She skillfully combines vision and specialization to make new initiatives successful, and uses these strengths to facilitate collaboration with diverse stakeholders and drive innovations to fruition.

Stacy has received the following recognitions for the Evrnu (formerly Loopool) technology: 2013 Regional Winner, Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge; 2014 Regional Winner, Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge; 2014 University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge, Honorable Mention; 2014 University of Washington Business Plan Challenge Investment Round Finalist; 2014 Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship, Wildcard Candidate; Social Venture Partners 2014 Fast Pitch 1st Place; Social Venture Partners 2014 Audience Choice Award.

 

1. Tell us about Evrnu. How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?

Evrnu is a garment recycling technology. What’s different about this technology is that we are taking cotton garment waste and breaking it down to its most basic molecular size and rebuilding it to create an entirely new, pristine fiber. This allows the designer to have a really high-quality fiber, the luster, and the hand that they would normally have with premium fibers but without significant impact to the environment. When we talk about impact, we’re really just talking about air, water, and soil—for us it’s that simple. Air, water, and soil impacts how humans drink, eat, and breathe, so making that connection between humans and the environment through fashion is what we aspire to do. Right now, fashion typically does not speak the language of sustainability and we’re really trying to bridge that gap and translate the language of sustainability in a way that the designers can understand. To do that, we have to show them something that is premium, something that is actually making the garment look better and feel better, so they’re not giving up anything for sustainability.

2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion? Where does your passion for it come from?

I’ve been working in the industry since the 1990s as a fabric and garment specialist. I started out on the textile engineering side and then moved into garment development later on. I began working in sustainability in 2010 with ReThink, specifically working with recycled PET. At that point, recycled PET had been used pretty widely in just fleece or heavier weight fabrics, so I got excited when we were able to achieve some finer denier, high-quality yarns for softer, more premium fabrics.

Where does my passion come from? I went to China in 2010 and saw the effects of my work on the environment and people, and I realized that I was in some ways responsible for the problem. After that 30-day trip, I decided that I would dedicate the balance of my career to trying to find a solution to the problem. I began to be guided by the question: if one person can do so much damage unintentionally, what can the same person do intentionally for good?

3. What do you feel is your impact on the industry?

Evrnu's impact on the industry demonstrates that resource extraction and waste are no longer necessary to achieve success in the apparel market. We have found a way to work within the dominant business model of style obsolescence by recycling garments on the back-end and giving brands a way to balance their overall fiber portfolio with resource availability. We do not live in an either/or world—all fibers are important and useful. Ultimately, our goal is to innovate around how waste can be used to create new, high-quality fiber resources that designers will love to work with and consumers will love to wear.

4. What do you see as the future of clothing? What do we need to do to get there?

I see sustainability preserving the future of textiles and apparel. Again, it really comes down to air, water, and soil impact and how humans are affected by the production of clothing, the wearing of it, and then the disposal and regeneration of these items.

I see clothing and people raising the bar on what’s possible in terms of upcycling. People understand what recycling means, but it’s sometimes a hard thing for them to understand what upcycling means. When I talk about upcycling, I mean taking something and turning it into another product that has higher value. I consider this to be the design challenge of the 21st century— breaking products down to their lowest usable building block and rebuilding them into any new product. This doesn’t have to be limited to just clothing to clothing, but can also be clothing to shoes, or shoes to playgrounds, or clothing to toys. It really doesn’t matter as long as that product is re-used and able to be broken down again or safely returned to the biosphere.

To get there, we need more support for entrepreneurs who are working in this space, especially for designers and materials researchers who are just starting out. Anyone who is working in a social purpose capacity should have access to mentoring and startup funding and support in those ways. Right now, these resources are very few and far between, and we do need a place to nurture innovation that is not necessarily under the umbrella of a large brand, but that is more broadly accessible.

5. Name 3 things the average person can do to lower their footprint as it relates to their clothes.

Donate everything. Even if you think it should be thrown away—like that one sock, or the shirt with a hole in it that someone can’t re-wear (or that you think someone can’t re-wear)—don’t make that decision. Send everything to Goodwill or Salvation Army, and let them sort and separate it because there is a market for resale on materials. The rag market is a very large industry in the US and they can use just about everything. They typically break things down and mechanically recycle them to go into rags and wiping clothes or woven into carpets and rugs. But, companies like Evrnu can also use these materials to create premium apparel grade fibers and yarns that designers can use for new, high-quality denim and active wear.

Support your sustainable designer. Look at your clothing budget and determine which clothing you want to make an investment in and really support the people who are living your values. It’s an important piece of the puzzle because it shows the industry what your values are, and that’s a really important message to send.

Washing. Consider how many times you can wear your garments before you wash them. A lot of times you don’t need to wash your clothing after just one wear. Wool is naturally anti-microbial and rarely needs to be washed. And, for denim, a lot of premium brands recommend putting denim in the freezer because it kills microbes so you don’t have to wash it and you can get that natural wear and tear.

6. What advice do you have for your fellow women trailblazers?

If you’re working in a social entrepreneurial capacity, one of the hardest things to get over is your fear of going the distance. It can be very difficult, and risky, to quit your job to follow your passion and your dream—especially when you have a family and a mortgage—but STICK WITH IT.

As an entrepreneur, you’ll find that you go through certain rites of passage, and that once you get over the fear (the layers of fear, really), these rites of passage make you more equipped to handle your business, make you a much stronger leader, and make your company much, much more resilient. Yes, it will be very challenging at times, but anything worth having is.

When you sit down and make decisions, think about it from the perspective of being able to look back at what you’ve been able to create and consider that when you’ve put your heart and soul into something, how many times have you really failed? No one really makes any significant progress in this world unless they are bold enough to take a risk.

________

Stacy and Evrnu have launched an Indiegogo campaign to bring their technology to market. To learn more or to contribute to help make Stacy's dream a reality, go here.

Thanks, Stacy!

If there's anyone you would like to see featured in our Women in Sustainable Fashion Series, let me know by emailing pliu (at) greeneileen (dot) org.

Patty

 

November 6th, 2014

Fast Fashion may be dominating these past few decades, but take a peek into your closet and I bet you'll find something that can stand the test of time. Here are our picks for classic pieces that will never go out of style.

Denim

denim

Denim has been part of the fashion lexicon for over 50 years for a reason. Whether it's faded, ripped, or distressed, denim always looks better when it's been broken in.

Trench coat

trench

The trench coat and its flawless design has been around for over 100 years.

Leather

leather jackets

Leather is a fashion mainstay, and you'll see it in designs like jackets and skirts, or in small details like patches and trims.

Wool pea coat

Pea coat

Both classic and functional, the pea coat will keep you warm and looking put together.

Silk Blouse

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Because it can be dressed up or dressed down, a silk blouse is one of the most versatile pieces you can have in your closet.

Patty

 

October 23rd, 2014

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Welcome to the GREEN EILEEN Recycling Center in Seattle, or as we lovingly call it, GERC (pronounced 'girk'). This is where the magic happens. When all of you who live west of the Mississippi River send us your gently used EILEEN FISHER clothing, it ends up here, where we sort it into 3 categories:

Dry Clean

(Our holding bays)

The clothing that is deemed good to pristine quality is given the Dry Clean designation. We send the clothes off to be cleaned and pressed, and once we get them back, we price the garments and store them in our holding bays until the store is ready to sell them.

Donate

(This cozy shrunken sweater might not be an ideal shape anymore, but it'll still keep someone warm this Fall)

Our 'Donate' clothes usually have a few small holes or stains, but are still in reasonably good quality. We partner with local women's shelters and non-profit organizations to make sure our clothes are being worn and loved.

Chop

(While we normally try to mend holes in the clothes donated to us, this one was just too big to fix--into Chop it goes!)

This last category is, in my opinion, the bread and butter of GREEN EILEEN. Chop has been so well-loved by its owners that it comes to us with irreparable holes, big stains, or is otherwise not fit to be worn anymore. We wash and keep the Chop in our Recycling Center to be used for upcycling projects. Out of the thousands of pieces of Chop in our inventory, we might use about 200 pieces for projects every year.

So why don't we just get rid of the rest of it?

It's valuable

One reason is that at GREEN EILEEN, we view Chop to be a raw material, and raw material is precious stuff. We are always on the lookout for local sew shops who might be able to turn our Chop into a great new children's line. In addition, new technology is emerging around breaking down textile fibers and creating new threads. As this technology matures, we hope to use our Chop inventory to develop and bring you brand new EILEEN FISHER designs. How's that for cradle to cradle!

It hurts foreign economies

Another huge reason is where the clothes go when they're thrown out or donated. Obviously, when clothes are put in with the rest of your garbage, it ends up in landfills, and you all know how I feel about that.

Organizations like USAgain, who collect and recycle donated clothing, claim to be doing great things with your clothes by selling them overseas to "people who can't afford new clothes", but I find this an incredibly paternalistic approach to addressing a poverty issue. First, let's all agree that the problem isn't that the bottom billion--a term used to describe those who live on less than $2 a day in regions like Africa and Southeast Asia--don't have access to clothing. The real problem is that they have limited incomes, which prevents their access to food, education, clean water, and goods in general.

Selling cheap, used clothes that are no longer wanted in more developed countries is not a solution to helping the bottom billion become self-sufficient. In fact, it could just be making them poorer. According to a paper published by Dr. Garth Frazer of the University of Toronto, introducing imported used clothing into a community is correlated with lowered clothing output and apparel employment in that region. It's not hard to imagine that by flooding their markets with cheap, imported goods, clothing recyclers are elbowing out local producers and sellers of textiles, which strips them of their sources of income and weakens the economy.

Shannon Whitehead, featured here, has written a brilliant post on the affects of donated clothes, and in it, she writes:

"Over the years, certain African nations have attempted to ban or restrict the influx of Western clothing imports. In an effort to give existing industries a chance and to maintain traditional culture, countries such as South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria have tried to implement regulation."

At GREEN EILEEN, we believe that by holding onto our Chop, we can contribute not to a growing problem, but to a better greater good.

It doesn't address behavior change

I've written about this quite a few times, but I'll just say it once again: To be less wasteful, more sustainable, and to save more money, buy fewer things and reuse what you have.

In theory, this doesn't sound difficult, but in reality, it takes a lot of effort to change your normal habits. To make it harder, the post-WWII economy we live in only wants us to buy buy buy, even when all this buying is depleting our natural resources into oblivion. So, we do what the advertising execs want and buy so much stuff and so many clothes, and we justify these purchases by saying, "If I don't want it later, I'll donate it." But as we've just learned, donating is a short-term solution that can contribute to very real long-term problems. Donating items is not an answer--but changing your buying habits certainly is.

Rather than donating our Chop, we choose to keep it, and instead, focus on encouraging people to take care of the things they already have and to put more thought into their purchases. But when the time comes that your EILEEN FISHER designs can no longer be worn, we'll gladly take it--someday, we might turn your trash into someone else's brand new EILEEN FISHER treasure.

Patty

 

October 16th, 2014

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Annie McCourt has progressive experience in both Fashion Design and Marketing Communications and has worked as a sustainability consultant, writer and designer.

After 7 years working at marketing and advertising agencies, Annie’s hands started to itch. She wanted to sew and make things. She went back to school to study fashion design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. The introduction to sustainable fashion design as a Sophmore suddenly brought purpose, meaning and richness to a field of study that she had begun to think was lacking direction. The introduction to Cradle to Cradle design principles and methodology brought optimism, joy, and the perfect solution. She had found her path.

Now in her dream-job, Annie works at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to share her ultimate passion and helping to bring Cradle to Cradle design principles and certification to the fashion industry.

 

1. Tell us about your work in the field. How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?

I work for the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in San Francisco, CA, on an initiative called Fashion Positive. Fashion Positive is Cradle to Cradle Certified compliant, and aims to bring the circular economy to the fashion industry by working with brands, designers and suppliers.

When I read the book, Cradle to Cradle Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart, I was forever changed. I had read so many articles and books that focused on the negative state of the world and to put it simply: it just wasn’t fun. But when I read Cradle to Cradle, the authors wrote about abundance, optimism and how all materials could be viewed as food for other materials if products were designed with intention. It was stunning. It was an optimistic approach that intuitively seemed true. I had found my path. At this moment, there stopped being a divide between my professional life and my personal life, couldn’t I just live this way all the time? Definitely.

Mr. McDonough and Dr. Braungart gifted the Cradle to Cradle certification program to the the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in 2010. I’ve been working at the Institute since February 2014, and it’s felt like everything I’ve done up until this moment has been important and useful. It’s funny how life works. Never a wasted moment.

I get to work at a place that fully embodies positivity and a holistic solution that I believe can address and fix some truly problematic situations. I get to be a part of that solution: both in the execution of the Fashion Positive Initiative, as well as embodying Cradle to Cradle and its attitude of abundance and positivity in every moment of my life.

2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion? Where does your passion for it come from?

In 2008 I had already gotten a degree in Marketing Communications and was working at an advertising and design agency in San Francisco—a job I truly loved. But my hands started to itch! Not literally, but they wanted to move. They wanted to make things. They wanted to sew. So I began sewing. At the time I had a love for thrift store clothing so it was a natural step for me to buy thrift store clothes and cut, hem and sew them in a way to make them more current. At the time, this is what sustainable fashion meant to me. Around that time the idea was planted in me head to go back to school to get a degree in Fashion Design. I had always had a deep love for self-expression through fashion, so it seemed to make some sort of sense at the time. I chose California College of the Arts in San Francisco because of the sustainability courses they offered. At the time, though, I was slightly naïve in knowing what that actually meant.

Starting my sophomore year, I began taking classes about sustainable fashion design. Before the actual design classes (the solution), we had to learn about the problem. Led by my now mentor and personal hero, Lynda Grose, my class learned all about the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry. I was slightly surprised by my personal reaction to the subject matter. I was moved. Stunned. Depressed, sad, lonely. It was hard. Lynda gave me constant support throughout this time encouraging me to keep going.

Toward the end of the semester I had enough. I had taken what I had learned too far—and I found it difficult to even walk down the straight. I thought my existence on this earth was negatively impactful no matter what I did. Wouldn’t it be better if I just weren’t here?

Woah. That’s when I had an attitude adjustment. The lens I was viewing the world with had to be refocused … or else. I began to see the beauty, the abundance. I began to look around, be grateful for the air, sky and a rotating planet. Gravity, what a wonderful thing. I didn’t even have to be in the woods or on top of a mountain to appreciate these things—they were right in front of me all the time. And when a scary thought seeped in: I could view the world as if it is one big controversial art project. This new attitude adjustment seemed to work. This new way of looking at the world made me a clear channel to be a part of the solution. That fear … depression … hopelessness … the dark lens I was viewing the world with, well, it only held me back from being an effective contribution to the world. It clogged me up. When I started to stop polluting the world with my bad attitude, I started to freely exude happiness, ideas, solution. This seemed to be the first step.

It’s been 2 years since I’ve been out of school and I still think about my thesis. I created a whole new system of patterning that uses only straight lines and certain degrees of angles. Waste— well, it didn’t even exist. In school I had people telling me that I wouldn’t be able to do a whole collection from this type of patterning … I wouldn’t be able pants or sleeves because the patterns needed to curve, and I only used straight lines. I responded that it was possible, even though I wasn’t really sure how. I just became quiet, let my hands work. Shirts, pants, dress … they revealed themselves in front of me. No problem. We don’t always know ‘how,’ but once we say “can,” it can be a moving and fascinating adventure toward that solution.

3. What do you feel is your impact on the industry?

Loving the world, loving life, it’s contagious. I’m here to do a job. The details of that job keep revealing themselves to me each day. I stand prepared.

4. What do you see as the future of clothing? What do we need to do to get there?

There’s a part of me that believes one day we’ll be ‘forced’ to adhere to certain regulations. Certain materials won’t be available. The truth is, we’re not going to be able to continue on at this rate: polluting rivers, hurting people, animals, the ocean. The world always has a way of balancing itself out. But I look forward to this. Out of limitations comes innovation. What an exciting time to be a part of the fashion industry.

 William McDonough sees everything as nutrients for other things. He taught me to imagine acircular economy of fashion and textile materials that can be endlessly cycled into themselves. Instead of materials that are designed for an “end of life,” these materials are designed intentionally to be healthy for all mankind, regenerative and positive. I believe this future is closer than we think.

5. Name 3 things the average person can do to lower their footprint as it relates to their clothes.

Promoting Cradle to Cradle design could mean that we buy as much as we want and that we don’t have to lower our footprint, wear less, buy less, be less. We won’t have to disappear to make a neutral impact on this earth. I’m really glad about that because I really like it here. Promoting Cradle to Cradle design means that we can actually leave a positive legacy … a regenerative one. This sounds a lot more fun to me.

6. What advice do you have for your fellow women trailblazers?

Never say “can’t.” Whenever we say “can’t” that item or task in front of us becomes impossible. The door shuts. Instead say, “I can.” You don’t have to know how to make it happen just yet. Just wait, the whole world will open up in a way you never imagined.

_________

Thank you, Annie, for sharing your wonderful journey with us!

Readers, let me know if there's someone you would like to see featured in the Women in Sustainable Fashion Series! Email me at pliu (at) greeneileen (dot) org.

Patty

 

October 2nd, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuddhist devotional and prayer carvings at an Indian mani wall shrine.

Allow me to digress from all the fascinating conversation about upcycling that's been happening on this blog of late, to talk about another one of our passions at GREEN EILEEN: women's empowerment. Of course, all of the profits raised by the two GREEN EILEEN retail stores support programs that improve the lives of women and girls through education and empowerment initiatives, both in our local communities and around the world. As the Community Outreach Coordinator for the West Coast, one of the best parts of my job is learning about all the different ways people are trying to address the question, “How do we make the world a safer, more enriching, and more equal place for women?”

I recently had the opportunity to experience one of these strategies firsthand with the Ladakhi Women's Travel Company, while on vacation with my family in India. Local guide Thinlas Chorol founded the LWTC in 2009 to give women in Ladakh the opportunity to participate in the traditionally male-dominated areas of trekking and mountain climbing. Ladakh is a remote area of the Northern Indian Himalaya, steeped deeply in Tibetan Buddhist culture and defined by the harsh conditions of the high altitude desert. Chorol is from a small town in Ladakh, where she grew up climbing the local mountains with her father. She began leading treks for her classmates at university, who encouraged her to pursue guiding as a career. Even after receiving certifications from highly respected organizations like National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, she struggled to find employment at local trekking agencies because of her gender. If she wasn’t turned down outright, she would be assigned cultural guiding tours to the region’s monasteries and historic sights, despite her extensive mountaineering experience. Adventure tourism--particularly trekking, mountain climbing, and river rafting--is one of the fastest growing industries in Ladakh, one that is now slightly more open to women thanks to the all-female run and staffed LWTC.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my folks hiking up a valley in India.

The Ladakhi Women's Travel Company specializes in increasingly popular homestay treks. We stayed in the homes of seven different families (and one high-altitude tent camp) along the way of our nine day trek. Having a bed to sleep in each night meant we didn't have to pack our own camping equipment, and home-cooked meals were a welcome reward at the end of a long day of hiking. While most guiding services use horses or donkeys to carry their equipment and clients' luggage, the LWTC utilizes only human-powered transportation to avoid the erosion and deforestation caused by pack animals in this already fragile landscape.

While traveling, I'm always wary of striking the right balance between seeing “real” parts of the country and cultural rubbernecking. Homestay treks are a win-win in this regard: most of the villages where we stayed were multiple days’ walk from any town larger than several families, and there are few external sources of income, particularly for women. As in other parts of India and around the world, people are leaving their ancestral homes to find work in the cities; and men are often the ones to earn money outside the home, restricting women’s financial independence and stability. By paying to stay in people's homes, we had the opportunity to meet locals and experience elements of traditional Ladakhi culture firsthand. At the same time, we contributed to the agency and financial prospects of women in rural areas.

In addition to providing an important external source of income for women in the villages, the LWTC has also opened up a whole range of possibilities for women passionate about the outdoors. Our guide was a young woman named Padma, a biology student who had just started working as a head guide. Padma is 22, unmarried, and lives in her own apartment in Leh - a very rare situation for a Ladakhi girl from a rural village. While she originally took the job to pay her way through school, she loves guiding so much that she plans on staying with the LWTC for several years while finishing her degree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPadma and me at the top of Gongmaru La Pass, on Day 8 of the trek, at an altitude  approximately 17,200 ft.

Thanks to the LWTC for a fantastic experience in the Markah Valley. As a nature-lover, adventurer, and feminist, I loved how the LWTC encourages women to think outside the box and realize their dreams, while challenging the limitations of traditional gender roles, not only in Ladakh but in the greater climbing industry. If you're traveling to India, I highly recommend looking them up at www.ladakhiwomenstravel.com.

Alice

 

September 25th, 2014

sharing

If you've ever been a bridesmaid, there's a good chance you have an expensive dress in your closet that you may never wear again. You don't want to throw it out or donate it--you paid a pretty penny for it, after all. So, what are your options?

How about sharing it?

There's a growing movement of people who are looking to share their resources and are looking to expand their access to goods and services without having to make a commitment. Not only do these two things conserve resources that would otherwise be destined for new products, it helps connect people with their neighbors and builds community.

If you're looking to rent out or lend goods, businesses like Airbnb (for living spaces), Lyft (for cars and rideshares), and NeighborGoods (for anything from ladders to a cup of sugar) are letting you do just that.

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Peer-to-peer service companies are also on the rise. Rover, for example, allows you to search through reviews to find a personable petsitter nearby that will love your furry friends as much as you do. For household chores and other odds and ends, Taskrabbit will hook you up with people who can do just about anything you need.

bikeSauce, a non-profit in Toronto geared towards DIY bike repair, is evidence of an emerging trend towards shared spaces combined with skillsharing. bikeSauce invites the public into their facility and teaches their neighbors and community members how to maintain their bikes. This same model can be seen in the art community with The Crucible in Berkeley. Artists there can rent out space and equipment, as well as teach classes.

Community_Sourced_Capital

The sharing economy is even making its way into the investment world, giving business owners more options outside of bank loans and owner's equity. Community Sourced Capital allows community members to use their money to support and finance a local business's special project in $50 increments. When a project is fully funded and completed, the business starts returning the money back to its lenders.

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But one of my favorite organizations that has risen out of the Sharing Economy is the Buy Nothing Project. It started on Bainbridge Island, a small island outside of Seattle, and focuses on giving away the things you don't want and asking neighbors to gift you the things they are no longer interested in owning. With Buy Nothing, money never changes hands, but cookies have been known to be baked as an appreciation. Be sure to check out their website--the Buy Nothing Project has spread to eight different countries and counting! If you can't find a Buy Nothing group in your neighborhood, now is great time to get one started.

(Full disclosure: I volunteered for Buy Nothing Project founder, Liesl Clark, but on a different project. I also went to school with the good folks who started Community Sourced Capital.)

What are your favorite sharing organizations? Let us know on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Patty

 

September 18th, 2014

A few weeks ago, I posted 3 Reasons to Upcycle, which, if you haven't yet, you can read here. Today, I bring you 3 More Reasons to Upcycle.

Disclaimer: These reasons are not as lighthearted and uplifting, but they're just as important, if not more so. Please be warned that you may find some of the images to be disturbing.

1) Your recycling doesn't always get recycled

This one tends to catch people by surprise. We operate in such an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality when it comes to post-consumer waste, that we don't think about where our things go once they've been thrown out. What happens to that milk carton once it's hauled away by the recyclers? Is this plastic bottle going to be used to create a new bottle or end up in the ocean? Our relationship with China, where most of our recycling goes, only adds to the uncertainty.

Last year, China implemented Operation Green Fence to help tackle the contamination coming from US recycling. We were sending bales of recyclables mixed with garbage and hazardous waste, including used syringes (yikes). In order to protect their workers and curb pollution, China turned away recycling shipments that had a 1.5% or more contamination rate. This effectively meant that China wasn't accepting any bales from the United States, where Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) operate with a 10% threshold for contamination.

Storing the bales was one of the least cost-effective solutions, so waste corporations began looking at other options. And most of these options included finding another developing country to take our waste, regardless of the state of their waste and recycling infrastructure. So, who knows if our recyclables are actually being recycled?

While Operation Green Fence has officially ended, the recycling industry is forever changed by it--China's standards are still more stringent than before and the United States now realizes that our own waste infrastructure needs improvement.

Purchasing better sorting machines for the MRFs and hiring more manpower is expensive and not an immediate answer. The cheapest and easiest solution truly starts with the average citizen. First, if you don't need it, don't buy it (reduce!). Second, if you have it, use it again (reuse!). Using something again saves both energy and money, which is why we're such fans of upcycling. And if you need to throw something away, be sure to sort and separate your recyclables from your landfill waste. Please and thank you.

2) Lowering your landfill footprint

Here's a statistic for you: The average person contributes 1.5 tons of waste to landfills each year--that is the same weight as the heaviest of our even-toed ungulates (AKA the hippopotamus--hopefully this comes in handy the next time you go to pub trivia). Over your lifetime, you're essentially leaving a landfill footprint of about 100 tons, the same weight as a blue whale. There are over 7 billion of us living on this blue green planet, and that's a lot of garbage we're piling on top of it.

garbage-island-japan-tsunami

(An actual 100 ton garbage island. This is not the kind of mark I want to leave on the world.)

3) Lowering your overall footprint

But a lot of your garbage isn't making it to the landfill or the recycling plant--a lot of it is clogging up our oceans and waterways and contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And when they mistake plastic bits for food, our birds and marine life suffer.

trash-islands_4151212

According to the EPA, our landfills in the United States are the 4th largest producer of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's contributing to climate change. So, not only does our garbage impact localized natural habitats, it's affecting everything on our planet, pole to pole.

When you combine this with the energy and natural resources saved by not producing brand new goods--like coal-sourced electricity, trees, fossil fuels, and metals extracted from the earth--by upcycling and reusing what you have, you're really doing the planet, and everyone who lives on it, a solid.

Patty

 

September 11th, 2014

Earlier, I posted a few upcycling projects from Pinterest that were both relatively easy and practical. This week, we're going to step it up and focus less on the practical and more on the artful. The colorful and astounding art featured below were all made using textiles and thread.

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Textile Moths and Butterflies by Yumi Okita (via Colossal)

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Gabriel Dawe (via Triangulation)

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Embroidered Landscapes by Teresa Barboza (via Colossal)

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Handwoven and dyed designs by Ptolemy Mann (via Ptolemy Mann)

We hope to see you at our Chop Challenge in Seattle, September 21 from 6-8pm!

Patty

 

September 4th, 2014

I'm bringing you a new feature to the blog, highlighting inspiring women who aim to make the fashion industry more sustainable. Welcome to the Women in Sustainable Fashion series!

Headshot-Shannon-Whitehead

First up is Shannon Whitehead. Shannon is the founder of Factory45, an accelerator program that gives designers and makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA. Shannon got her start in 2010 when she co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists that was featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com, TheWallStreetJournal.com and Yahoo! News. Shannon has appeared as a speaker at the World Education Congress, ECO Fashion Week, SXSW, and as a guest lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.

 

1. Tell us about Factory45. How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?

Factory45 is a Made in the USA accelerator program for designers and makers. Through six months and three modules, the program takes aspiring entrepreneurs through the process of setting up a supply chain, creating their brand presence and sales strategy, and then going to market. Factory45 provides the business tools and resources that aren’t taught in fashion school.

Having started my own sustainable apparel brand in 2010, I experienced first-hand how difficult it is for new designers to create ethical supply chains. The domestic manufacturing industry is hard to get into, so as I transitioned into my next phase of entrepreneurship, I realized I wanted to be a resource for others. My goal is to show people that you don’t have to offshore to questionable factories overseas. It’s possible to do good, transparent business right here at home.

2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion? Where does your passion for it come from?

The big decisions in my life have all been a byproduct of travel. After college, I spent two years traveling around the world, meeting new people and gaining new experiences that completely changed my worldview. As I became more aware of how my personal choices affect the rest of the planet, a ripple effect started.

Originally, I only knew that I wanted the freedom to work for myself. As I began to explore what that looked like, a friend and I travelled to Central America and started researching the process of making clothing. We eventually launched {r}evolution apparel with the goal of moving the fashion industry in a more ethical and transparent direction.

Until then, I had never been that interested in fashion. My passion for sustainability and environmental awareness came to the forefront first. Seven years later, I can now say that my involvement in the sustainable fashion industry is what I feel called to do.

3. What do you feel is your impact on the industry?

Time will tell. For now, Factory45 is my personal way of combatting fast fashion. I truly believe that the local, independent designer has a place in this industry and can compete above and beyond the cheap and disposable goods churned out by big fast fashion brands.

If I can help small companies launch and succeed, then I believe fewer people will be shopping at stores like H&M and Forever21. Ultimately, I want to support small and local designers and show consumers that they are worth supporting.

4. What do you see as the future of clothing? How are we going to get there?

Storytelling. I think consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the story behind the clothes they wear. If we can start to engage shoppers with the deeper meaning behind their purchasing power, then I believe we’ll continue to see a change. We have to get to a point where clothing is no longer something that’s disposable and instead, is something we feel connected to.

5. Name 3 things the average person can do to lower their footprint as it relates to their clothes.

1) Buy less.

2) Buy used.

3) Buy from transparent companies.

6. What advice do you have for your fellow women trailblazers?

Don’t give into the doubts and fears. Push through the uncertainty. If we don’t change things -- who will?

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If you haven't yet, I highly recommend to everybody that they check out Shannon's well-written and compelling blog, especially the entries on the truth behind fast fashion and the 6 things you should know about your clothes.

Thank you, Shannon!

Patty

 

August 28th, 2014

(Photo: A rainbow chandelier made of old bottles!)

I've been writing about upcycling a LOT lately, but I haven't really gone into why everyone at GREEN EILEEN is so into it. So, here it is--three great reasons to upcycle. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for 3 more reasons to upcycle.

1) Creativity...

But not just creativity. The process of upcycling stretches your imagination with possibilities and potential, of course--but it also exercises the analytical side of your brain. You can see in your mind's eye that that old dusty wood pallet would make a great and needed bed for your dog (so creative of you!). How can you best utilize the pallets angles? What adjustments do you need to make to accommodate your dog's weight and size? Where will you need to reinforce with bolts and screws? Upcycling is such a great exercise in coming up with a new life for your things, but it's also an excellent practice in developing the engineering part of your brain.

dog pallet bed

2) Saves money!

Reusing an item instead of buying new almost always saves you money.

Let's do a little case study here. Say you'd like a new table where you can do all this crafting and upcycling. A quick search on Craigslist shows a couple of these tables for $20. On the IKEA website, you can purchase this table for $34, not including tax (and delivery fee should you go that route). This may only be a $14+ difference, but the impact on your wallet only gets bigger as you search for nicer, sturdier pieces.

3) Adds character

No one else is going to have the same thing you have when you upcycle and make things yourself. The look of your piece is going to be completely original.

Case in point:

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