Ann Gibson, of Upcycle Lifestyle, has recently become a 100% waste-free handmade business and she shares with us the importance of reducing textile waste.
Tells us about your business. How and why did you start Upcycle Lifestyle?
Upcycle Lifestyle is a handmade business focused on sustainably produced, reusable alternatives to single-use products and long-lasting children's clothing. All of the products are made by me in my home sewing studio from new and upcycled materials with 100% waste-free production. I always wondered what happened to the ugly sweaters and other textiles at thrift stores that no one wanted. I wanted to help reduce the amount of textiles being sent to landfills each year. So I began "rescuing" the ugly sweaters from thrift stores and making them into blankets that would be loved, cherished and well-used; the first Upcycle Lifestyle product. My vision for Upcycle Lifestyle has always been to reduce consumer waste through reusable alternatives and repurposing fabrics.
What led you down the path to becoming waste-free?
Throughout my studies in Environmental Engineering and looking ahead to my Masters in Environment and Sustainability in the fall, my passion has always been waste management. I have a wide range of experience related to waste management from working at a landfill to environmental compliance reporting and consulting. This year I decided to take reducing consumer waste one step further with my business. I made the conscious decision to make my production 100% waste-free. Through the introduction of new products, market research and community outreach, I have achieved that goal.
How do you define waste-free?
Basically, all raw materials that come into my studio leave as product, aside from a small amount of recycling from the packaging materials. The smaller products, reusable facial round and nursing pads, are made from the scraps left over from the clothing. Once the scraps are too small to sew with, they are used to stuff dog and cat beds which are donated to the Stratford SPCA.
What have been some of the challenges along the way?
Researching ways to deal with the textile waste was definitely the biggest challenge. We are increasingly aware that we over-produce waste but finding feasible solutions is where we struggle as a society. Most of the research I found would be more applicable in a large city, where drop-off locations for textile recyclers are available. The City of Markham has already diverted 1.4 million kilograms of textiles from the landfill in their first year with a textile recycling program, so there clearly is a need. This forced me to become more creative in my search for solutions and think more critically about the problem; shifting my thinking from where to take it to what can I make with it. Once I had decided to use the scraps as stuffing, the next challenge was to find a shelter that was interested in the donation of beds.
What have some of the benefits of going waste-free been?
Being able to share the importance of reducing textile waste as well as replacing single-use products with customers is a huge benefit of moving to waste-free production. As a consumer it is important to know where your products are coming from, how workers are treated, and the environmental impacts of the production as well as the product itself.
What advice would you give to other makers thinking of becoming waste-free?
Research and be creative in your solutions. There likely isn't a simple answer to the problem or we would all be doing it already. Don't give up when you find barriers, find a way to work around them.