Textile Talk

Waste not, want not

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I was rooting through a gigantic pile of clothes at Shuksan Middle School’s annual fundraising sale last weekend when one of the organizers announced that, since the event was in its final hour, all clothing could be purchased for 50 cents per bag.

As my boyfriend patiently waited below the stage where the men’s and women’s choices were scattered pell-mell, I burrowed deeper into the mountain of fabric, pulling out items I thought might fit my form and tossing them to him. I didn’t stop my frenzied mission until he’d filled the paper grocery sack.

“If something doesn’t fit, I can always donate it to Ragfinery,” I told my guy when he inquired why I hadn’t tried on anything I’d stuffed into the bag—which included a plethora of shirts, pajama bottoms, a corduroy jacket, a couple of bras, two sweaters and a pair of socks. “Plus, I’m paying 50 cents for everything, so I can afford to take the risk.”

Miracle of miracles, when we got home and I tried on my finds, everything except a couple of the shirts fit me. But when I made a pile of what I couldn’t use, I realized it was time for other items in my closet to go. When I finished culling, the original grocery sack was full again.

With my own circular example of textile waste directly in front of me, and with Earth Day just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to revisit just what happens to all the clothing in the United States that ends up being discarded.

A handy guide on Ragfinery’s website helped me understand the enormity of the issue. Numerically, 25 billion pounds of textiles—including clothing, footwear, accessories, towels, bedding, drapery, etc.—are generated each year, adding up to about 82 pounds per resident. Of that 82 pounds, 15 percent (3.8 billion pounds) eventually gets donated or recycled, and 85 percent (70 pounds per person) ends up in landfills. All told, it amount to approximately 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste per year, and accounts for more than 5.2 percent of all municipal solid waste generated in the United States.

Since 2014, Ragfinery has been diverting textiles that would’ve ended up in the waste stream and collaborating with local artisans and volunteers to upcycle community donations. Additionally, the venue at 1421 N. State Street provides “jobs from waste” by training low-income workers to creatively repurpose post-consumer textiles into products of value—such as backpacks, designer pillows, summer dresses, hats, yoga bags, aprons, scarves and more.

Additionally, workshops such as “Visible Mending,” “Sewing Bootcamp,” “Introduction to Weaving,” “No-Sew Braided Rugs” and more help participants learn how to transform used textiles. And, on May 19, Ragfinery’s “Cirque du Couture” fundraiser will see 25 contestants transforming castaway materials into runway-ready designs. In their hands, it won’t be trash, but wearable treasure.

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