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ESG Outlook: Lina G. Londono of Debrand on Diverting Textiles from Landfills

ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. Here, Lina G. Londono, director of sustainability & solutions for Debrand Services, discusses the importance of decoupling revenue models to the (over)production of products.

Lina G. Londono

Name: Lina G. Londono

Title: Director of Sustainability & Solutions

Company: Debrand Services

What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?

Over the last 5 years, Debrand has focused on diverting textiles from landfills and toward the next highest value option. This year alone, we’re projecting to divert nearly 1,000 tons of used textiles (125 percent year-over-year growth), through resale, recycling and repurposing channels. This is a really important step in continuing to valorize products at any stage of their life cycle. It’s really exciting to be a part of a community of committed members dedicated to increasing the solutions available to each product created after its first life.

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What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?

I consider both the beginning of life and end of life when purchasing or receiving clothing. Regarding initial purchasing/receiving clothing, I ask myself: Why am I desiring this garment or product? Is there a practical need for it? Can I get it used or can I rent it? How much time do I have right now to search and purchase through an alternative channel? Does it match or complement my existing wardrobe? What materials is it made of and do I know how to take care of those materials?

For clothing end of life, I ask: Can I repair this garment to extend its life? Can I lean on my friends/tailor to redesign or upcycle this garment or product? Can I resell it locally? Can I resell it online? Can I bring it to an in-store trade-in program? Do I know enough about what the resale or trade-in programs do with the items that fail to be resold? Do I feel comfortable with their end solutions? Do I feel proud gifting or donating this garment? Can I re-use this as something else around the house if I don’t feel proud donating it?

How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping? 

It has become a standard for me to research a brand’s social and environmental practices before purchasing an item from them. I used to only apply a brand vetting lens to new purchases, but the more familiar I became with secondhand clothing, the more I apply that vetting process to those purchases as well. I want to wear and represent brands that are really working for the planet and people. This allows me to feel my purchases support social and environmental issues, regardless of the line of business that is in, i.e., traditional model, resale model, etc.  

Jeans are particularly challenging to purchase. it’s difficult to find a pair that fit me well, and adding the lens of brand vetting narrows down the potential list of brands to choose from. I’ve held off buying a pair of jeans that fit because the brand had practices that didn’t align with my social and environmental philosophies.  

Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?

I’m always educating myself on new ways to improve my personal sustainability initiatives. Including limiting my makeup collection and reducing non-natural detergents and soap. I’m lucky to live in North Vancouver, where the municipal infrastructure to compost food waste, and recycle materials (paper, electronics and containers) is very convenient; it makes it easy to achieve those steps as a minimum in my daily life. Additionally, about 90 percent of our home furnishings were bought from Facebook marketplace, Buy-Nothing groups, and hand-me-downs. I’m all for the thrill of finding a well-priced wicker side table or rattan bar cart! 

What is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?

Many people assume that expensive or brand-name items are well made, durable and/or sustainably sourced and created. Being in the industry, we know firsthand this is not always the case.  Another misconception is with secondhand goods. Thrifting offers the ability to minimize how many new items we buy, but it still shares the same problem with fast fashion—overconsumption. As consumers, we need to start decoupling the notion of sustainable purchasing from only when we buy an item but also the quantity we are consuming.

What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?

People should be encouraged to try new business models and be agile because the old ones won’t always work forever. Covid showed that.

Poor inventory management leads to a lot of unused materials in our supply chain, which causes a pile of stuff to accumulate at distribution centers and ports all over the world. As the industry shifts from e-commerce to re-commerce and other new business models, companies need to remain agile, curious and explore how these models can create better systems and more sustainable practices. As an industry, we must understand the importance of already extracted materials, and learn to treat them as precious resources. This leads hand-in-hand to participating in trials, evolving business models and adapting to changing industry and climate.

What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?

Debrand is focused on the sortation of clothing to allocate products to their highest value potential. We do all our sortation in North America to ensure that the material being sent to different partners meets their specifications and supports an overarching circular strategy. We’re actively working with brands to sort their materials for reuse and recycling trials to extend the life of garments and enable fiber-to-fiber recycling within the industry.

What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?

I see a missed opportunity around decoupling revenue models to the (over)production of products and working with consumers to better support the rehabilitation of our planet. As a whole, we are still participating in the take-make-waste model. There are many materials that have already been extracted from the earth and processed that are being sent to landfill. That’s an opportunity in and of itself.

As we move forward, it is critical to make resilient, sustainable, and empowering business models that address both environmental and social impacts holistically.