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Repair and Reuse Drive Fashion’s Sustainability Movement

A garment’s life doesn’t have to end in a landfill.

While textile waste remains a huge problem for the industry, some companies are turning to other alternatives, including repair and reuse, to provide a more sustainable path for used apparel.

At the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Summer Institute on Tuesday, panelists from three companies, including Nudie Jeans, The Renewal Workshop and Eileen Fisher, discussed how brands can foster a more circular economy by engaging in these eco-friendly practices. From mail-order repair kits to exclusive recycled collections, here’s what these businesses are doing to extend the lifespan of pre-consumed clothing.

Nudie Jeans

Denim is always falling in and out of consumers’ wardrobes. With the occasional rip, tear and fade, a pair of jeans could be donated, or worse, just thrown away. Sweden-based denim tycoon, Nudie Jeans, is remedying this situation by providing consumers with free repair services and the ability to purchase second hand products.

“The focus with this is to reduce the environmental footprint post purchase,” former Nudie Jeans global head of public relations and communications Ruari Mahon said. “There is so much talk about what is going on before and getting the product to market, but repair and reusing is really integrating the consumer and bringing it back.”

Founded in 2001, Nudie Jeans is known for its premium, 100 percent organic cotton men’s denim. Ten years after its start, one of Nudie Jeans’ founders suggested that the company offer free repairs on all Nudie Jeans denim products. With this policy, Nudie Jeans will fix consumers’ jeans for life provided they are in suitable condition. Today, Nudie Jeans has 25 repair shop locations worldwide and in 2015, repaired 21,331 pairs of jeans with this circular model.

If a consumer can’t visit a Nudie Jeans repair shop, the company offers the option of ordering a free repair kit, which come with two denim patches, one black denim patch, one iron patch, one needle, one spool of thread, one thimble and one repair kit booklet. The kit enables consumers to fix their Nudie Jeans on their own, so they may keep their favorite pair for a long time.

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In addition to repairing jeans, Nudie Jeans also sells second-hand products at their Repair Shops. In 2013, Nudie Jeans began offering 20 percent off a new purchase for consumers who donated their old jeans. Nudie Jeans would provide a second life to these garments by washing, repairing and reselling each pre-consumed pair. What’s more, Nudie Jeans’ reworked denim also achieved the Swedish “Good Environmental Choice” label for its green consumerism qualities.

The Renewal Workshop

Brands’ linear systems aren’t always equipped to handle unsold apparel. That’s where The Renewal Workshop, a zero-waste company, steps in to help brands find another outlet for their rejected garments.

“The Renewal Workshop is a new kind of apparel company that recovers the value in discarded clothing so it could be resold again,” The Renewal Workshop co-founder Jeff Denby said. “The whole idea is to reduce waste in the apparel industry.”

The Renewal Workshop collaborates with brands to develop a more circular system for their unsold clothing.

First, brands send excess and returned inventory to The Renewal Workshops’ Oregon-based facility. The apparel then gets sorted into three groups, renewable, recycling or upcyclable. Through its partnership with Tersus Solutions, a waterless cleaning technology, The Renewal Workshop cleans clothing with liquid carbon dioxide.

A team then inspects the garments and determines their next life. Renewed clothes are styled and rolled in eco-friendly packaging for consumers, while unrenewable clothes are upcycled or mechanically recycled into new fibers. Participating brands are also provided with product sustainability data to monitor their circular progress.

Since the launch of the renewal system last year, The Renewal Workshop diverted 20,000 pounds of apparel from landfills, saved 15,000 gallons of gasoline, conserved 100,000,000 gallons of water and saved 60,000 pounds of chemicals. The system’s current partners include many apparel brands, like PrAna and Toad & Co. With the system, brands can share a more sustainable story with their consumers, one that provides garments with a second life and betters the planet.

Eileen Fisher

As styles change over time, some consumers don’t have a place to bring their damaged or worn garments. Eileen Fisher is minimizing the industry’s carbon footprint with its apparel take-back program, Fisher Found.

With this circular system, consumers may bring their pre-used Eileen Fisher apparel to Eileen Fisher and Fisher Found stores. Consumers are provided a $5 rewards card for each item, while Eileen Fisher repairs and resells gently used garments or remakes damaged garments into new pieces. Since 2009, the program has taken back 722,000 Eileen Fisher garments and provided them with a second life.

Today, consumers remain an essential part in Fisher Found’s eco-friendly mission. In addition to opening two brick-and-mortar locations in New York and Washington, the program also holds pop-up shops and panels to raise awareness about repairing, reusing and recycling apparel.

“We welcome it back like an old friend and have that embedded in our story,” Fisher Found facilitating manager Cynthia Power said. “There is a lot of value there from a business perspective and a great emotional story for the consumer.”