TASHA LEWIS: Thank you, everyone, for coming today on this balmy New York weather. So I appreciate that. Like Sue said, I am professor in Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell. And I met Anne probably like maybe a little over a year and a half, I think, I met you. And so initially, our collaboration was I just wanted to do a case study, because I'm very interested in sustainable issues, social responsibility, and I found out what they were doing through a grad student of mine.
And I said, well,can I just write a case study document of what you're doing in Haiti, because I think it's really interesting. And from that point, I really started to find out more about the environmental implications of what happens with our clothing, tracking secondhand clothing, what happened when we discard it.
These are just some steps from the EPA just to give us a little context. According to the EPA, we recycle 15% of our textile. It's only 15% is recycled. The other 85% ends up in a landfill. It's about 2 million tons, and that's pretty much the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off of the road. And this is a recent report from 2011.
So we could imagine the impact that we could actually get most of that textile waste out of our landfills and start to recycle them.
SPEAKER 1: So the 2 million tons goes into landfill?
TASHA LEWIS: This is the 2 million tons that gets recycled. So this is actually what we get to recycle. The other rest of it goes into landfills. And what usually happens when we recycle, we donate it to the Salvation Army, the Good Will. And even that gets further assorted after the Salvation Army finds something that they can't see that aren't high quality.
And that actually goes into another cycle of sorting, integrating, and recycling. And that's actually what gets exported to other countries, so countries in Africa, Latin America, and Haiti is within that group of countries that receive those exports.
So that's really where I became interested in the connections to Haiti. Haiti is categorized as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but apparel is it's largest export, and the largest importer of that apparel is the United States.
The stats as of 2013 is about the numbers here, $803 million US dollars that are exported. And so, this is the number of quantity that is actually being sent back to you as some new clothing and that they're actually receiving secondhand garments from our market. Haiti also benefits from some preferential trade agreements that have been in place for the region, the Caribbean Basin Initiative, also called CBTPA. There's HOPE and there's HELP. That was enacted since the earthquake. And so all of these agreements guarantee Haitian apparel duty-free access to the US market.
So if we're able to take advantage of that in terms of creating new apparel, developing the economy, can we really include the secondhand market in that as well? Haiti has suffered under some embargoes that have really damaged the apparel industry. probably in the '90s, that really decreased the numbers of people working in the apparel industry there.
There has been new-construction industrial parks where apparel is mainly made for apparel retail use in the US. They are constructing new ones. So a lot of this is going on around the trade agreements, and some of the preferential things. But they'll expire in about six years. So where does Haiti need to be in about six years?
This is a new industrial park. this is actually from an article in Women's Wear Daily, one that shows President Clinton, some manufacturers from Korea that are building a new industrial park in the North. And Anne has actually visited there. I haven't been there yet, but I'd like to go.
But this is mainly to drive people out of the center of Port-Au-Prince because it is still a very sensitive earthquake zone. But motivating people to go out in a larger scale apparel manufacture. The Dominican Republic has been engaged in apparel manufacturing for a very long time. They're building factories along the border with Haiti, to employ more people. So there are really large-scale, mass-production facilities that they're starting to invest in.
So what does this really mean for Haiti, where my research intersects with all of these facts about Haiti? Looking at the global scale of the what's happening in the apparel industry, what we call a race to the bottom, who can be cheaper, who can get it at the lowest cost, Haiti has very low wages. But how can we make that better?
A lot of our trade agreements have compliance and workers' right issues built in that Haiti has to comply with. So paying a fair wage, that's something they are still struggling with. There is a minimum wage in place.
Human resource issues, what are people skilled to do in Haiti? A lot of people are tailors and seamstresses informally. So they do have that as a skill under your labor staff. And really guaranteeing safe working conditions. And we've seen that with Bangladesh. But really looking at Haiti as a major supplier to the US market, how do we ensure that working conditions are really what we would expect of these factories?
So these things all come together with the research that we're doing in looking at the factory. Anne and her partner, Consuelo, have been generous enough to let us come into their factory and see what they're doing. So what I'll show today is a bit more of my research trip.
I just went two weeks ago. This is Port-Au-Prince. This was the view from my hotel. I like to show this to give people and idea of it as an island and not totally devastated by an earthquake, but still dealing with the ramifications, but to just give a little window into maybe things are changing, and what it looks like now.
This is the secondhand market. The first time I visited Haiti with Anne and Consuelo, five minutes after I got off the airplane they took me here. And it was quite--
SPEAKER 2: A bit overwhelming.
TASHA LEWIS: A bit overwhelming. Because you're standing and you go, really? Is this all of our stuff? Is this part of my closet or things that I've donated?
There's a lot of bales here. A lot of them say USA Mix. So the origin of it is US clothing that's been sent there.
That's been recycled through the Goodwill, Salvation Army system. And this is how it looks. So I was standing there and just overwhelmed.
Some of the brands-- you'll see brands that you're very familiar with. People have taken the effort to sort them and put them in certain categories for ease of picking. I grabbed a sweatshirt from a really well-known brand. I pulled out a couple of other brands that I recognize just randomly.
SPEAKER 3: So who exactly has sent the majority of this clothing there? Is it the Salvation Army? Or is it the government?
TASHA LEWIS: It is imported. So people, they leave Haiti. We've met some people that leave Haiti and then go to these sorting centers in the US. And they pick out bales of clothing.
And they bale it. They wrap it. They send it.
There are people that do this as a business in the US. There's a value chain associated with secondhand clothing where they export it. And they have contacts in Haiti that they will import it to.
ANN PRINGLE: It's created highest quality and lowest quality, the way it comes in.
SPEAKER 1: I didn't realize that.
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, it comes in by the container. And you see all those bales? They sell them to the merchants that then go into the markets. Just another side of the street will sell it.
TASHA LEWIS: It's huge.
ANN PRINGLE: It's a billion-dollar industry.
TASHA LEWIS: Mhm.
ANN PRINGLE: So we don't really realize how much of the clothing-- you think you dropped it off at the Salvation Army and that's it. But it goes around the world. And we still see the tag that will say, Goodwill and Salvation Army, and the price tag attached to them when they're here.
SPEAKER 3: I had no idea.
TASHA LEWIS: Yep. So this is not that far away. That was the other thing. A lot of times you think of countries in Africa, dealing with it. But this is just a two-hour flight from Miami.
So the idea of upcycling, the idea of taking these garments that have been graded and sorted through two times or three times and given the more value. that's the idea of upcycling, taking something of less value and giving it more value from what it originally possessed. This is Anne, of course. But this is her partner, Consuelo. And I think this is one of your partners at the market, one of the stands that you frequent?
ANN PRINGLE: Mhm, yeah.
TASHA LEWIS: When I first got there, I wasn't really sure. I said, this can't be all of our US clothing. This can't just be our stuff. And Haiti gets a very small portion of it. But I was in the process of picking these pictures, and I looked, and I noticed this guy up here at the top.
And I'm from Ohio. And he has an Ohio University T-Shirt. It's like, I'm not doubting that he went to OU, but this is such a far, far place to be. And he probably found that shirt in one of these bales. But it confirmed that OK, this is a lot of our clothing. And in some ways that people try to deal with them, how they negotiate what they pick out of these bales and why they wear it.
This is what I watched Anne and Consuelo doing when I was there. I was very overwhelmed. And I don't know how they pick.
But I think you have certain stalls that you go to and people that you know, in terms of what you're looking for to upcycle. But this, it goes on for several layers. I don't even think you took me all the way into the heart of it. But this is what you see several stalls of, of people with different categories of clothing. One's sweatshirts, tablecloths, denim.
But the idea there, what I really found, was that there are people there sewing to modify the garments. Because our sizes, people from Haiti are smaller, typically, than Americans. So they actually do tailoring and alterations within that market. So it kind of has its own economy.
And I love this lady's T-shirt. It says "California is for Surfers." So it's still that idea, knowing that this is our clothing that's been recycled a couple of times.
This was a larger sewing area within the market, where you see people doing alterations. So once again, thinking about the skills that people already have, the human resources that are there, the ability to do this and to be able to sew, and how can we make that a larger value chain, and make a better working condition, in terms of how they're trying [INAUDIBLE] values.
Where I first became interested, and this is where my Cornell research team gets involved, is dealing with textile waste. So what they do at local levels is getting these garments, upcycling them and making new garments, like the jacket Anne is actually wearing. but there's a lot of textile waste associated with that. And that's still part of the mass production process. You just end up with fabric waste.
But they didn't want to keep creating more waste by trying to be more sustainable. So they asked us to really think about how we could help solve this problem. I mean, how can we manage these scraps, these leftovers, and turn them into things that are more valuable?
And so this is where we have a team of both apparel design students, but also fiber scientists. And I think this is one of the unique things about the College of Human Ecology and our department is where we have people that really look at material science and what materials can be, but also designers that know how to make something aesthetically or think about conserving fabric, and putting our brains together to figure out what to do with that waste.
A lot of fabrics are blended. What you see in Haiti are polyester blends, cotton-poly. And these don't biodegrade. Things like cotton will biodegrade. Wool will biodegrade. These are 100% natural fibers. But the blends don't. So what do you do with that?
Garment deconstruction, what Local Buttons, they actually do, I don't know if anyone here has ever taken apart a garment. But it's like surgery, taking out all the seams. They take everything apart. They take the insides out.
The first time I got there, they had me do it in Haiti with a razor blade. And I said, I'm a professor. I'm in Haiti with a razor blade, cutting garments. But I said, I need to know how you do it and why you do it.
ANN PRINGLE: We've upgraded it somewhat with razorblades.
TASHA LEWIS: But it actually is very efficient, but is very time consuming. So we've been trying to replicate the process to figure out, how do you make this more efficient? We've had some buzz about even ways that you could do it through some really non-toxic chemical ways.
But we found out because most of the fabrics are blended, the chemicals only respond to natural fibers, that we can't even use that process to make it more efficient. So it's very manual. It's very time consuming.
But at the same time, I think it's also a job that someone would need to be able to do, able to deconstruct a garment. Some opportunities that we're thinking about is non-apparel uses. So some of the fibers-- and this is where our fiber scientists are really helpful-- thinking about packaging material, building materials, home accessories, other things that these fibers can still become if they can't be used in clothing.
But also, coming up with an efficient mass production process. Because if we think about being able to ramp up this upcycling process to the mass-produced scale, can we really divert a lot more clothing from the waste stream and from landfills? And really, I know the market in Haiti is there.
But I don't know if they want it to be there. I don't know if you've ever had a feeling about how they feel about the market. And maybe it's another step in really getting a lot of the secondhand clothing out of the market but move it into a production stream, and making that more efficient. And that's kind of where I see the long term of it. I'm not sure if that's feasible, but I sort of see that as a way to transforming our used clothes into something of value that is exported.
So this is the factory in Haiti that I just visited. This is your new facility. Also called a design lab. I think I really like that idea.
But it's a way where we can even partner with them and just work out some of these ideas and see if they work. it's not a mass production facility, but they're building it from the ground up to be fair wage, ethical, sustainable in every way. So I believe I became a part of this, in seeing how it's evolved from the beginning.
These are the patterns our students worked on at Cornell. We printed them out. I think there were three rolls that were maybe the height of that banner that you hand carried to Haiti, which I'm sure raised some eyebrows. But the students worked on this remotely and sent it. So it was really nice to see them working from then.
We're working out some fit questions and some other things about the designs. But it's actually going into production. See, these are some of the first pieces.
This is a jacket sample that our students made that the seamstress is referencing to make a new jacket there in the factory. And it's really helping our students understand the larger production process globally. So thinking about trade agreements, thinking about some of the things you can do, having students think about Haiti as a resource for manufacturing is also important.
This is a place where you can make clothing, and really well-made clothing. These are some of the waste components. I think that's right, some of the other things from the deconstruction process.
ANN PRINGLE: Mhm, yeah.
TASHA LEWIS: You already have a process in place at the lab, where they sort the deconstructed pieces to use for new garments. So I like to see that evolving as sort of a system. This is the first jacket that I think the seamstress sewed in a matter of hours.
It was really quick. So that was really a great job in a short amount of time. And we just were checking some of the other samples and the fit. And that's where we are now.
Right now we're trying to fix some of the fit issues. We are working on a project with the EPA. It's a design competition. We'll travel to Washington in April to compete with other teams working on sustainability issues.
But our students now are figuring out how to upcycle the waste, what to do with the waste, how to partner with the factory to make some of the processes more efficient and beneficial to them, maybe doing some basic fiber identification and factoring to know what garments are made of. Because a lot of the garments don't have tags. So you don't know if it's a polyester blend or not. Because they've been worn and used, and things have been really [INAUDIBLE]. So we moved in that direction.
So just to thank a couple of people that have really been helpful, Anne and Consuelo, of course. But i also was introduced to industrial people in Haiti that have really helped to shape what's going on in the bigger space in Haiti, The Cornell Center for International Studies. this was initially my first trip to Haiti, and the EPA, which is supporting our design space in terms of developing a project.
So one of my students, referring to this, she did a quick mini documentary that I wanted to share with you, just to give you an idea of what's going on. And it's about five minutes. But it just shows our process a little bit more interactively. Then after that we will take questions if you have them.
HELEN TREJO: Over the past few months we've been documenting our process of adding value to secondhand clothes. This project is in partnership with the sustainable clothing business Local Buttons. They are based in Canada and get their clothing manufactured in Haiti.
Their work is grounded in the concept of upcycling. Upcycling as the process of giving a product greater value when its value is relatively low. Local Buttons upcycles clothes from Haiti's secondhand clothing market.
The clothing is actually our used clothes that we take to the Salvation Army and Goodwill. As we can see, the clothes can be resold and used. But it can also pile up and get lost in the excess of it all.
Our goal for this project is to help standardize the production process of upcycling used clothes for mass production. We are working in a team of apparel design and fiber science students and faculty, because both fields are significant for this project. During the fall, we worked on making patterns and samples for Local Buttons, so that they could put them into mass production during 2014.
These were some of their designs. We use secondhand clothing from local thrift stores and deconstructed them to gain a better understanding of their current process. Most of the clothes they picked were men's large blazers, pants, and t-shirts.
We documented information about the clothes measurements, fiber content, and weight, to gauge what we started with. Then we deconstructed the garments to use the full span of their fabric. By the end of the semester, we made patterns for two jackets and skirts.
This part required a lot of communication with Local Buttons to clarify design features and desired fit. Before sewing the final samples, we did a virtual fit of the jacket and skirt on Opti-Tech software. We used a virtual model who had the body measurements we needed. And the digitized patterns were virtually stitched on the model.
This gave us an idea of the shape and fit of the garments before we started sewing. We also created mock ups to check the fit and shape again. These are our final mock ups and the process of creating our final samples.
Part of our process was also to provide a full-size spectrum, from extra small to extra large, so that Local Buttons would be able to offer customers upcycled clothing in different sizes. Our professor, Tasha Lewis, visited Haiti in January to meet with the Local Buttons team. While she was in Haiti she saw sample fittings, gave suggestions for adjustments, and saw the clothes on live models. It was exciting to see our work in a factory setting.
While she was there, she also saw the workers reference the samples to make the garments. This was the first mass-produced jacket and the first mass-produced skirt. It is great to know that our work at Cornell is being used in an industrial setting for sustainability.
Now, back at Cornell, we are making adjustments to patterns based on feedback from the Local Buttons team. Our goal for the next semester is to think of ways that Local Buttons can upcycle remaining textile waste to truly become a zero waste business.
TASHA LEWIS: So that's it. Any questions? I would like to open it up informally. If you want to take a seat?
SPEAKER 3: I just want to understand better. When you deconstruct the clothing, are you taking it to the individual fibers? Or is it more about taking small segments?
SPEAKER 1: Right now we're taking it to the segments of the garment. So we would take apart a sleeve. We would take the linings out. I think that's part of your process. We haven't got down to the actually fiber recycling part, where we could turn it into the new material and extrude it. Do you want to talk a little more about that?
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, we just literally deconstruct each piece so that we keep the shell together, and then all the linings together. And all the buttons we take off. So we've organized it in that sense, because for a jacket like this, we've taken a men's wool blazer, and then the lining from something else. And then we've pulled buttons from different items. So this comes from about three different jacket, or about three different pieces.
So we'd like to eventually get it down to understanding the fibers so that we can-- you know, a lot of the linings inside, or-- I don't know the word in English. It's the [NON-ENGLISH].
TASHA LEWIS: It's like the interfacing. Inside a lot of menswear, there's a lot of build-up fabric in there that doesn't have another purpose outside making it structured.
ANN PRINGLE: So we're trying to find ways, even working to do stuffing out of that. We can shred it and make it into stuffing for home decor, we'd love to go that way. We're trying to find partnerships in Haiti right now that we can just give our waste to. But the only people we've found so far want to burn it. So we're just storing it until we can find something else to do with it.
SPEAKER 1: Has there been an analysis of what happened to all that stuff that ends up in landfills? I mean, does it decompose and end up emitting methane or something? Or what happens to clothes when they decompose?
TASHA LEWIS: Oh, when they decompose? Some of them, even wool releases some toxins into the landfills. So there are things that just don't biodegrade.
They don't break down. So they're just there, in the landfill. And they may have toxins from dyes within them.
So anything in our apparel that's not 100% natural, there's a lot of dye processes and synthetics that are just toxic as they start to degrade and release chemicals. I think the EPA has a couple of municipal waste statistics. And they do have a reports. I think the latest one might be 2011 or 2012, in terms of what is emitted or what is released.
SPEAKER 1: So it's fairly toxic stuff?
TASHA LEWIS: Yeah, there is toxins in our clothes because it's synthetics. Are there are retailers that have committed to removing toxins from their supply chain, I think within the next two years.
ANN PRINGLE: By 2020.
TASHA LEWIS: By 2020.
SPEAKER 3: It's through Greenpeace, their detox challenge.
TASHA LEWIS: Mhm.
SPEAKER 1: Greenpeace does it?
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, it's the Greenpeace Detox Challenge. And like, Nike, Patagonia, Puma, Victoria's Secret, Zara, H&M, they've all signed on.
SPEAKER 1: Oh.
SPEAKER 3: Well, just from the consumer end of things, what are people saying about these clothes? Is it a turnoff when they find out they're made from secondhand? Or is that something that people actually seek out and they want it?
ANN PRINGLE: Some people are really excited by it and they come to us first. What we try to do is make the clothing stand on its own first. We want it to stand up to a new blazer.
And then you learn the story after because you're attracted to the aesthetic. And I think that's how fashion sells. We don't want to guilt anyone into buying our product. We want you to want the piece, and then this is the value added.
We've had a few people ask, do you wash the clothing? Which obviously yes, we do. We wash it before we deconstruct it, and we steam it.
But I think the majority of people are intrigued by it. We do find that we have to make sure the quality is really upheld, because it's a higher price point. But also, because it is secondhand, people pay a bit more attention.
They're going to make sure that it does look perfect, and maybe more so than a new garment. So that's been a challenge for us, to make sure our quality is always really, really high.
TASHA LEWIS: I see two people. I'll go with you and then there, OK?
SPEAKER 6: Where are you selling the garments? And why [INAUDIBLE]?
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, we have an Etsy site right now and we're doing a Shopify site as well. But we are in small boutiques in Toronto-- well, just a small town outside Toronto, but we're really looking to expand this year throughout Canada. And we want to make it in the New York market, come 2015.
We're just still a small-scale production. We need to figure out its-- we tried to first fit this model into a mass production kind of way, and it doesn't work. Because everything is deconstructed. Then we cut each pattern one at a time. And it's always a little-- not a guessing game, but there's a lot to think about every time. You know, it's exciting because we leave some up to the tailors.
We say, these are the colors we want, and the fabric. Or the type of material we want you to use, but you can play with it a little bit. So we'll place an order and it's always a little bit of a surprise, based on what we get.
Which is exciting, but that can make it a bit difficult if you're trying to get into a store that wants just black or just blue. And it'll fall on the bluish scale, but--
SPEAKER 6: And have you thought about, for the next step? So after someone buys a Local Buttons garment, maybe--
ANN PRINGLE: The end of life of ours?
SPEAKER 6: --the end of life for that?
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, what we're trying to think of is down the road, even getting people, if they bring back their blazers to us, offering a discount on what they get next. Because then we can reconstruct it again, add a third life to it. And that's something, what we are trying to think of the end of life of our garments now, so that it all becomes full circle.
And designing too, for better deconstruction. So that's something we need to-- the next line that we do of reconstructed garments, we want it to be able to be deconstructed quite easily. Because right now it is very time consuming.
And if you have little pieces, you can't use them really, again. So anytime we have an issue, if they send us something at the factory that's not up to par, like our skirts that didn't work, we made into bags. We do bead work. So we just take the scraps from that and we use them for linings of bags and that sort of thing. So trying to add another life to them.
SPEAKER 7: So can you tell me a little bit about how you maintain and choose the quality of the clothing that you're going to reconstruct? because it seems like a big problem of why so many of the garments don't get recycled in the US is because they're not actually up to par for recycling. People don't feel good about donating something that's ripped.
TASHA LEWIS: I think there's two sides. Because I think what we're doing at Cornell, we're going to the thrift store, which is actually a better quality than what you get in Haiti. So we were saying, we want to mimic what you do. But actually, their quality is going to be a little bit less, because it's been sorted through twice.
So the ones I found in the US are pretty well made, because they're trying to resell them and make a profit. But I think you can speak to-- I've seen you in the market in Haiti, where you guys are sorting and checking, and you see stains and you see certain things that are not appropriate.
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, for a long time all we made was navy, because navy was in the best condition, it seemed. And it was a really hard to find colors that weren't stained or ripped. And going to the big markets had been a challenge. We'd hired someone. We were very fortunate that he really understood quality and our style.
So he was really good at picking through. But it was an issue. And especially upcycling is not something that's done in Haiti very much. It is in an artistic form, but not so much in clothing. They'll-- like, you saw the pictures of Taylor's write up, the secondhand pepe markets with ultra clothing.
But the idea of deconstructing and making into new and selling back to us, our production manager called us her first week and said, is this a homeless chic line? Like, are you doing-- because there was rips and everything, and stains. So we have to really instill that it needs to look brand new. So that's been an ongoing challenge.
We've been looking at how we source our secondhand clothing. And we found someone. So we're not going right in Port-Au-Prince to the markets now. Someone near the Dominican border gets a lot of clothing that's shipped in. So we've asked them when they get a shipment of blazers, to call us.
So they just dropped off 400 blazers for us the other day. And they were much higher quality, and all extra large. because we don't want to take the clothing that someone might buy on the streets that they need to wear to a job interview in Haiti. But as Tasha mentioned, people in Haiti are quite a bit smaller than what's often donated from America.
So we take the extra large. It's easier to deconstruct to make new garments. And it's not going to get worn in Haiti, for the most part anyways. So that's how we've been dealing with the quality issue, because that was a big issue at first, especially to diversify the line. Because we didn't want just a navy blue line.
SPEAKER 1: When you say only a small portion ends up in Haiti, where else does it go?
TASHA LEWIS: When I look at the stats from the US, the largest portion ends up in countries in Africa. Haiti and Latin America take a really small portion. But I think somewhere around close to 30% goes to countries in Africa. Haiti gets a very small amount. But to me, that looks like a very large amount of--
ANN PRINGLE: It hasn't been reg-- the Dominican gets clothing as well. It's just been regulated, whereas in Haiti it wasn't regulated. So it just comes in. And that, along with embargoes and production moving to China, Bangladesh, really hindered the Haitian tailoring market.
It used to really, really prominent, up until about the '70s, '80s, when they produced for-- they still do produce for Hanes. But Levi's is almost solely manufactured in Haiti. Banana Republic, Gap, almost all of Major League Baseballs were sewn in Haiti as well.
So it was really a big hub for manufacturing. And then it was these embargoes and this influx of secondhand clothing that's coming in. And people just no longer went to a tailor in Haiti to get their clothing made. They just go to the markets.
TASHA LEWIS: And if you go to the Office of Textiles and Apparel, you'll discover that they'll actually show you the list of restrictions by country for clothing, and what restrictions they have. And I just checked Haiti, and they don't have any.
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah.
TASHA LEWIS: Some countries don't take them. Some countries are regulated. But Haiti didn't have any regulations.
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, and you'll see some poor qual-- like, we sourced a bale from a woman who imports. And half the bale, we couldn't even use. It was dirty. It was stained. it was ripped. And this is clothing that wouldn't be able to resell in Haiti either. So it just sits. And it goes to the landfills in Haiti. And those also aren't regulated.
TASHA LEWIS: Yeah, there's no EPA in Haiti, either. So that's another issue, is that waste there will be either burned, or just sits there. And some of the clothing there, it looks like it's been there for a couple of years. Because I even asked someone, do they clean this out at one point?
It just sits there and piles up. And maybe in like, two years you might sell through most of it. But for the most part, you're digging through things that have been sitting there. And I think that is an issue we thought about with remaking it.
Because fibers degrade in heat and moisture. They don't take things off the shelf at night. They just sit out in the air. And so those are all things that can even affect quality.
So we were even trying to think of ways to basically test strength and quality of the fabrics that you're getting. Because those can be issues as well. Just because they don't have a place to put it either. Anything else?
SPEAKER 7: Can you tell me a little bit more about the non-clothing uses for the fibers? I know that's one of your ongoing [INAUDIBLE].
TASHA LEWIS: So this is one of the conversations we've been having, in terms of finding out what the major component of the fibers are. But the fiber science professor that we have on our team, we've talked about some places that use some composite materials. So he works in composite materials.
Can you make interior of cars, some of that, as composite? But I don't think they make cars in Haiti. We thought about packaging or making boxes, things that you can kind of compress.
Building materials, if there's anything you can do, I know Haiti's trying to rebuild to be a more earthquake-safe place. but looking at some of the materials, I know things that we can make from some of the polyester, a lot of the synthetics can become other fibers.
But the problem is, we need things to be 100% something. And a lot of them are not. They're blended. And once a fiber's blended, you can't separate that fiber blend.
So that's what we've been running into, is trying to figure out how to make something out of blended fibers. There are other ideas of composite materials. But I think we may be closer to packaging or other accessories or home goods kind of more than we are with the blended components.
ANN PRINGLE: Mhm. That's what difficult about the industry, this fast fashion industry now, is because blended is cheaper and it's poorer quality and it falls apart. So it's affecting what we're doing. You see the quality go down.
Almost every time we go there, it seems like there are new garments. They're last season's trends. But they're made so poorly that it's really hard to make something out of them again. So it's kind of full circle, the industry is.
SPEAKER 1: Sorry if you answered this before. Now, does Salvation Army actually sell those clothes to people? Or do they give them away?
TASHA LEWIS: I think they sell through a trade, like a broker. They sell them.
SPEAKER 1: They sell them?
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah, from Salvation Army, is it $0.12 a pound, or something like that. So it's quite cheap. But then once you import it in to Haiti, you pay big duty and it's the shipping container.
TASHA LEWIS: In the US there's an organization. I think it's called Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles. And they are an organization that will get their excess from the Salvation Army and the Goodwill. So they're an organization of people that trade in recycling textiles for export. So the Salvation Army never directly sells to these countries.
They sell to these, I call them brokers or traders, that will then negotiate with people in other countries to import them.
SPEAKER 1: OK. One more thing?
TASHA LEWIS: Sure.
SPEAKER 1: Sorry, this is probably for a government to do, but do we throw stuff away in greater proportion in this country than-- I'm sure that we do. Is there analysis anywhere of that, that I could look at?
TASHA LEWIS: I just have read an article. But I don't know if it's statistically supported by the UK. But in the EU, I think total EU was around 5.9 tons. So 5.9 million. And we're like, at 2 million as a country.
So just as a country compared to like, a continent, maybe we do have more. The EPA definitely has the statistics. And that's where I took them from.
But they have statistics on plastic bottles, how much is being recycled. And you can actually see the comparison between paper, plastic, and textile waste. And so the impact-- we recycle less textile waste, but it looks like the impact is much larger if we can divert it from the landfill from textiles.
ANN PRINGLE: And the textiles includes carpets and everything.
TASHA LEWIS: Yeah.
ANN PRINGLE: So it's not just clothing.
TASHA LEWIS: And some of them become wiping rags. So there are people that shred them up and use them as rags. but for things that are still clothing that's usable, it will go into a secondary market.
And I have made a contact in New York, for someone that works and does recycling secondhand. he operates some of the blue bins around our community. And then just to understand what happens after you put it in a bin, and where it goes after that. Because we assume it just goes somewhere and it goes to another country, but it's a whole other value chain of where things end up and who is involved in the industry. Any other questions?
SPEAKER 5: So as you touch on the upcycling as it plays out in the broader fashion industry, are major brands upcycling in any way?
TASHA LEWIS: I think Patagonia is probably the most notable example of upcycling. Do you want to speak to that?
ANN PRINGLE: Well, H&M has recycled, uses some recycled polyester. It's a really, really small portion. Maybe 2% of their stores offer their conscious collection. It's becoming a term that's more known in the fashion industry.
But it's much more on a small scale. You see a lot of local designers that do a lot of upcycle, because the way we do it, they're often one-off pieces. But I think in terms of fiber content, Patagonia is the most notable. They do their recycling with the fleece, right? It's plastic bottles.
TASHA LEWIS: Well, they take it down to the fiber level. In terms of a garment and taking a garment, and recycling, deconstructing it and recycling, upcycling, I haven't seen that. But I've seen-- I think there's a company called Nudie Jeans. They take their denim back and upcycle it.
There's one called Trash Couture. So there's a lot of independent designers. I think a lot of people are thinking about waste, even the waste that you generate in a factory, what they can make out of it.
But I think the idea is that it hasn't become a mass scale deployment of it. And I think there is the thought in fashion, that we need to do it. But it's like, how do we do this in a factory?
Because more factories are set for mass production. And like you said, when you go into a factory that's used to sewing in a line, and T-shirts, and you say, I need you to cut one of these, and use three blazers, and figure it out, how it should be most efficiently, that's not a system that works really well in a factory. So a lot of it has existed at the boutique/workshop level.
ANN PRINGLE: It's all down to timing and how it's--
TASHA LEWIS: Yeah, how people are paid, if you're paid by the piece, and how much value is added to the garment. And who's going to buy it? So we also brought samples, if you wanted to physically inspect some of the pieces. Here are the samples that I think these are all the designs that Cornell students produced.
But some of them were from the factory. But they are your designs, patterned and technicals by our students. But to give you an idea of taking it and making it something that's wearable, but something that a lot of the upcycled I've seen, it's a bit avant garde.
And a lot of it is very different than what a consumer might buy and just say, I want to wear this every day. And not consume a whole wardrobe of it. But I might buy one piece. That looks really unique.
So I think that's the idea, is really the thought of upcycling is out there. And it's very popular. I just picked up a book yesterday called Refashioned. It's by a professor at FIT. And there's several chapters of just different designers who upcycle. And it's very interesting to see some of the pieces. But I was just trying to read where are they making it? Where are they doing it?
And a lot of them have their workshops in the city where they work. So if you're in Toronto, you make it in Toronto and produce it in Toronto. but the idea here is can we take this and let people make it that have an industry, that need the jobs, that support development and work within a trade infrastructure. [INAUDIBLE] for making this work at a bigger level sustainably, but also ethically, they're also contributing to the economy.
ANN PRINGLE: And our idea, we started really because after I finished undergrad, I was going on job interviews. And I couldn't find professional wear that was ethical and sustainable unless I went vintage shopping, which can often take a really long time to find the quality, the size that you want.
And I figured, there's got to be another way. You know? There's got to be a wear to make professional wear. Because the majority of us are going to wear it at some point in our life.
And we'll spend a little bit more money to get that blazer that looks really nice. So can we do this in a sustainable and ethical way? So there's a major upcycling company, Preloved, in Toronto. They're Canadian based. And they do really nice stuff. But they make stuff from old sweaters.
There's also Shower Curtains. But it looks upcycled. It's really cool. But it has that look. And we wanted to move away from that. And some of our stuff definitely looks, you can see, it's many different things together. But we also want to make classic pieces that you can wear into the office and no one's going to think that you're wearing 17 other items piled together.
SPEAKER 1: Do you receive funding? How do you?
ANN PRINGLE: We funded it all ourselves, as bartenders. And then we found an investor in Haiti who's given us this factory space. They used to produce for the Gap and the Banana Republic.
And they're a logistics company. So they had all this space. They had old machines. They thought what we were doing was really interesting and that it could really help build the Haitian economy.
And they think that it will be able to grow. So we've been really fortunate from the Haitian side. It's been harder getting funding from Canada. Because we're not producing locally, we can't get, really, government grants.
Fashion's-- people are less likely to invest in a fashion company. So but we've been really fortunate to partner with Cornell and a lot of other really amazing people.
SPEAKER 7: Can you speak a little more about how you've balanced this-- there's a big push right now for more local manufacturing. And I feel like every time I write about it, it doesn't matter ho sustainable and ethical the company is if they're not made in the USA, [INAUDIBLE] for writing about this. So how do you think about that sort of balance between the need for local economies and the reality of this global economy that's willing to ship clothing from Haiti, from the US to Haiti and back? To [INAUDIBLE] process?
TASHA LEWIS: I'll go first.
ANN PRINGLE: Sure, you do the professor.
TASHA LEWIS: So the way that I see it, because I'm very interested in the garment district, of preserving what there is in craft and trade and what do. And we constantly see diminishing numbers of what's produced locally. And I think how I see, I understand what we've really done at Cornell is the pattern making, the technical design, a lot of that is still done in the the US.
And a lot of that energy is still devoted to it. In terms of making it in the US, I know people find they have trouble finding people to make small batches. You can hire sample makers, but it's a challenge to really find a manufacturer that might want to make something like this. Or even to be able to have access to the secondhand clothing to make it.
I remember the first talk I saw about upcycling. I don't know if you remember Project Alabama, and Alabama Chanin. She did T-shirts. And I think she was making them in Alabama. But she would go get the bales. And she made these beautiful couture gowns.
And she made them all locally. And she had people quilting in her home. But it was something that didn't really work in a factory setting. And when I look at developing countries and I look economies, the apparel industry is sort of this pathway that people go through to development.
Like, you have agriculture, then apparel manufacturing, then you go onto something that's a little more value added. We're seeing the shift of that in China, with labor costs going up. So I think domestic manufacturing is important. I don't know how much significantly will be done here.
But I would love to have a workshop. We could have one in New York, and then we'd have one in Haiti. Or maybe you do a few pieces here, but you're doing a larger-scale operation in Haiti. But you have a lot more secondhand clothing.
I think we need to be more boutique in our thinking about manufacturing in the US, making high-quality, high-value pieces, and where they get made and under what conditions. I still love the idea of making things in New York. I've worked in New York once. And we made everything in New York City. And we were making T-shirts. So I know there's a lot of capabilities to still do that.
But at the same time, I'll ask my students a lot, do you want to sew? none of them want to sew. So at the same time, we're wondering who's going to sew and who wants to sew these garments for us? And that's still a big question.
So I love the idea of making things domestically. but I also love the idea of giving people an opportunity to use the resources that they have to make something that might be something consumers want to buy. And ethically done. I think that's the other thing, and having transparency in the way that you make it.
ANN PRINGLE: Yeah. I think there's a lot of value in making local. And I mean, even when I buy food, I try to buy local. And I do think quite locally. So it did feel strange to go abroad to produce. Haiti is quite close, in that sense.
But I also think the manufacturing sector was so huge in a place like Haiti. And it is in Bangladesh and China. And it's not about taking advantage of it, but really working in that market and using it to help rebuild an economy, which is why we're trying to bring skilled-- we work with really skilled tailors.
We're trying to bring higher-end designs that we can see more value staying in the country and pay a higher wage. And really, we want to have the ability to scale up in our company have our floor managers all be Haitian, and that sort of idea, rather than bringing people from the US to manage the floor. Every employee is Haitian.
And that's been our goal as well, is to really work on creating more ethical standards. Because I think it'd be really great if we could all produce locally and consume locally. I just don't see that happening in the next short while. And if we're working in an international kind of market, and clothing is so international, how can we make this more ethical and sustainable within the realm that we're already working. So it's a good question.
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Tasha Lewis, professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University, and Anne Pringle, co-founder of LB Designs, discuss upcycled clothing and how they're helping Haiti tap the North American apparel market, Feb. 11, 2014 as part of the Inside Cornell series.