Textile Tales

This Cascade Locks Start-Up Saves Activewear from Landfills

A brand-new garment with a tear or broken zipper? Once, companies like Prana and Ibex threw them out. Now, they're fixed by Oregon's Renewal Workshop—and sold back to you at cut-rate prices.

By Webb Wright December 13, 2016

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Renewal Workshop HQ: a stone's throw from Bridge of the Gods in the beautiful Columbia Gorge.

About 40 miles from Portland, the sleepy industrial town of Cascade Locks hugs the southern bank of the Columbia River. It's long been a pass-through point for Mount Hood snow bunnies and Walla Walla wine buffs. But now, there's a new reason to hit pause at Bridge of the Gods.

Meet the Renewal Workshop: a start-up that's reimagining the cycle of production, consumption, and waste within the textile industry. The company formally announced itself via an Indiegogo campaign this past August, and in just one month received enough capital through donations to open its facility in Cascade Locks.  Soon—by "mid-December," we're told—the first customers will be able to browse its online store. (Edit: as of February 15, the online store is up and running.)

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A Renewal Workshop employee works on repairs at the Cascade Locks facility.

So what does the Renewal Workshop sell? Unique, restored activewear diverted from landfills and offered at significantly discounted prices. From its Cascade Locks repair facility, the Workshop intercepts articles of clothing from some of the biggest West Coast names in the outdoor clothing industry (think Prana, Ibex, and Mountain Khakis) that—due to small tears, sewing malfunctions, discolorations, and the like—have been deemed unfit for regular retail and normally would be on their way to landfills. 

Instead, the Renewal Workshop founders have worked out a unique arrangement with these companies: rather than trash these items, they're gifted, and shipped, to Cascade Locks, to be washed and mended back to retail quality. Some refurbished items will be returned to the partners; others will stock the Renewal Workshop's own online store, where you can score items at a 20 to 30 percent discount off normal retail prices.

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Renewed women’s cranberry jacket from Toad&Co

It's a win-win both for the partners, who keep more of their products in circulation, and the Renewal Workshop, which hopes to profit in the process. But there's another reason for the company, says cofounder Nicole Bassett: it's an environmental good.

Formerly the Director of Sustainability at Prana, Nicole Bassett, who cofounded the Workshop alongside Jeff Denby (himself a veteran of the apparel industry), had spent her entire career working to minimize textile waste.  Every year, she saw a huge number of articles of clothing rejected by companies as being unfit to sell. 

“There is a lot of stuff that gets returned to brands [from retail stores],” she explains. “Some of it can be resold again, if it was the wrong size, or whatever. But about one percent of the products that companies make is basically unwanted. Some companies make tens of millions of units each year ... so that one percent really starts to add up.”

According to a 2014 study published by the Environmental Protection Agency, 64.5 percent of discarded clothing eventually gets left at a landfill. And it's been estimated that an average 82 pounds of textiles per person are produced every year; 70 pounds of which ultimately wind up in the trash. Bassett finds these statistics particularly disturbing, considering how easily all textiles can be recycled, at minimal cost. 

“The Renewal Workshop was created so that we can create a circular economy for the apparel industry,” says Bassett. 

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