Giving damaged or unwanted clothes a second life can bring big benefits to the planet and our community, as shown by a local repair pilot project funded by the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE) in partnership with the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) and Goodwill of the San Francisco Bay. The project hosted an open call for designers and brands to collaborate on repairing and renovating the large volume of damaged garments donated to Goodwill.

Currently, there is low awareness and very few options to repair, recover or reuse damaged garments so they often end up in local landfills. The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery(CalRecycle) estimates that textiles are 3% of the total waste stream. Traditional thrift stores often can’t take them as they are a cost burden so they end up in landfills or get recycled as rags in the industrial market. However, Goodwill sees many valuable, damaged items come through community donations and they wanted better options to get these damaged garments back into the community for reuse. Goodwill is positioned to support their sustainability goals, offer high quality affordable items to shoppers and to create local jobs.

The project addressed this issue by calling for experts and students from across the state who were willing to take in unwanted or damaged clothing and textiles to repair or upcycle to make new products. The project’s goals are to strengthen California’s sustainability efforts by increasing textile waste diversion and expanding opportunities for textile reuse, repair, and renovation while encouraging recycling businesses to thrive. This pilot project measured the volume of damaged goods entering the secondhand stream and mapped opportunities to repair and redesign the damaged garments into high-value, sellable items.

Garment cleaning and repairing are not new industries and typically these types of businesses are BIPOC-owned, but they have found repurposing clothes for commercial resale is an emerging industry in the Bay Area. Repair vendors such as Savvy Cleaners and Designing a Difference, along with San Francisco State University’s fashion design students from the Apparel Design and Merchandising program, participated in the pilot project to provide their services to restore damaged garments.

With recent and future policies in play, California is striving to become a global hub for sustainable textile and garment production, including repair and redesign services.

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