Value Village Textile Waste Installation

Value Village created a powerful and memorable art installation at Graffiti Alley. The main purpose was to bring awareness to textile waste on Textile Tuesday during Waste Reduction Week in Canada. Infuse was on site and was able to speak with Tony Shumpert, the Vice President of Reuse and Recyling at Value Village, and ask him a few questions about the installation and sustainability.

Who made this art installation?

We partnered with our consumer engagement team at Edelman to help create this. We’ve done this before with a couple other firms which specialize in doing art installations like this and one of the most notable that has helped us when we did our very first one, was Electric Coffin. Our very first one we did was done in Seattle on Alki Beach, which actually showed and mimicked an oil spill on the beach, because as most people don’t know, the apparel industry is the second leading polluter in the world behind big oil. We used that as a way to kick off our Rethink Reuse campaign. We’ve been doing it for 3 years, we’ve followed that up with an event like this at Yonge Dundas square, where we converted the water fountains that spew water up into the air, to spewing up clothing instead of water. Behind that, we did one at the Vancouver aquarium in British Columbia and then now here.

Where did this idea come from?

The idea came from out of the fact that we have been a champion for reuse for over 60 years, and we’re one of the world’s largest reuse companies. And one of the things that we’ve noticed over the last few years is that the world is consuming more and more apparel. Today globally, we consume over 81 billion pieces of apparel every single year. So, for us we wanted to do something that could help people move from just talking about the issue to doing something. And a lot of times that takes helping people visualize it to really understand. And so, in each one of these that we’ve done, we’ve always had a visual representation of what our clothing footprint really looks like. Like the barrels that we have here, represent 700 gallons of water or 2650 litres, that’s how much water it takes to make one cotton t-shirt. So, by being able to give people that visual representation, not only what the impact of the waste is, but also what it takes to make these items to begin with, it helps people begin to want to make change. We also want to give people solutions that they can incorporate to begin to make a difference themselves. So, you’ll hear us talk about the fact that donating your clothing to a non-profit organization versus throwing it out is the very first step to get it into the reuse cycle, and the second thing is to begin to shop thrift, and add thrift into your shopping habits.

What happens to the clothing that doesn’t get sold in stores?

All the clothing gets donated, and what happens by donating is you actually get it unto the reuse stream. So, everything that’s donated, for instance to one of the non-profit organizations that we work with, they literally drive their truck to a Value Village store, we receive all of that merchandise, we pay them by the pound per everything they deliver, whether it sells in the store or not. And then we go through every single item and determine which items are suitable for resell in the store and which items are still a great quality item, that someone just didn’t buy. And so, in our model, we actually take that material, we process that material, separate the material that’s actually reusable, and what doesn’t fit in that category, actually gets used to upcycle, downcycle, and then also be converted into things like, home installation.

What does sustainability mean to you in the fashion industry?

At its most simple level, to me, we have to begin to recognize that the most sustainable piece of clothing that exists are the ones that are already out there. And people tend to sort of jump to trying to knock fast fashion, when this topic comes up around sustainability, but the reality is, it’s going to take brands to lead on this issue. And there are brands out there that are doing things, there are many brands that are doing things that we don’t even know about because they’re making progress, but they feel like their progress isn’t far enough for them to be able to share. And so for me, sustainable fashion means we need to think about the buying decisions we make, and potentially buying better quality products with quality material that will last longer, we need to make sure that when we feel that we are done with it or it doesn’t have a useful life with each of us individually, that we donate it and get it into the reuse stream, versus throwing it out. And those that are in the reuse stream, need to make sure that they have viable models to extend the life of those items as far as possible and also be able to take those items that are at the end of their life, and put them back into a process where they can go into either upcycling, downcycling or conversion into new product.

So, going off from that, what does sustainability mean to you in your life?

So I have two kids, so for me it’s all about what I just said, and so I often think in how it translates for me and what I like to tell people and what I tell my kids, is that often times, when it comes to sustainability, we feel overwhelmed, we think that the issue is so big, that individually, my effort isn’t going to make a difference, but the reality in this is, when it comes to sustainable fashion, when it comes to reuse, if all of us begin to incorporate those small things, like donating to a non-profit to get product into the reuse stream, and starting to incorporate shopping second-hand just a little bit, if I begin to do it, and you begin to do it, and others begin to do it, then it continues to grow, it’ll have a ripple effect. And eventually, it’s going to change the way that we shop, it’s going to change the way that we style ourselves, and it’s going to change the way that we live.

What do you want people to take away from this and go home with today?

I would love for people to take away a better understanding, not of just the waste, but the resources that we are using to continue to propel our consumption habits.

It was amazing to see Value Village bring awareness to the important issue of textile waste and sustainability in such a creative way. We at Infuse really hope that this installation will help people see the very real problem that overconsumption causes, and influence them to start living a more sustainable life.

To learn more about Value Village’s Rethink Reuse campaign, visit their website.

Written by Cara Presta

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