According to a report by Value Village, the average North American disposes of 81 pounds of textiles every year. So imagine the amount of fabrics, supplies, and materials that go to waste in garment-production facilities where, in the age of fast fashion, seasonal collections are pumped out at record speeds and trends are as plentiful as they are fleeting.
It’s a problem that has, undoubtedly, contributed to the textile sector’s label as one of the most polluting industries in the world. In Vancouver, however, one volunteer-driven group has been combating local textile waste for years—long before recycling and thrifting were considered cool.
Since 2009, Our Social Fabric has been collecting unused cloth from local designers and garment manufacturers and selling them to students, eager craftspeople, and everyday sewers at rock-bottom prices. The nonprofit has grown exponentially since then and now stocks donations from film and theatre sets, estate closures, and more.
Carol Smith, a long-time volunteer and now board member at OSF, recalls stumbling upon one of the organization’s monthly sales in 2011. At that time, the event was running out of a small storage locker in East Vancouver. “I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to take fabric that would otherwise have gone into the garbage or dump and put it back in the hands of people who were excited about doing something with unwanted fabrics,” she tells the Georgia Straight by phone.
These days, OSF operates from a dedicated space in Strathcona, where experienced and amateur sewers alike regularly flock to score deals on high-quality textiles. Past sales have included cotton bamboo, silk, merino wool, and denim. Technical, upholstery, and drapery fabrics are also available, as well as supplies such as zippers and cone thread.
Many of the items are brand-new but may be deemed “unusable” by various industries because they’re from a previous season or perhaps were shipped in the wrong colour. “There’s not necessarily anything wrong with the fabric,” Smith explains. “It just no longer works in the manufacturing plant or wherever it’s from.”
Fabrics are sold at 10 to 20 percent of the original retail price, with few materials exceeding $10 per metre. “Everyone who walks in is very happy,” Smith adds. “They’re local designers; they’re grandmas sewing for their grandchildren. They’re crafters; they’re people looking for fabric to make costumes.”
All of the proceeds from OSF’s sales help pay the nonprofit’s rent, utilities, and other expenses. A number of board members and volunteers also craft blankets from the unused textiles to distribute to folks living in the Downtown Eastside. In addition, Smith says that she and the other board members are working on establishing a scholarship for eco-minded student designers.
“That’s one way we’re trying to help local designers or anyone who’s looking to become a designer in the garment industry or fashion industry,” she says. “We’d like to support people who have upcycling and recycling as their main focus.”
OSF’s next sale takes place on Sunday (May 28), from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at 340–1275 Venables Street. First timers should arrive early, as past sales have been known to draw lineups before the doors open. Smith says they have received an increasing number of donations in recent years as more industries realize the importance of diverting bolts and scraps of fabric from landfills. She also loves seeing what regular attendees are able to create with the discarded cloth.
“There’s a passion for textiles and fabric, but there’s also a passion for our ecosystem and not wasting stuff,” she says.