Renewed Life for Returned, Defective Clothing

Cleantech support, manufacturing expertise, and a unique entrepreneurial vision team up to repair, resell, and up-cycle returned brand-name clothing

PORTLAND, Ore. – When damaged or defective clothing is returned to manufacturers, it is usually sent to a landfill, incinerated or occasionally donated to a cause. If a zipper or snap doesn't function, a seam is blown out or a button's missing, the article often winds up as part of the 14 million tons of apparel Americans throw out annually (80 pounds per person).

The EPA estimates that keeping this clothing out of landfills would be the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars and their carbon emissions off the road.

Now, thanks for a unique three-way collaboration that includes cleantech support, manufacturing expertise and an entrepreneurial vision, a new startup called The Renewal Workshop in Cascade Locks, Ore., is transforming returned clothing into resellable items – a process that not only benefits the planet and employs people, but also helps manufacturers hit sustainability goals.

View of The Renewal WorkshopThe new collaborative project between The Renewal Workshop, Oregon BEST and the Oregon Manufacturers Extension Partnership (OMEP) helped the company design and set up an efficient 7,500 sq.-ft. lean manufacturing facility (pictured, right) at an industrial park in the Columbia River Gorge. The total cost of the project was $22,500, shared in equal parts across the three partners.

"Both Oregon BEST and OMEP contributed expertise, insights and key support that were critical in helping us design and build out our facility in a way that functions perfectly," said Nicole Bassett, Co-CEO of The Renewal Workshop. "Small, collaborative investments like this are a huge help to Oregon startups like ours as we work to build a more sustainable world."

The 10-month-old startup already employs nine people and plans to grow to 25 employees in two years. It has already raised $1 million, and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign raised another $57,000 and resulted in more than 400 initial customers. The company will launch online sales in about two weeks, said Bassett (pictured, below, with waterless laundry system).

Waterless washing system at The Renewal Workshop"Studies have shown that cleantech is almost three times as active in manufacturing as the broader economy, so manufacturing expertise is a critical skill set to have on hand when cleantech startups are ready to go to scale," said Johanna Brickman, Director of Collaborative Innovation at Oregon BEST. "Oregon BEST is proud to be partnering with the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership to leverage that expertise to help this circular-economy startup succeed. This is another example of the breadth of cleantech here in Oregon, and how it impacts everything from apparel and agriculture to manufacturing and energy savings."

Using renewed clothing saves the apparel industry water, carbon and waste, said Bassett who formerly worked at Patagonia. "For every nine months that a renewed article of clothing is used, instead of buying it new, the amount of carbon used to manufacture a new product is reduced by 27 percent, water by 33 percent, and waste by 22 percent," she said.

The Renewal Workshop uses minimal packagingThe Renewal Workshop renews outdoor garments like raincoats and jackets, as well casual shirts, pants and dresses. Returned apparel is received in bulk from the company's brand partners, and workers then inspect, grade, repair (if necessary), clean (using a waterless system), co-label (see photo, below) the clothing and ship with minimal packaging (pictured, right). Resold online at 30 percent off the manufacturer's suggested retail price, each piece is certified to the quality standards of the original brand, Bassett said.

The company partners with apparel companies committed to sustainability, including the brands prAna, Ibex, Toad&Co, Mountain Khakis, and Indigenous, and another 15 manufacturers are interested in the concept. Partner brands pay a membership fee, and The Renewal Workshop supplies them with feedback about product defects so manufacturing can be adjusted to improve sustainability.

"I've always been very interested in the vision of a circular economy and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing, and what that might look like for the apparel industry," Bassett said. "So our big goal is to help apparel brands participate in a more circular economy, instead of a linear one, where broken products go into the garbage. And I strongly believe that we will be very successful."

Co-labeling by The Renewal WorkshopThe company looks at each piece from a hierarchy of highest value, with repairing and reselling at the top, followed by up-cycling (using pieces in other products), down-cycling (last use), and recycling (using the fiber in other products).

OMEP developed a comprehensive facility and material flow study, then used a detailed CAD layout to address all the aspects of preparing the facility for efficient and lean manufacturing. OMEP modeled specific equipment location and placement, which required unique consideration due to The Renewal Workshop's cleaning process that utilizes environmentally friendly cleaning equipment that eliminates the use of water and drying time.

"By carefully thinking through operations and process flow, and with the assistance from Oregon BEST, we were able to set up The Renewal Workshop for success and get it off ground very quickly," said Jim Wehrs, Managing Consultant at OMEP. "In just nine months, the company went from idea to a producing factory!"

Co-labeling by The Renewal WorkshopOregon BEST offers a wide range of funding and support for cleantech startups in Oregon, and currently has more than 40 start-up companies listed as Oregon BEST Companies that are receiving help moving their technologies to the marketplace.

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About Oregon BEST http://oregonbest.org
Oregon BEST funds and assists cleantech startups, bringing together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths to support entrepreneurs in the creation of new products and services. As the nexus for clean technology innovation, Oregon BEST builds capability, convenes collaborations and accelerates solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. More than 250 Oregon BEST Member Researchers and a network of nine Oregon BEST Labsat four partner universities (Oregon State University, Oregon Tech, Portland State University, and University of Oregon) offer research expertise and lab equipment to industry. Oregon BEST competitively awards Early-Stage Investments to collaborations between startup companies and Oregon BEST Member Faculty at partner universities. More than 40 Oregon BEST Companies are in various stages of commercialization.

About the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership http://omep.org
The Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership (OMEP) is a not-for-profit organization that helps Oregon manufacturers grow through innovation and respond to the challenges of competing in an increasingly global economy. One of 60 Manufacturing Extension Partnership resource organizations nationwide, OMEP receives state, federal and private funding to assist manufacturers in transforming the way they do business. Since 2002, OMEP’s work with manufacturing firms supported 14,693 jobs through direct and indirect employment; $1.14 billion in wages and benefits paid to employees, property-type income and other items; and nearly $2.2 billion in total production output. OMEP clients have seen nearly $900 million in increased or retained sales. And in Oregon, nearly 30 percent of the gross state product comes from manufacturing, the second highest in the U.S. OMEP’s goal for Oregon’s small and medium-sized manufacturing companies is daily improvement and long-term profitability. OMEP helps company leaders learn new approaches and strategies for innovation, new product development, an engaged workforce, operational excellence, supply chain management, enhanced sustainability/efficiency efforts, business transition planning and global competitiveness.

About The Renewal Workshop http://therenewalworkshop.com
The Renewal Workshop develops industry-wide solutions that optimize the value of resources already invested in apparel. The Renewal Workshop partners with the world’s best-loved brands and retailers to renew their “unsellable” returns and excess inventory. In the facility in Cascade Locks, Oregon, products are sorted, cleaned and repaired, giving each garment new life as Renewed Apparel. The Renewed Apparel is then sold on our own website. The Renewal Workshop is the certified renewal partner of the brand, and The Renewal Workshop brand in the garment acts as a seal of trust and quality. For any product that can’t be renewed, The Renewal Workshop responsibly manages the upcycling, downcycling or recycling of it in order to optimize the resources already invested in them.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
SOURCES: Johanna Brickman, Oregon BEST, 503-313-4507; Nicole Bassett, The Renewal Workshop, 805.223.1287; Anna Thames, Director Business Development, OMEP, 503-406-3770