The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters of the environment. Its carbon footprint is predicted to amount to 2,791 tons by 2030. The amount of waste it’s predicted to produce is 148 million tons. The culprit behind these devastating numbers is a problematic and pervasive trend: fast fashion. In efforts to slow climate change, a growing number of apparel businesses are moving away from the traditional linear economy to support the more eco-friendly circular economy.

Meet Irina McKenzie, a social entrepreneur who is mobilising the sustainability movement in the fashion industry. She is an advocate of circular economy and the founder of Frameworq Education Society and FABCYCLE. Prior to social enterprise, she spent several years in corporate project management.

She realized her interest in social enterprises when she was completing a business program at Groundswell Alternative Business School in 2013. The program changed her life by prompting her to do a lot of introspective self-work. After connecting the dots between her love of working with creatives, the potential of using “waste” as a resource, and a market need for a reuse and recycle service, she found the path to her first venture.

Mckenzie founded Frameworq Education Society in 2014. It has been a certified nonprofit since 2018 despite McKenzie’s original intentions for it to function as a business. Still, Frameworq has been successful in its mission: bringing together designers and consumers to explore sustainable solutions to our society’s disposable culture.

“We host events like design challenges, clothing repair events, clothing swaps, and other workshops, because the best way to overthrow throwaway culture is to Reuse, Repair, and Recycle,” explains McKenzie. “We have to rely on the circular economy to divert textile waste because there’s currently a tech gap for responsibly recycling textiles. Certain materials can’t be recycled, and we don’t have the technology to do that yet.”

These discarded pieces of fabric have been upcycled and revived by the community as hair scrunchies, tote bags, and punching bags — items for everyday use.

FABCYCLE then emerged in 2017 as an alternative solution to that gap. Before its launch, McKenzie experimented with different business models to find the one that would allow her to marry sustainability with business. She didn’t want to manage a service that would simply follow the “business as usual” attitude considering the magnitude of the environmental crisis.

So, FABCYCLE is a B2B and B2C service that works directly with fashion designers, artists, factories, and schools to collect textile waste left over from the apparel production process. Some of this “waste” is still in good condition, so the ReUSE Centre redistributes it among consumers in the Vancouver artist community. These discarded pieces of fabric have been upcycled and revived by the community as hair scrunchies, tote bags, and punching bags–items for everyday use.

“Fabric scraps have no resale value in stores and there was no system to deal with the waste in an environmentally friendly way, so I wanted FABCYCLE to function as the link between stores that throw materials away and the creative community that needs them,” says McKenzie.

What is McKenzie’s take on the sustainability movement now, five years into work? “In the apparel industry, sustainability is definitely becoming more of a mindset than a trend. There’s more awareness of that and how a circular economy benefits both businesses and the environment. Big companies are even acting on it now and training employees on its principles. So, I think the sustainable mindset is here to stay, but the problem is that we’re still very behind on productive action.”

One of the reasons behind this problem is that sustainable resources and materials are expensive. It’s hard for businesses to get behind sustainable practices when they can’t afford them.

“Sustainability is a privilege,” admits McKenzie. “It’s not ideal, but the privilege is in the buying—the ownership—of resources. Right now, the sad truth is that sustainable clothing materials cost more than regular ones. Many of my clients are students and emerging designers and they’re broke, so those materials aren’t available to them.”

McKenzie’s next steps are focused on getting the word out about the available resources at the ReUSE Centre and connecting with more artists and creatives to make use of these fabrics. If you’re interested in learning how to repair your own clothes or ways fabric waste can be a useful resource, you can find her facilitating Frameworq’s fix-it events at various Vancouver Public Library locations or chatting with clients at FABCYCLE’s ReUSE Centre in Chinatown.