Ann Runnel awarded by Crown Princess Victoria. Photo: Pelle T Nilsson/IBL

Turning fabric scraps into opportunity

Earlier this year, Ann Runnel received a Global Change Award for her online marketplace for textile leftovers, Reverse Resources. Runnel sees huge potential in what is usually considered production waste. This is her vision.

“Imagine this: Over 80 billion garments are produced annually worldwide. On average 10-15% of materials are left behind as production waste. If these materials could be put back into production, it would mean more than 10 billion new garments.

There are more than a hundred small brands that focus on upcycling but don’t have good access to leftover materials. There are many medium brands that are potentially interested in using dead stock fabrics if they had a better overview of what’s available and how they could use it. And there are large brands that know the approximate amounts of their production waste and could ask about it from their suppliers, but admit that this information is not fluent enough to use it for daily decision-making. 

This boils down to one thing, the industry needs to have better access to information about their waste materials to be able to reuse them. This is the aim for Reverse Resources now – to enable the textile industry to choose reuse over recycling by making it an easier choice. We offer software tools for suppliers to help them improve their inventory data and share it with potential buyers, designers and recyclers to let them take a step towards zero waste and transparent production, profitably.

« We need to make a strong business case for sustainable practices to create the full environmental impact we seek »

In addition to the problem around lack of data, we also need to talk about efficiency. Upcycling is a great concept, but if brands need to go to all production sites, dig into the materials manually and organise everything around design, production, marketing and all else on their own, it becomes inefficient. Until now, upcycling wasn’t something that is seen as efficient or profitable. 

Upcycling brands have been dealing with small volumes. Putting two tonnes of leftover fabrics (roughly 4000 clothing items) back to the market per year, an upcycling brand can carve out quite a good following. However, when one large fabric and garment producer creates 100 tonnes of fabric waste per month, they need greater motivation to even consider the process of sorting, storing, sharing, selling which is needed to cooperate with upcycling brands.

However, if you think back, there are many examples where innovative expensive ideas become a common and profitable way of doing things like solar power and organic cotton. Now, when the whole textile industry has mutually agreed to make the step towards material circulation, it is just a matter of time when using secondary materials in parallel to new materials is a common practice. 

Sustainability is already at the core of the fashion agenda, but we need to make a strong business case for sustainable practices to create the full environmental impact we seek – making waste a prized resource for the industry. So think big!”

Ann Runnel, founder of Reverse Resources
Visit Reverse Resources here.

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