Irina McKenzie, founder
Photography - HIRO
“Fabric is not a waste! This phrase embodies everything we do!”
Did you know 400 billion square meters of textiles is produced annually and about 15% of is cutting room floor waste? That is 60 billion square meters of textiles going to waste every year. This number, Irina Mckenzie, a founder of FABCYCLE, had found out a while back so it must now have grown into even more worrying number. Also, we are only talking about pre-consumer textile waste here. Pre-consumer means the brand new textiles that don’t end up in consumers` hands. The textile industry is so enormous even though this particular waste stream is smaller than post-consumer, it poses a serious problem.
FABCYCLE shines the light on those pre-consumer textiles such as deadstock, ends of fabric rolls, scraps, and cut-offs, and diverts textile waste from the landfill by converting them into resources. Their Textile Waste ReUSE Center on 268 Keefer Street is operating around the clock to rescue the pre-consumer textiles collected from the communities in Metro Vancouver. It is unbelievable amount of unwanted textiles that is coming into FABCYCLE. We met Irina on a busy afternoon and chatted about her sustainable fabric business.
VOICE (V) : How did FABCYCLE come about?
Irina (I): “It started at Groundswell Alternative Business School back in 2013 while I was still working in a corporate environment. I have always wanted to be self employed, and a friend of my boss at the time started Groundswell so I was encouraged to join their social entrepreneurship program. That really shifted things for me. Back then, nobody was talking about the circular economy, yet I was so drawn to the idea of upcycling, particularly of textiles. With upcycling, you actually start with what you have versus what you don’t have. I found it really fascinating, and I had to come up with the business idea.
Then came the opportunity to do a collaboration with another organization that came out of Groundswell, that was teaching basic repair skills in the community. We did community event together called “clothing fix-it”. We invited people to bring their own clothes and teach them how to repair their own clothes. It was a big part of stepping stone for me and I founded Frameworq Education Society in 2014. Through that, we`ve hosted events like clothing repairs, clothing swaps, and other workshops, and we had about 50 successful events per year all over in Metro Vancouver before the pandemic.
FABCYCLE then emerged in 2017 after I did an experimental pop-up shop in Gastown, selling end of rolls and other usable materials that we received as a donation. With all the research I find that scraps are very hard to recycle in traditional ways. It was very successful, and the fabric donations kept coming even after the pop up. It got to a point where I needed a bigger space to organize all those fabrics. We opened our Textile Waste ReUSE Center in Chinatown in 2019 to offer a place for people to come in, see the fabric, feel the fabric, and buy the fabric.”
V: How does FABCYCLE work?
I: “We work with fashion designers, schools, businesses, factories, and basically anybody who has usable materials that they have no longer need for. We will take scraps, off cuts, end of rolls, swatches, samples, defective fabrics or any other fabric waste. We collect straight from places anywhere in Metro Vancouver. At the studio, it is all about organizing incoming boxes. We sort, measure, organize, photograph and tag everything. We don’t curate our fabric as long as they are not contaminated or from post consumers. There are all sorts of unique and beautiful materials we receive such as lines, cottons, sequins, yawns, eco-bamboos, ribbons, zippers, and sometimes unfinished projects such as a half-done sweater!
One of our principles is to see the waste as a resource and that is what we see here. In our space, we also try our best to reuse everything for boxing, shelving, and tubing for the fabric rolls. It is amazing to see how many things that people don’t want anymore. Our mission is to make such things interesting to people who can use it in creative ways.”
V: What type of customers do you attract the most?
I: “All kinds of people from artists, crafters, hobby, and some designers who want to sample things. We have many one-of-a-kind materials at low cost for people to experiment with, even for hobby sewists and for parents who want to provide their kids with free scraps. ”
V: Since FABCYCLE, has it changed the way you shop your own clothing?
I: “Oh yeah! I like thrifting. Erin, our studio manager, and I sometimes go on trips together just for thrift shopping. You make choices based on your values, so we shop a lot from local designers and try to support each other as much as we can.”
V: What is the biggest joy working in FABCYCLE?
I: “I like the sounds of people laughing in the studio, enjoying the textiles and working together as a team. We have 7 full time stuff and amazing volunteers.”
V: How does the role of social media play in your business?
I: “It is a method of delivery. Since the pandemic, we didn’t have as many people come into the studio so the only way to communicate was through social media. We are always coming up with ways to deliver a message. For example, we host `Unboxing with Erin` a bi-weekly livestream hosted by Erin that goes through a recent donation of materials and doing wardrobe mannequin change with our mannequin model we named Gerty. Erin is a 4th generation seamstress, and through her knowledge and experience, she can talk you though what to do with the various fabrics. She even gets recognized by her performance on Instagram!”
FABCYCLE is open to public from Wednesday to Friday(11:00-17:30) or you can shop on their online store. You can purchase in bundles, by weight or individual fabrics and some freebie. Even if you a beginner sewist, they have something fun and interesting for you to experiment and for your hidden creativity to be unleashed! Another exciting news is that `clothing fix-it` is coming back this year in April with the city of Surrey! Keep your eyes on FABCYCLE because they are full of creativity with sustainability in mind.