Cascade Locks company aims to turn potential trash into closet treasures | Crain's Portland

Cascade Locks company aims to turn potential trash into closet treasures

Since the fall, The Renewal Workshop has been taking damaged and defective clothing from partner apparel manufacturers – otherwise destined for a landfill – then cleaning, repairing and readying the items for sale. | Photo courtesy of The Renewal Workshop

That landfill item looks so good on you.

Sure, Nicole Bassett and her business partner Jeff Denby only half-jokingly hope to hear people give such compliments. Conversation like that merely validates the business plan for their recently launched company, The Renewal Workshop.

The Renewal Workshop partners with some of the world's best-known apparel brands and retailers, such as prAna, Toad & Co., Ibex, Indigenous and Mountain Khakis to refurbish their "unsellable" returns and excess inventory.

In its Cascade Locks factory, The Renewal Workshop gives each garment new life as "renewed apparel" through its proprietary process. Renewed apparel is then either sold back to the brand partner to be distributed through existing sales channels, or it is sold directly to consumers through The Renewal Workshop's own e-commerce marketplace.

“We have been kicking around this idea for a long time. Having worked inside the apparel industry, I just saw a definite need to make the industry more circular,” says Bassett, Renewal Workshop co-founder and former prAna and sustainability executive. “I saw just a ton of product that could not be sold and had no purpose.”

Providing better choices

Every year, Bassett says, apparel brands and retailers collect millions of unsellable garments via returns, warranty claims, damages, defects, overproduction and stale inventory. Currently there is no infrastructure to support the refurbishment of these products, and brands are left with choices like overseas donation or landfills.

Nancy Dynan, vice president of marketing for prAna, confirms that is the case for her company.

At present, all of prAna’s non-salvageable, non-first-quality returns are sent to TRW. What does that mean? Returns in brand-new condition can be restocked immediately.  If a return is wrinkled or has collected lint, prAna can deal with that. Anything that is torn, dirty, missing trim, etc. is sent to TRW.

Prior to the TRW channel, prAna was trying to sell off these damaged returns at its warehouse sale or doing its best to recycle them. Dynan says TRW now offers prAna an excellent way to responsibly handle the end of life for these garments – and in most cases, can now provide a second life.

 PrAna sees no additional revenue, Dynan says, and partners with TRW for assurance that its unsalvageable returns do not end up in a landfill.

“This commitment to environmental responsibility is part of prAna’s values system – and TRW has made it that much easier for us to meet our long-term sustainability goals,” Dynan says. “Secondly, we know early participation is important to TRW's long term success and we believe that they can have a positive impact on the whole apparel industry. I always enjoy seeing what can be done to these previously unsalvageable garments; the care and craftsmanship is exceptional. And most importantly, we avoid sending waste to the landfill.”

In its factory, The Renewal Workshop cleans the apparel to a hospital-grade clean using sophisticated waterless cleaning technology from Tersus Solutions. Damage, ranging from broken zippers to missing buttons to tears, is repaired, creating garments that meet the highest standards of quality certified by the brands.

For any product that can't be renewed, The Renewal Workshop responsibly manages the upcycling, downcycling, recycling or donation of it to optimize the resources already invested. Nothing ever goes to landfill.

Third-party support

Oregon BEST, the state’s program for promoting clean-tech development, and the Oregon Manufacturers Extension Partnership, a nonprofit resource for manufacturers, helped TRW launch its 7,500-square-foot manufacturing facility.

Backed by leading venture capital funds VTF Capital and Closed Loop Ventures, The Renewal Workshop is poised to introduce a new consumer product category that not only is inherently sustainable but also made in the USA.

"The Renewal Workshop represents a paradigm shift in retail responsibility, injecting new value into previously unusable items," says Zach Ware, managing partner of VTF Capital. "It's inspiring to see a company challenge a stagnant, decades-old industry practice, and we see The Renewal Workshop system becoming the new sustainability standard for retail."

February 19, 2017 - 10:59am