Over the past decade, the textile industry has received a lot of criticism for promulgating “fast fashion” – a term that neatly encapsulates the horrors of a multi trillion-dollar industry built on extractive and exploitative practices. With only 2% of end-products feeding back into itself, the textile system currently operates in an almost linear fashion. In the US, this take-make-waste model generates 11.2 million tons of textile waste destined for the landfills every year. Besides being an environmental concern, this also renders the textile economy inefficient. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the underutilization of our clothes and the debilitating lack of recycling infrastructure contributes to a more than USD 500 billion loss of value annually. Springclean, a non-profit located in Charlotte, NC, recognizes this gap and is working towards diverting post-consumer textile waste from landfills and funnelling it into a circular economy.
CT Anderson, currently serving as the Vice President of Environmental, Social, and Governance at Bank of America, founded the non-profit in 2018 with two ambitious goals – to help close the textile circularity loop and create clean jobs for underrepresented communities. Headquartering Springclean in Charlotte represented a strategic move to address the city’s abysmal social mobility rankings. While the organization started as a platform to enable Black and Latinx artists to creatively reuse post-consumer textiles, recent conditions have encouraged the organization to pivot. Adapting to the current pandemic we find ourselves in, Springclean has temporarily transitioned into reusing the textiles it collected into PPE masks. It has partnered with local sewers and green laundromats to establish a supply-chain that funnels post-consumer textile waste into Springclean and back to the consumers. With a pilot program deployed in Charlotte, it is looking to replicate the model in the Raleigh-Durham region.
Looking ahead, Anderson notes the challenge of bringing together regional supply chains in a currently fragmented and global process. Investing in local infrastructure designed to stitch together various fragments of the circular supply chain – for instance, technology platforms that enable the connection of donations, sorting, cleaning, and distribution – is the next step to accelerating post-consumer textile circularity. As it continues growing, Springclean looks forward to expanding its network and collaborating with others who share its vision for a revolutionized future.
Author: Nidhi Nair, B. A. Environmental Studies, Class of 2021, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill