Courtesy Slow Factory
Courtesy Slow Factory

A Garment Recycling Program Confronts Global Textile Waste Head-On

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit Slow Factory’s new initiative will teach designers to compose clothing from existing apparel instead of from rolls of raw fabric.
By Michaela Trimble
September 7, 2022
4 minute read

In co-founding Slow Factory in 2012—a Brooklyn-based nonprofit dedicated to advocating for slow fashion and advancing climate justice and social equity—Lebanese-Canadian designer, writer, and researcher Céline Semaan—the latest guest on our Time Sensitive podcast—created a platform to further one of her life missions: to replace socially and environmentally harmful and outdated systems with replicable, zero-waste solutions.

Her latest project, the design program “Garment-to-Garment,” aims to educate designers on how to eschew composing garments from fresh rolls of raw fabric and instead create clothing from discarded apparel, returned goods, and textile waste. The program, which Semaan and her team have been prototyping for more than five years, is an ambitious upcycling project aiming to eradicate the climate education gap and combat ever-growing levels of textile waste worldwide. “Our goal is to create a program that intercepts mass-waste in the Global North before it reaches the Global South, which creates a climate hazard for these communities,” says Semaan, referring to the increase of microplastics and toxic chemicals textile waste deposits into environments. “But the key to our project is scale: We’re going to show the world how to successfully replicate a pollution-reduction program for greater worldwide impact.”

Slow Factory’s program, which is rooted in the concept of open knowledge-sharing, comes at a time when many of the world’s big industries are in dire need of climate solutions. In the fashion industry alone, it’s estimated that an average of 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually. This total is only projected to increase, by an estimated 60 percent between 2015 and 2030, to reach an annual total of 148 million tons.

Semaan at a landfill for another of Slow Factory’s recent projects, “Landfills as Museums.” (Courtesy Slow Factory)
Semaan at a landfill for another of Slow Factory’s recent projects, “Landfills as Museums.” (Courtesy Slow Factory)

Set to pilot this fall, the “Garment-to-Garment” program will officially launch next spring with the opening of the Slow Factory Institute at the “Made in NY” campus at Bush Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a district home to the second-largest concentration of garment manufacturers and employees in New York City. The nonprofit’s first brick-and-mortar space, Slow Factory Institute will host educational programming and workforce training, a product studio, and a research and development lab all under one roof. The campus will also include a physical home to Slow Factory’s “Open Edu” program, a free and accessible education series on climate justice, climate solutions, and climate-positive design, of which the “Garment-to-Garment” program is a part.

Slow Factory Labs, a physical manufacturing facility for regenerative material innovation, will also be onsite. In the space, Semaan and her team will continue to work on proprietary projects to better the planet and create opportunities in historically marginalized communities, including the development of Slowhide, a first-of-its-kind leather alternative naturally dyed with bacteria procured from discarded coffee and tea waste.

“Climate justice used to sound drab and soulless,” says Semaan. “It’s traditionally been led by a colonial system where it’s deprived of joy and creativity—with no musicians or artists involved. Our space will be innovative, inspiring, and alive. We are reclaiming climate justice.”