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SEWTable Series: Interview with Irina Mckenzie

Our SEWTable Series focuses on conversations with womxn that we find inspirational and represent our SEWT community.

At SEWT, we are constantly learning what “making an impact” means and we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Irina McKenzie to learn more about how we can take steps to positively contribute as members of the fashion community. Irina is the Founder of FABCYCLE, Executive Director of Frameworq, and a Board Member of Groundswell – Grassroots Economic Alternatives. Irina invited us to FABCYCLE’s Textile Waste ReUSE Centre, located on 520 Alexander Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, to learn more about her journey and how SEWT can contribute to sustainable fashion. 

What is FABCYCLE?

Irina McKenzie: FABCYCLE is a collection service of textile waste and we opened the Textile Waste ReUSE Centre in February 2019. We work directly with factories, fashion designers and schools to collect their textile waste that is left during the apparel production process (scraps, offcuts, end of rolls) and reuse or recycle what they cannot use. We recently even had an entire roll of high-quality hemp fabric because a designer decided to go with a different fabric! 

What is Frameworq

Irina: Frameworq Education Society is a non-profit organization with the mission to overthrow a throwaway culture, bring back repair skills, build resilient communities and divert textile waste from the landfill. Frameworq started as a my Groundswell project back in 2015 and now has evolved into a non-profit known for free monthly community clothing fix it events, clothing swaps, design challenges and anything related to getting people to repair their clothes.

Both Frameworq and FABCYCYCLE are organizations in alignment with a mission to divert textile waste from the landfill by finding creative solutions to textile waste and promoting the mindset of waste as a resource.

How did you start FABCYCLE?

Irina: I was always really interested in sustainability and the environment so I decided to do the Groundswell Social Ventures program in 2014. I was part of the first cohort and realized that I was really interested in textile waste – how it’s created, why is there so much of it, and what can we do with it.

My initial focus was post-consumer waste (ex. clothing) but was then I took part in apparel industry consultation group with Leverage Lab that among other things, aimed to answer the question: “What happens when there’s a textile waste band in the region?”. It was then that I realized there was a gap for textile waste with no resale value, such as scraps, off-cuts, and deadstock rolls and FABCYCLE was born. We held a pop-up shop in 2018 and it was so successful that we decided to open our Textile Waste ReUSE Centre in 2019. 

Corporate Social Impact, sustainability, responsibility, etc. are all words thrown around constantly, what does that mean to you?

Irina: There are so many ways organizations can incorporate social impact in their operations. It also doesn’t have to be directly related to what you do, it can be as simple as not throwing your scraps in the garbage. It’s making a conscious decision to educate you and your team about how actions can affect the wider ecosystem. 

What are some ways that Vancouver-based organizations or individuals can get involved in the impact/sustainability ecosystem?

Irina: Meet people in this line of work and gain knowledge about the organizations that already exist. Participate and support events, whether it’s through volunteering, showcasing, or simply attending. Vancouver has a growing ecosystem of manufacturers, designers, and individuals that just want to support each other in their pursuits. For example, I started a Facebook group in 2016 called “Vancouver Sustainable Fashion Designers (VSFD)” where professionals from the Vancouver apparel industry can share resources, connect and support one another.

There are also a lot of local campaigns that individuals and organizations can be involved with like Metro Vancouver’s Think Thrice and Fashion Revolution.

What’s next for FABCYCLE and Frameworq?

Irina: Growth. The purpose of the ReUSE Centre is to provide a physical space for the creative community to come together and experiment with textile waste and find homes for the thousands and thousands of pounds of beautiful and usable fabric we get.

We are continuing to explore partnerships and collaborations with municipal governments, organizations, and local brands like yourself (SEWT) to continue educating the public and growing our mission. 

Do you have any recommendations for SEWT?

Irina: SEWT’s made-to-measure nature by far is already contributing to less waste compared to mass production and fast fashion.  FABCYCLE is diverting textile waste from landfills by reusing, and recycling, while SEWT is diverting textile waste by producing less garments and being cognizant of fabric content (wools, silks, etc.). SEWT wouldn’t have rolls or scraps that FABCYCLE could use, but we are still both diverting textile waste from landfills and shows how companies with different business models can still be in alignment towards a common goal.

And what you’ll find is that it’s a never ending journey. I’d say that’s as good as a start as any from moving from impact-curious to impact driven.

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