TRAID INTRODUCTION (Monday 19th January)
TRAID is a charity with a circular and sustainable approach to the problems of clothes waste tackling disposal, production and consumption. With a network of over 1500 textile banks, home collections and charity shops TRAID diverts around 3000 tonnes of unwanted textiles from landfill or incineration every year. Clothes donated to TRAID as cast-offs and waste are turned into resources sold through a network of charity shops in London with the profits committed to funding global projects improving conditions and working practices in the textile industry. TRAID’s education programme outreaches to 10,000 people a year to talk about the impacts of clothes on the environment and people’s lives and explore how we can make more sustainable choices and offering alternatives to conventional consumption.
A visit to Traid on Day 2 of the project couldn’t be better timed. The visual impact of the sorting warehouse gives a real sense of the sheer impact of our societies consumption and disposal habits. It’s both saddening and exciting, the exciting aspect is that these material objects did not go straight to landfill. There is an opportunity to reuse them. That is Traid’s role here. They are sorting and saving items for sale in their stores.
We are told by Sarah and Claire of Traid, that 11,000 garments are processed through Traid every week. We learn about the seasonal trends of donating, sorting and charity shop stock management. This is a different look at trend and supply chain than we are used to in the design phase, this is about how and when people throw away, dispose of the unwanted items they have bought during a different trend cycle. Even in this space, looking around at the waste, the resources, the potential for re-use, re-purposing and recycling, can we even comprehend the sheer quantity of 11,000 garments.
January is a busy time at the Traid warehouse, people are in the habit of doing a big clear out during the Christmas break. We wonder if this is because they get many new items, often in the form of presents, or do they get un-wanted items? Is it that people have free time over the break? Is it that they can’t stand to look at their summer clothes unused in their closets in the bitter cold of winter? Is it a new year… new closet idea?
We ask if they get a lot of damaged items. They do. We ask about the kinds of common damages. Thoughts about mapping damages and about our tools which we will be focusing on making, devising and finding tomorrow. Common damages are moth holes, tears in the crotch of jeans, a lot of denim damage, particularly in the hems. Later, we talk about the current trend of slashed knees in jeans, we wonders what will happen to those jeans next year. Other damage is with fixings, zips, missing buttons etc. Then there fabric problems, pilling or balling on knitwear, stains and thinning. The idea that people throw an entire garment out because it is missing a button is particularly distressing. We talk about the economic lead decision of retailers to minimize thread use, we talk about the lack of spare buttons supplied with clothing and the lack of skills. People no-longer have mending skills, nor do they have the tools necessary. Throwing out a garment that has lost a button seems like a very extreme response, there is obviously no value in the garment if it is not completely whole.
We learn that the biggest damage problem they experience here is that of wet clothes. This seems like it could be avoidable but in British weather it is a difficult problem. The wet garments contaminate all the others. Again, I am stuck by the influence of weather on the process, the seasonality of clothing, the seasonality of donating, the seasonality of contaminated garments.
Bridget makes the point that there are very little tools involved in the process here at Traid. There are some logistical tools, trolleys, fork-lifts and the conveyer but the key tools are the eyes and hands of the sorters. It is they who decide if the pieces can be re-used by Traid. On the conveyer, I watch the sorters who have clearly experienced eyes, they know what they are after. I am amazed by the number of garments going by with tags on, these are brand new, unworn items.
The sorters rescue what is saleable but the wall of ‘rejected’ items is still over-whelming. These are the textile objects that no longer have value as objects. Unlike the objects which are claimed for re-use/ sale by Traid, which have been sorted by quality and value; premium, high-street and basic according to brand and trend relevance, the ‘rejected’ objects no longer have value as garments, as objects, but simply become materials, a material resource.
This resource, like most is difficult to harness, but it does offer a glimmer of hope. By re-using these materials; up-cycling, reclaiming, recycling, we leave a new material untouched. Leaving an unwanted object produced from new materials from being conceived, designed, created, bought and discarded.
As designers, we read reports, statistics and data about waste, recycling and supply chain but the impact of the visuals, the logistics and the man-power involved as a direct result of consumption is quite different from the words on a page.
It’s on the route back to the train station that Bridget points out the irony of the Designer Outlet compared with what we have all just seen… A bargain for whom?