Big fashion companies send “destroyed” clothes to Cascade Locks for a chance at a new life
Clothing companies often end up in piles of clothes that are of a quality that has not met usual production standards. Perhaps their hem or seams are uneven, or they may have tears or holes along the way.
Many large companies are now sending their backlogs to Cascade Locks, where The renovation workshop can fix it.
The company takes back discarded clothing and textiles and repairs them for sale at a small discount. If the garment is unusable, the materials are then recycled. The Renewal Workshop collects data on everything that flows through its factories and those numbers are shared with partner brands to help them improve the production and design of future products.
The goal is a zero waste system that extracts value from what has already been created to serve customers, partners and the planet.
Jeff Denby and Nicole Bassett founded The Renewal Workshop in 2015 in response to what they saw as the broken business model of the apparel industry. With the rise of large fast fashion companies, there was an abundance of clothes and garments ending up in landfills. Denby and Bassett saw an opportunity for companies to increase their sales without using additional resources – and thereby reducing waste.
They built their first factory in Cascade Locks in 2016. Bassett, who lives in Hood River, wanted to expand the business from a smaller warehouse and needed a location with adequate manufacturing facilities. Cascade Locks had what it was looking for in terms of space and location.
The company also opened a second factory in Amsterdam in 2019.
Both Bassett and Denby bring expertise in apparel, manufacturing and logistics. Basset worked at brands like Patagonia and Prana, managing their sustainability and social responsibility programs, while Denby worked in manufacturing before starting the organic cotton clothing company Pact.
The Renewal Workshop employs 42 people at its Cascade Locks location. They receive shipments of defective products on a daily basis from their brand partners who are their only customers. These items are cleaned, repaired and inspected and made available for resale on “Recommerce” websites set up by The Renewal Workshops’ customers, for which the Company also repackages and ships repaired items to buyers.
“It is unique for brands to allow someone else to fix their product,” said Bassett. “We have invested a lot in developing repair standards so that brands are convinced of the quality of our work and can stand behind the sale of their products that are sold as refurbished.”
As both companies benefit from resale and brand goodwill, The Renewal Workshop was able to expand its profile and acquire new customers. His partners now include Carhartt, Pottery Barn, Champion and New Balance.
While the apparel industry is a significant industry in Oregon – home to national brands like Nike and Columbia Sportswear, as well as Adidas’ North American headquarters – apparel manufacturing is rarer, accounting for just 930 jobs in 70 companies across the state in 2020.
And having those jobs in a town like Cascade Locks is even rarer, said Dallas Fridley, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department.
“Small rural Oregon communities like Cascade Locks face challenges attracting startups and companies looking for opportunities to expand,” said Fridley. But he said Cascade Locks benefits from perks other small communities lack, such as easy access to a freeway and the Bridge of the Gods, which provides a crossing of the Columbia River to Washington.
And the Port of Cascade Locks has been active in economic development, particularly by providing space for businesses based in Hood River and other parts of the Columbia River Gorge to expand.
Like most companies, The Renewal Workshop had to adjust its practices during the pandemic due to the proximity of workers in their warehouses, as well as the economic impact retailers suffered from the lack of sales and production bottlenecks. Since The Renewal Workshop relies on their brand partners to repair their garments, they have been hit by the lack of sales from major retailers.
“We definitely had to change our operations to keep everyone safe by keeping the manufacturing facility wide apart,” said Bassett.
But the company also uses its sewing skills to manufacture hospital gowns and masks for local clinics and hospitals.
– Jordan Hernandez