A Cross-Brand Collaboration Between Toad&Co and the Renewal Workshop Keeps Good Gear Out of the Landfill

Jeff, Nicole and Gordon believe in a sustainable supply chain, from beginning to end. That’s why Toad&Co was one of the first manufacturers to partner with The Renewal Workshop to give their damaged apparel a second life. The Renewal Workshop takes unsellable clothing from manufacturers, works their fix-it magic then sells it to the consumer – keeping countless pounds of waste out of landfills. Their collaboration has created a different kind of apparel brand that's on a sustainability mission.

May 3, 2017

Read the full transcript of the trio’s conversation here:

Gordon: So Jeff and Nicole, tell us a little bit about how you got started with Renewal Workshop—where the idea came from and where the mission is going. 

Nicole: Sure. So The Renewal Workshop essentially came from working in sustainability in the outdoor industry for our careers and watching apparel get made, raw materials getting used and made into things and then ultimately it goes into the waste stream at the end of its life, and we knew that in sustainability that’s not the right part.  

We wanted to create a company that was going to help apparel brands become circular in nature. And so we created The Renewal Workshop.     

Jeff: Yeah, and the way The Renewal Workshop works is that we partner with brands and retailers. We source all of their unsellable returns and excess inventory and then we built a factory just outside of Portland, Oregon, where we take that stuff in and we clean it and grade it and sort and fix it and we certify the quality of it and then we co-label it with our brand partners, so that this product can be sold again.    

We partner with brands and retailers. We source all of their unsellable returns and excess inventory and…we clean it and grade it and sort and fix it and we certify the quality of it and then we co-label it with our brand partners, so that this product can be sold again.    

Gordon: And that’s why we at Toad & Co got involved in the first place. We love what you are doing. Twenty years ago, when we got in the industry, we really believed that environmental citizenship was so important to the outdoor industry and that’s one of the reasons I was so attracted to the industry. 

Twenty years ago, when we got in the industry we really believed that environmental citizenship was so important to the outdoor industry and that’s one of the reasons I was so attracted to the industry.   

We spent the last 20 years building a sustainable philosophy at Toad & Co, but end-of-life was really a problem for us and at the size we are, and the scale we are, its very difficult to solve that problem beyond the typical donation structure with our excess and so forth … So this a great solution for us to really continue to complete that loop and make sure that our products are not ending up in landfills and instead is going to multiple use and having a great end-of-lifecycle story for us.    

Nicole: Yeah, I think what’s so exciting for us, when we receive product, is that we know how much work went into making it, and to see all these resources and to think, like, oh it’s torn to it’s been worn or it has a button missing and that, like, oh “we don’t have any actual way to manage this product anymore,” and so the ability to take this beautiful product from Toad & Co and to get it back out in the market—it’s really rewarding.  

Gordon: And for us even, you know, to commit to this program, I think it’s really refreshing, as we’ve had relationships for so long, knowing the two of you worked together in your prior life at PAC and just your reputation … And this type of project is been talked about a lot. The solution and to actually execute and deliver on a sustainable solution is not that easy. And so your credibility and commitment and dedication and reputation all went into the decision for us to commit as one of the pilot brands, because we feel like this is going to be the solution we’ve been looking for. And the industry can really benefit from.      

Jeff: Yeah. And we’re really super thankful for the brand partners that have come on board early on, and it’s just been amazing to have you guys take this journey with us. And it really allowed us to bring together all of the stakeholders to actually go and do this and what we needed to do from the very beginning was build the actual infrastructure, to build the factory, to create an operating system, to get the cleaning in there. That is a massive undertaking, and you don’t want to do that unless you actually have the partners in place.   

The amazing thing is that you guys were able to be like, “Yeah, we are going to go and do that,” before we even had a building and a factory. And so we were able to really build this together and collaborate, and that’s pretty rare in the industry to take those kinds of risks.   

Gordon: And we didn’t envy the process you had in front of you. I will say, when I first heard what you were doing, I was like, “Wow!” Your passion for sustainability and for really giving to the industry has been proven time and time again.   

When we start to really see the consumers starting to build awareness and brands getting on board and really, hopefully, creating an industry movement around this very critical problem that we’ve dealt with and lived with for many years, that will be exciting. This is a place that we want to invest as OIA. I know you are a strategic partner with OIA, so as a member we get benefits, too, and incentives to work with you, and I think it’s going to be a really strong piece of the OIA sustainability pillar and success stories and case studies going forward on what that can be and what the industry can really do to further our leadership in that area.      

Nicole: I think the best part is that we started this idea … and it was really supported strong by outdoor brands because there was that leadership thinking, that willingness to take the risk, the willingness to go down the path with us. 

And it’s because of the collaborative work that’s been going on in our Sustainability Working Group where people are like,  “hey, this is pre-competitive, we can’t solve this problem by ourselves, so lets do this together.” But we’re going start going into how do we actually recycle textile? How do we create new materials? And what we can do is aggregate that product and so Toad & Co. can use the resources of The Renewal Workshop and start to go and leap frog, get into that type of technology.    

Gordon: I hope it also serves as the tip of the spear for other industries to follow. Hopefully we are going to influence other apparel and footwear manufacturers to start thinking about their brands and their practices very differently.     

Jeff: In the circular economy, this whole concept of circular business models I think really is the industrial evolution of the 21st Century and that outdoor apparel brands are now right at the forefront of that, and that’s pretty brave and amazing, but it means you are also going to have a competitive advantage ultimately …    

Gordon: And this conscious consumer that we are seeing more and more every day is going to reward that behavior, and so I think what’s also fun about this is that by being tip of the spear, we’re going to start opening new opportunities.