Brett McKay | November 4, 2022
A few years ago, Sarah Janzen went looking for some used clothing to upcycle, and ended up with a hybrid textiles business and a 5000 square foot shop space.
Janzen is the owner of Blenderz Garment Recyclers, Edmonton’s only zero waste textile recycling facility. To keep clothing and textiles out of landfills and in the community, Blenderz not only resells second-hand items, it mends, repairs and repurposes those that would be discarded at regular thrift stores, breaks down others to be sold as bulk stuffing or project materials, and runs workshops to teach the skills like sewing and rugmaking.
After seeing a pair of sweatpants Janzen had sewn – or rather, two pairs that she had sewn together – a friend asked if she could do the same for her kids. “I started to look for materials to upcycle, and couldn’t find any,” Janzen said.
“The thrift stores were the same price as buying a new. Buying fabric is very expensive, and bad for the environment. I started looking around and asking what the thrift stores did with their excess textiles, like their garments that were no good or that they weren’t able to sell. Nobody would call me back,” Janzen said.
The amount of textile waste we generate is staggering. It’s estimated that 10.5 million tons of cloths and textiles are thrown out every year in North America alone, and eighty-five percent of the clothes that people get rid of end up in a landfill. This is especially concerning because of how resource intensive textiles are to produce.
According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water, it takes about 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt, and is responsible for between two and eight percent of all global carbon emissions.
With most of us buying 60 percent more clothes than we did fifteen years ago, and keeping them half as long, Janzen knew there were mounds of garments destined for the garbage, if only she could find them. Finally, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she got a call from a small thrift store that offered to let her pick up their excess.
“I went down to the store and the dumpster outside the back was overflowing. I walked in the back door and there were piles of garbage bags up to the ceiling. What I know now was 3,000 pounds of clothing,” Janzen said.
Janzen learned that much of what doesn’t make it to the floor in thrift shops is sold as bulk textile and exported, a practice put on hold by the pandemic’s halting of supply chains and international shipping. What she carried away was the weekly excess for one small thrift store, and the scope of the problem and its interconnectedness with global markets, became clear.
Blenderz opened its location on Gateway Blvd in August of 2022, after some struggles finding a location in the city where zoning would allow for their multi-pronged business approach to dealing with textile waste. “We do print, we do production. We do manufacturing, we do distribution, we do wholesale, we do retail, we do education. So, it was difficult,” Janzen said.
“We need it to go back into the community because, our pillars are like zero waste and circularity,” Janzen said of the reasons behind Blenderz different aspects.
“Our biggest mission is just keeping it circulating locally. The largest focus is actually the recycling, that’s what takes a lot of our resources and our time and our creative processes to figure out how to turn the stuff that isn’t wearable into a useful product again.”