GIRO forging ahead with textile recovery social enterprise

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

Wednesday, January 20 2021

Gabriola Island’s recycling depot, GIRO, wants to remove 1,000 pounds of clothing from the island’s waste stream every week, either by patching it up to be worn again or repurposing it into a new life.

GIRO receives approximately 100 bags of clothing and linens from islanders every week. Only half of that contains items that can be resold as is in the GIRO restore. The rest ends up in the landfill. 

Prior to the pandemic, those now landfill-destined bags were picked up by Diabetes Canada who brought them to Value Village. But upon closer analysis of Value Village’s practices, GIRO’s general manager, Michelle MacEwen, learned that much of that clothing ends up being purchased by clothing brokers and shipped overseas, increasing its environmental impact. Some fashion industry advocates have raised concerns that the glut of used clothing in countries like Kenya has a negative effect on local textile industries. 

Upon analyzing the unsellable items that GIRO sends to the landfill, MacEwen determined that 46 per cent could be cleaned or repaired and resold if GIRO had the proper facilities and appliances. 

Another 16 per cent comprised of out-of-season items that could be stored if GIRO had the space to do so. The remaining 38 per cent could be shredded and reimagined as new products such as stuffing in furniture.

That led MacEwen and GIRO board member Fay Weller to submit a proposal to the Regional District of Nanaimo’s new funding for zero waste projects that support the development of a circular economy, a closed loop system that eliminates waste and pollution.

GIRO’s $103,044 request as well as proposals from three other non-profit groups were approved at the committee level and will go to the board of directors on Jan. 26. 

Much of this funding will support phase one of the multi-year project, which MacEwen and Weller call a social enterprise. In phase one, they will engage Gabriolans to envision potential products and determine their viability and marketability on- and off-island.

“It’s hope; it’s about a different way of doing things, it’s about the idea that we could actually transform something we see as waste into something really useful and elegant,” said Weller. “I think there’s an excitement about that, about our seeing our way to the future.”

Not only do MacEwen and Weller see their project as a model that could eventually expand to other jurisdictions, it could also create jobs – they plan to hire a coordinator, designer/tailor and apprentice – and be a step toward creating a greater circular economy on Gabriola. 

“If we can create a sustainable, viable social enterprise with this idea, then there’s nothing really to stop us from applying that same thought process to any of the other waste materials we currently receive at GIRO,” said MacEwen. “As more and more businesses recognize that we can’t continue to function with this linear system of the way we do business, that we have to make changes in order to keep the planet afloat, we really have to look at our business values and every single stage of production … we want that to be front and centre for this social enterprise.”

Those interested in submitting a product idea can email