Fabricure: Revolutionizing Textile Waste Recycling for a Green Fashion Industry

Published on 2024-03-13

Startup Story

Fabricure is a textile waste recycling company that regenerates fabric waste back into nature, reducing pollution. They work with women-owned cooperatives to empower women and provide sustainable education and employment opportunities.


Can you provide us with an overview of Fabricure's founding story and mission to tackle the global fabric waste problem? What inspired the founding team to focus on this challenge?

Payton (my co-founder) and I first met about 7 years ago when I started working for her at a nonprofit that she founded called Style Her Empowered (S H E). S H E is based out of Togo and its mission is to create sustainable education and employment opportunities for girls and women around the world. Their operations include a slow “factory” for seamstresses from low-education and low-income backgrounds. Here, these innovative women started transforming leftover scraps of fabric into products such as backpacks and reusable menstrual pads and distributed them to girls in their community, so that the girls could attend school all month long. However, this project was limited by funding challenges; due to their benevolent nature, the operations relied on donations to run. The more research we did, the more we discovered other groundbreaking textile waste recycling projects around the world that lacked sustainable financial mechanisms to scale. Most of the people we talked to were executing amazing projects to reduce textile waste in their communities, but like the S H E factory, they relied on grant or charitable funding, which was a limiting barrier for their growth potential.

Around this time, we saw the successful emergence of “plastic credits”, and I have worked in the voluntary carbon market, so after studying various financial models we embarked on creating “Fabric Credits”. Through the Credit model, we are able to provide fashion brands with an immediate way to compensate for their textile waste, and provide revenue for these impactful projects that are, as we like to say, “cleaning up after the fashion industry.”


Can you explain the process of how post-production fabric waste is collected and transformed?

Unlike carbon or plastic waste which is found all over the world, the majority of textile waste is offloaded to and concentrated in a handful of geographic regions, including Kenya, Chile, Ghana, and Indonesia. Due to the reactivity of the communities adjacent to this pollution, there are already robust systems in place to collect, sort, potentially resell, and amass this textile waste. To start the process, we engage formal and informal collectors to collect the waste from landfills or other sites, and then sort the collected waste by fiber type and weigh it. Next, the sorted waste is distributed to our recycling partners depending on which type of fiber(s) they process. Finally, the recycling partners transform the waste and diligently document all processes, resulting in Fabric Credits that are purchased by our clients.


How does Fabricure contribute to sustainable fashion and environmental conservation with its recycling approach? What sets it apart from other textile recycling methods and how does it improve on them?

Up until now, the highest goal for textile recycling has been what’s called “fiber-to-fiber recycling”. This means that a garment, for example a cotton t-shirt, could be broken down and recycled back into cotton fibers that could be used again to create a new t-shirt. At the end of this process, the same cotton fibers have essentially had two lives, as two different t-shirts. 

At Fabricure, we are introducing new applications for fabric waste that go beyond previous recycling methods and actually regenerate the waste back into nature, so a cotton t-shirt could, fundamentally and biologically, dematerialize. These regenerative applications, which we will be officially introducing this summer, restore textile waste of all fiber types and blends back into the environment in ways that have no negative consequences and what we are currently discovering, may actually increase environmental health. At scale, our applications will result in hundreds of millions of kilograms of textile waste removed from waste streams and processed back into nature annually. We are excited to provide a solution that will actually reduce the amount of textile waste polluting our planet, by utilizing it as a regenerative resource.


How does Fabricure reduce fabric waste and empower women-owned cooperatives?

It is estimated that up to 80% of people who work in the fashion and textile industries are women, but women are significantly underrepresented in positions of power, proportionally. Women in this workforce often face unequal treatment, low wages, unsafe working conditions, and little job security due to an oversaturated market - becoming a seamstress or textile worker is a common, encouraged, and oftentimes, the only available career pathway for women around the world. Seamstresses are stuck working in unpaid internships to “gain experience”, and then are fired if they request wages, because someone else will fill their spot to “gain experience” for free. It leaves very little opportunity for secure, stable jobs. 

At Fabricure, we prioritize working with projects that are women-owned because we see an opportunity to create a shift in this system. If seamstresses are able to leave an unpaid internship to transform textile waste into new products with a Fabricure partner, and earn a salary above living wage doing it, hopefully these oppressive systems that have relied on unpaid or low-wage labor will start feeling pressure to fairly compensate their workers. All of Fabricure’s partner projects adhere to rigorous standards for social co-benefits, including gender equality in their hiring and employee benefits practices, and across their operations; it’s a cornerstone of our methodology.


How does Fabricure work with fashion brands and manufacturers to incorporate recycled materials into their products and what role do they play in transforming the fashion industry towards more sustainable practices?

Through our conversations with brands, we have learned that even though most (if not all) fashion brands have sustainability goals, only about 8% are on track to achieve these goals. This is due to the fact that most brands don’t have full control over their supply chain, so implementing new changes can be incredibly resource- and time-intensive. For example, we spoke with a Fortune 500 brand who has set goals to reduce their textile waste, but they will only start seeing first results in 2027. We know that the planet cannot wait that long, so at Fabricure, we provide an immediate, turn-key solution for brands to reduce textile waste. Brands who purchase our Fabric Credits fund the removal of textile waste from waste streams in real-time, and they appreciate that they can make measurable progress towards reduction goals in the short-term, while executing internal waste-reduction strategies in the long-term.


What is the impact of Fabricure's "Fabric Credits" on participating fashion brands, and how do they work?

One Fabric Credit represents the removal of one kilogram of fabric waste from waste streams, following a model akin to carbon credits or plastic credits. Fashion brands who are interested in purchasing Fabric Credits begin by selecting the project that they want to support from our catalog of verified collection and recycling projects. Fabricure projects span an array of activities and geographies, so brands can select their project based on causes and areas that they champion.

From there, the brand decides if they want to make a one-time purchase to remove a set amount of textile waste (for example, 10 tons), or if they wish to fund an amount equivalent to the amount of waste generated by a product or a product line. For example, if the brand sells 10,000 jackets that weigh 1 kilogram each, they would purchase enough Fabric Credits to fund the removal of 10,000 kilograms of textile waste from waste streams, in efforts to compensate for the textile waste generated by the jackets.

From there, brands are able to communicate their investment with their stakeholders through reports, social media, or directly on their product packaging. Fabricure projects adhere to the highest standards of traceability, which means that they openly provide a communication kit: videos, photos, quotes, and more for the brands to share. As customers become more aware of the global fabric waste crisis, brands have seen positive engagement and success by sharing how they are taking steps to reduce their fabric waste. 


Could you please provide information on the environmental impact of your recycling process? Specifically, what are the estimated savings in terms of water, energy and carbon emissions? Additionally, can you share any success stories or accomplishments that Fabricure has achieved with regards to waste reduction or reducing its carbon footprint?

Each Fabricure project has different operations and processes so the results vary, but on average, for every 1 ton of fabric waste that we recycle, 5.8 million liters of water are saved, 55,600 KWH of energy are saved, and 2.7 tons of CO2eq emissions are avoided. Our clients are always happily surprised to learn that for every ton of fabric waste they recycle via Fabric Credits, they are also supporting nearly 3 tons of carbon avoidance. Through our proprietary research that will be released this summer, we are also discovering ways that fabric waste could regenerate biodiversity, soil structure, and actually increase crop yields in food-insecure geographies. 

In addition to the environmental benefits, the aspect of the Fabricure model that we are most proud of is the social impact that it provides. For every 1 ton of fabric waste processed, we are able to fund 8-16 hours of employment at above-living wage and with full benefits. This month alone, we were able to provide additional income for 20 female farmers in rural regions in Kenya. All of these farmers are subsistence farmers, meaning that they previously have not made any income from their farms. By 2025, we will be able to scale this network to 10,000 farmers across East Africa, resulting in stable additional income for these farmers and over 100 million kilograms of fabric waste regenerated into soils.


What measures does Fabricure take to make sure its recycling technology can be scaled and adapted across various textile types and industries?


We are able to ensure scalability and adaptability by utilizing a partner model. While we execute our own research and fabric recycling efforts, we also onboard collection and recycling partners from around the world who are already in operation. This allows us to easily expand into new geographies and generate more impact, resulting in an expansive network of verified projects for our clients to support. 


What challenges has Fabricure faced in the process of collecting and recycling fabric waste, and how have you overcome them?


The biggest challenge that we have faced is finding recycling solutions that can be scaled large enough to actually tackle the global fabric waste crisis. In a very conservative estimate, over 100 billion kilograms of fabric waste are generated every year. Even if we were able to process 1 million kilograms of fabric waste per year, it would be a drop in the ocean. We knew that if we wanted to have any real impact, we would need to find innovative applications for textile waste that could be implemented at a tremendous scale. Fortunately, thanks to what we have been discovering with our research partner Eco2Librium, one of the world’s leading climate project developers, we feel hopeful that we have unlocked this solution: using regenerative processes to restore fabric waste, of all fiber types, back in nature.


How can potential investors and corporate partners get involved with Fabricure to support and scale its impact? What opportunities do you foresee in collaborating with them?

We are currently seeking funding to scale our operations following the publication of our research this summer. This funding would enable expansion into 3-5 new countries by 2025 and increase our textile waste processing capacity to 100,000 tons annually. 

While we are primarily seeking non-equity funding to scale our initiatives, we remain open to investment opportunities with industry-aligned institutions. Additionally, we invite fashion brands and governments with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) textile legislation to invest in Fabric Credits in our verified project locations, fostering a collaboration toward global inclusion in a truly circular economy for textiles.


What are Fabricure's plans for expansion, innovation, or partnerships in the future?

Upon the publication of our pilot project research with farmers this summer, we aim to replicate the project with cotton farmers in the United States and across Western Europe where EPR legislation has been implemented. We will begin onboarding additional recycling partners this summer and would love to expand our partner network in Southeast Asian and South American geographies specifically. Finally, we are always eager to connect with mission-aligned organizations, fashion brands, or individuals, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you, like us, are passionate about freeing our planet from fabric waste pollution.

About the author

Clarabeth Concaret