These fashion design profs are turning your unwanted clothes into bags, scrunchies and narwhals

Jennifer Wright and Meredith Jones have designed products that are being made by newcomers with materials destined for landfill.

Worth products have employed six newcomers at Goodwill Industries so far

Fanshawe professors upcycle fashion

2 years ago
Duration 1:34
Jennifer Wright, a professor in Fashion Design at Fanshawe College, explains how they're turning used clothing into new products under the brand name Worth.

At the last moment, before unwanted jeans and buttoned t-shirts are packed into massive bales at the Goodwill Outlet in London, Ont., a pair of fashion design professors pluck materials for their upcycled product line.

Jennifer Wright and Meredith Jones, who teach at Fanshawe College, have spent the past six months designing apparel, home décor and a variety of bags to be made out of materials destined for landfill either in Canada or overseas.

They've been spearheading a federally-funded research project aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the textile industry, teaching newcomers employable skills and researching how second-hand materials can be used throughout the fashion design industry.

Meredith Jones (left) and Jennifer Wright (right) look at bales of unwanted clothing, stored at the Goodwill Industries outlet on White Oak Road, waiting to be shipped overseas. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

"We both feel really strongly as designers that we shouldn't be using virgin materials," said Jones. "This type of research is really about manufacturing methodology. How do you take materials that are used, and they're not standard in size, to make products?"

The product line is called Worth, and it's something of an antidote to the fast fashion industry.

"In our branding story, we really talk about the worth of people and the worth of things – keeping things for a long time – and appreciating what people can contribute to our communities," explained Jones.

The difference between a Worth bag and one from the mall

The product line, including everything from scrunchies and hair ties to a big narwhal floor cushion, is in its final stages.

Research assistant and fashion design graduate, Natalie Ley, poses with a narwhal made from old denim and stuffed with shredded materials. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Jones and Wright are engineering the goods right now, figuring out the most efficient way to use the fabric and making sure no part of an original product goes to waste.

"You would think that because we're getting things from the donation stream at no charge, our process would be quite inexpensive. In fact, it's the other way around," said Wright. "We touch the product over and over and over again."

After trying out different methods and running several time studies, Wright said they've whittled down the price of creating a square foot of fabric from $11 to $1.60. That will help guide the process of pricing the goods, which is still on their to-do list.

The Worth product line aims to be zero waste, which means using every piece of the original product. The denim from a pair of pant legs are turned into fabric, the seams become hair ties, and the remaining shorts are hemmed and sold too. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

The difference, said Jones, between buying a Worth bag and buying something for $20 from the mall, is that Worth  customers will be supporting people in their community with employment and a good standard of living.

And the profits will be directed back into skills training programs for newcomers.

The social benefit

Two dozen newcomers have passed through Worth's skills training programs, said Wright, and six have gone on to secure full time jobs with Goodwill Industries.

Among them is Esther Iyiola.

She moved to London from Nigeria in the summer, went through the skills training program in August, and was hired by Goodwill in November.

Esther Iyiola came to London from Nigeria in the summer of 2019, and within months had secured a job working on the Worth product line through Goodwill Industries. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

"I love fashion. I'm fulfilled doing it. I'm happy waking up in the morning, coming down here, because it's what I love to do," she said.

Iyiola was trained as an accountant and used to work in a bank in Nigeria, but said she spent all of her spare time at her sewing machine.

She has goals to start her own fashion design business.

"We'll make African wears, like people come in and buy African wears, cut to fit, or sewn to fit. Maybe I take their measurements and make what they really want. Customized, for them."

Striving to be zero waste

Worth's manufacturing platform is set up in a room at the Goodwill Industries Outlet store on White Oak Road, not far from a warehouse area where towering bales of unwanted clothing wait to be shipped overseas.

Some of the materials, if they're stained or worn out, are cut into little bits called shred. The shred is then used to fill items like pillows, a puffer bag, and home décor items like the giant narwhal.

Worth also aims to teach consumers about the harms of the fast fashion industry. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

It barely makes a dent on the volume of textiles destined for landfill, either in Canada or overseas, but Jones and Wright hope their research will impact the fashion industry on a larger scale.

They're also striving to be zero waste.

"We're challenged by zippers and buttons right now," said Wright.

"That's actually in our product development, because we know we can't shred that stuff, we try to incorporate it," explained Jones.

She and Wright are working with a $240,000 grant from the federal government's community college social innovation fund that'll last two years, with a hope that the non-profit business will sustain itself in the future.

The products are expected to become available at Goodwill's boutique stores, and an online store, in the spring.


Liny Lamberink


Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She can be reached at