For the past three years, New Zealand Post has collaborated with not-for-profit recycler Earthlink and uniform supplier, Booker Spalding, taking uniforms that are no longer in use and turning them into something new.
Recently, Earthlink opened a Hutt Valley retail store, to sell the re-fashioned uniforms which have been made into children’s dresses, shirts, hats and bags.
It takes 50 old garments to make 17 new clothing items. Earthlink employs four part-time machinists to make the clothes from old uniforms. Because of staff and uniform changes, a business like New Zealand Post can see around 8000 uniforms returned per year.
Dawn Baggaley, New Zealand Post Corporate Sustainability Manager, says the initiative is “just the beginning”.
“It’s really good for our staff to know that their uniforms are being reused. We’ve brought Massey University design students into the mix to help design the clothes and market them. We’re also working with the Ākina Foundation, which helps to grow social enterprises, to scale up the whole production.
“New Zealand Post has led the creation of a business model that we want to encourage other organisations to trial. Ultimately, Earthlink could be sorting, de-logoing, and re-using uniforms from all over New Zealand,” she says.
The repurposing of old uniforms is a very small part of New Zealand Post’s footprint, but part of the growing waste problem in the textile industry.
“Textile waste is growing and our uniforms still had life in them,” says Dawn. “By working with others in the community, we’re creating clothing that others can enjoy and creating jobs for people at the same time.”
Earthlink’s new enterprise is also supported by the Hutt City Council, which has provided sewing machines, and Work and Income New Zealand which has provided salaries for the machinists.
The recycling of uniforms is a great example of the circular economy, where at the end of life of a product all materials are reutilised. Read more about SBN’s work on the circular economy here.