Financing sustainable fashion: Making a difference one garment at a time

For decades, the fashion industry has had a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, 20% of water pollution comes from the treatment and dying of textiles. The clothing industry as a whole accounts up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. In this context, Carmina de Young Fashion Design Inc. (CDY) is making a radical change in Canada’s fashion industry. With environmental sustainability at the core of its business, this female-led social enterprise uses natural fabrics with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) such as bamboo, modal, hemp, linen, and organic cotton. The GOTS ensures that these fabrics require minimal pesticides and water for production and are sourced from responsible working conditions.

Up through year-end 2019, the organization only focused on designing and manufacturing women’s clothing made with sustainable fabrics. However, with the onset of COVID-19 and the growing demand for medical isolation gowns for healthcare professionals, CDY’s operations started producing sustainable personal protective equipment (PPE); “We’re always looking for ways to protect the environment by coming up with new ideas to prevent waste from going into landfills” said Carmina de Young, Founder and CEO. “We recollect the gowns that have already been used by healthcare workers and turn that material into new garments.” Under the new brand of CY Health, CDY’s sustainable PPE helps fill the shortage of Canada’s domestic supply of medical isolation gowns for healthcare professionals.

“We’re always looking for ways to protect the environment by coming up with new ideas to prevent waste from going into landfills”

CDY is making a radical change in the industry by becoming the first company in Canada that manufactures sustainable PPE, both disposable and reusable. Last year, the Lifecycle PPE project won a $2 million grant through NGen’s Strategic Supply Challenge. This challenge tested organizations’ use of manufacturing technologies to build sustainable Canadian products in the fight against COVID-19. Since this was a matching fund, to get access to this grant CDY’s team had to provide 50% of the financing. Motivated by Carmina de Young’s vision, Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) provided a $300,000 loan to help the organization secure the grant.

Expanding Carmina de Young’s team

Before CDY pivoted their operations to produce sustainable medical gowns, the organization was looking to scale back operations, and had reduced the number of sewers down to 5 individuals. Aside from helping CDY secure the grant, VCIB’s financing also helped hire more production workers to increase their manufacturing capacity. The organization now has 35 employees and plans to continue expanding.

The majority of employees hired at CDY are individuals who have faced employment barriers, such as new immigrants, single mothers, and recent college graduates; “We want to create jobs for people who have faced barriers to employment” said Lina Bowden, Partner and CFO. “We’re able to accommodate people with different needs, and have translators present during our training sessions to help our employees that speak little English get the training they need.”

VCIB is committed to supporting organizations that work towards uplifting their community and fight for a green recovery. CDY’s recycling project is not only creating a circular economy but will also decrease solid waste generation at healthcare facilities by 93%. Furthermore, this project will prevent 11 million pounds of single use plastics from ending in Canadian landfills; “It is estimated that over 40 million pounds of hospital waste from disposable textiles are sent to landfills across Eastern Canada” said Bowden. “We expect that we will be able to divert 11 million pounds of this plastic waste, saving 6.556 metric tonnes of CO2 and 20 million liters of water in the process.”

Learn more about VCIB’s impact financing in our blog.

Read about CDY’s sustainable PPEs here.

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