TMU upcycles old merchandise through new donation project

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By Jake MacAndrew

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) has started a new initiative to upcycle older Ryerson branded merchandise this month.

Students, staff and community members can drop off stationery, signage and merchandise that have the Ryerson branding from September to October. The materials will be reused, recycled or upcycled as part of the Branded Materials Transition Project (BMTP)

The project collects items on Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).

In an email statement to The Eyeopener, the university said, “Swag featuring the Ryerson name can no longer promote awareness or visibility for the university.” 

Some donated materials, such as binders and electronics, will go towards the Materials Exchange organization, where participants can donate a variety of materials which can be turned into equipment and items needed to support education. Other materials like textiles will be donated to community sewing programs like The Scadding Court Sewing Hub located in Toronto, which repurposes materials for sewing workshops. 

“If TMU is encouraging students to accept our new name by recycling their Ryerson merch, I think the TMU merch should be more affordable,” said Amelia Papaikonomou, a second-year professional communications student. She said students might not participate if there is no monetary incentive to donate, such as a campus store coupon.

Fashion professor Osmud Rahman said the lack of incentive is a missed business opportunity. 

Sustainability strategies where clothing donations are encouraged by a discount coupon for the next purchase are often successful, according to Rahman. 

“It helps the brand image,” he said. “[When stores] give you coupons, that means you come back to buy more right from them.”

 Shaan Soomro, a second-year business technology management student, said he wishes the project would also help people in need of these materials.

“There are people around the world who would strongly benefit from the [donation] of old merchandise more than us,” he said. 

The effectiveness and sustainability of clothing donation programs are determined by the use of donations, according to Rahman. He thinks programs like these can be problematic if materials are wasted. “It costs more money and energy,” he said. “Much clothing is not made from one single fibre, it’s a mix of fibres—that is difficult to separate.”

Anika Kozlowski, a fashion professor at TMU, noted that large amounts of North American clothing donations end up being shipped out to other countries, particularly those in Africa and Central South America, which she hopes is not the case with TMU’s project. “It just causes large environmental and social destruction,” said Kozlowski. 

The Creative School at TMU will also be repurposing old merchandise in a sustainable fashion show in conjunction with Kozlowski and the university’s athletics department. 

The sustainable fashion show is slated to feature outfits designed by 20 TMU School of Fashion alumni with a background in sustainability or upcycling. 

“It’s not often that you get a chance to play around in this way and create something special where you don’t have to worry about selling it,” said Kozlowski.

The fashion show is set to take place in November at the MAC to celebrate its 10th anniversary along with new uniforms and cheers. Proceeds of the event will go toward the TMU Bold Equity and Inclusion Award, which will “address inequity and the ongoing impacts of historical exclusion of Black and Indigenous students,” according to the university.

“That’s what’s great about upcycling. It’s just that it’s extremely creative, being able to take any kind of material destined for landfills and trying to add value to that,” said Kozlowski.

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