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A Conversation with Wes Baker, co-founder of de-brand

Wes Baker, co-founder of Debrand ServicesThe story goes that Wes Baker and partner Amelia Ufford got the idea of recycling corporate textiles while surfing in Sri Lanka. They saw the masses of “brandfill” float ashore and decided to do something about it. Thus began the concept of Debrand, a company that recycles textiles while offering brand security to businesses such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and lululemon, who require brand security for their products as well.

The business had originally started out as a creative design firm called Cinder Creative. After establishing a solid client base, it allowed them to “spark the dialogue with [their] clients about the idea of ‘debranding’.” Once the resource recovery side eclipsed the creative side, the company fully rebranded as Debrand.

They first hosted Debrand in a warehouse in Yaletown. Rent was minimal, and they “constructed” it as they needed the space to work for their business. At the time the whole building was under a facelift; jackhammers were used the whole time, so he figured that they might as well jackhammer their place to outfit the space for their specific business needs too!

Wes definitely piqued my interest by doing what it takes to run a business, so I asked him about whether he believes entrepreneurship can be taught, as he holds a degree in it from the University of Victoria. He said he learned the basics of everything from his education: he can read financial statements perfectly well, can do operations, and of course the marketing. But the bottom line is that it takes a certain low-risk spirit and a leap of faith to be an entrepreneur. Or, says he likes to say, just “know enough to fake it.”

When we talked, what I noticed about Wes was that he was very multi-faceted; I think it comes from being an entrepreneur that requires one not only to juggle many tasks at once, but to see things from many perspectives. I brought up an issue about how it’s sad that clothing and apparel businesses churn out so many items that go to waste, basically I labeled it “bad,” but somehow he managed to look at it from a different angle.

He explained that it’s just a necessary evil because companies experiment with better ways of applying technology, similar to how nowadays consumers do much testing of beta software. I guess that’s just how the mind of an entrepreneur works – always seeing the opportunities.

Then we touched on some big issues in the fashion/sustainability world. “The fundamental of your business is to make more stuff and sell more stuff,” he said. We talked about how our economy is based on a consumption cycle, but just like the issue of skinny models ruling the runways, it’s really difficult to pinpoint where we can find a leverage point to create change. I also learned of an outdated part of our duty system, where it’s financially more sensible for companies to destroy clothing instead of recycling them because “destruction” warrants companies to regain its duties. We both agreed the whole situation is very grey.

So, instead of donating your old clothes to the nearest clothing collection bin, either give it to someone you know or leave it in your closet for a few more seasons. As he mentioned in his speech during the Eco-Fashion Week seminars, 95% of the clothing donated doesn’t make it back to a thrift store. In fact, most of it ends up as unwanted waste in third world countries.

Just take one of his examples – Wes was about to donate a jacket that had been sitting in his closet for a while but decided to give it one more go. Four people complimented his “new” jacket that day. So maybe it’s not so much that we need to find where the root of our consumption patterns lie, but rather, for us to view our wardrobes through a wider perspective. Just as an entrepreneur would see the many possibilities.

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Filed under Interviews, Sustainable Style