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Dunedin workshop confronting 'elephant in the room' of textile waste

A small Dunedin charity is helping to highlight the issue of textile waste, calling it “the elephant in the room”, and a burgeoning crisis not only in New Zealand, but around the world.



Fuelled by the rise of fast fashion from huge companies, the number of garments produced – and discarded to landfill – is growing like never before.


According to a recent investigation on TVNZ’s Sunday programme, the amount of clothing waste sent to Auckland’s landfills has doubled over the past eight years – about 70 truckloads roll in to the Redvale landfill each week.


Across New Zealand, textile waste to landfill is estimated at about 220,000 tonnes per year.


While the responsibility for what happens to these garments ultimately rests with the consumer, and the manufacturer to some degree, the question remains: how can we deal with the tsunami of unwanted apparel arriving at landfills day after day?


At a grass roots level, Stitch Kitchen in Dunedin aims to reduce textile waste and its impact on our environment with some creative thinking.

Stitch Kitchen co-founder and Studio Manager Fiona Jenkin.

Stitch Kitchen co-founder and Studio Manager Fiona Jenkin.


Stitch Kitchen co-founder and Studio Manager Fiona Jenkin said looking at the problem of textile waste worldwide can be overwhelming, so it helps to start out small.


“I love that quote from Arthur Ashe - ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’ - you don't have to solve the global problems of fast fashion and consumerism - just start with your own little pocket of it,” Fiona said.


"Textile waste is not something you hear a great deal about when you're talking about reducing waste or reducing carbon emissions – everyone kind of assumes that it gets into this magical system of recycling, but it doesn’t."

Fiona Jenkin- Stitch Kitchen co-Founder and Studio Manager



“It’s a huge problem and no one really knows the solution, because it’s so complex.”


Stitch Kitchen teaches people to sew and be creative in their re-use of textiles, bringing people from the community together to share materials, ideas, skills and time.


The workshop is operated by Just Atelier Trust, which began as a social enterprise in 2015, before gaining charitable status in 2019.


Stitch Kitchen has been working on a project aimed at highlighting the issue of textile waste, and re-using some of it, by creating adorable patchwork elephant soft toys.


They call it the “4KT” project - a nod to the 4000 tonnes of waste fabric going to Dunedin’s Green Island landfill each year.


“We chose to make elephants as a take on textile waste being the elephant in the room – the thing that everyone’s kind of aware of, but don’t want to think about because it’s too hard to deal with,” Fiona said.


“So far we’ve made about 1900 elephants, and we’ve been giving them to organisations like Tedz4kidz Dunedin and Foster Hope - it's really exciting to see the enthusiasm when people receive them, and it's really fun for the volunteers to make them, because they're simple, but they're so full of character because we're using fabric scraps.”


Stitch Kitchen became a charitable trust in 2019, and like most other charities, it relies on donations to supplement its revenue, which allows it to continue its work.


“We are partially funded,” Fiona said, “we get some funding thanks to the Dunedin City Council, and lotteries – and the ANZ Staff Foundation sponsored six months of our mending workshops this year, which was really great.


“We would love to be employing people and teaching them the skills to make desirable products – we’re looking at boosting our staffing.


“We want to be able to cover our operating costs from revenue that we generate, but at this stage we are still very dependent on that funding for wages, but also for project costs.”


For more information, or to donate to Stitch Kitchen, see their website here.


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