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Business strives to alter fabric of recycling in northern communities

Sic Sox Circular Ltd., an Indigenous startup company, weaves its way across northern Ontario with a creative approach to recycling textiles and other fabrics

RED ROCK — A growing movement across the region aims to repurpose clothes or other fabric items that may be unwanted or unable to be donated.

Red Rock is the latest to join other communities along the north shore — and across Northern Ontario as a whole — in a new, inventive business that aims to solve that very problem.

Sic Sox Circular Limited is an Indigenous startup company that collects donated fabric and textiles and refurbishes or recycles them.

They accept items such as household and industrial textiles, bedding, towels, pillows, and clothing in all conditions, as well as gently used shoes and handbags, and stuffed animal toys.

The company is based out of Brunswick House First Nation and the town of Chapleau.

Red Rock town council approved a partnership with Sic Sox at their council meeting on Nov. 20.

Red Rock CAO Mark Filigomeni said that council was “all behind it.”

“I think it’s a good program and it looks like it’s going to benefit a lot of great causes and organizations,” Figliomeni said. “It’s also a way to look at diverting from your landfill, right? If you can compile textiles that aren’t going into your landfill — I think anything you can keep out of the landfill to extend [its] life is a good thing.”

It is estimated that Canadians discard anywhere between 12 to 37 kilograms of textile waste annually on an individual basis.

Sic Sox Circular Ltd. CEO and vice president Jerret Paquette said that the idea for the company started with his mother, Dr. Doris Mitchell.

Both Paquette and Mitchell are members of Brunswick House First Nation.

“She came to me and said she had this crazy idea to get rid of textiles that would otherwise just go to the dump,” Paquette said. “She had a pile of socks in her closet that she couldn’t donate to a thrift store or anything like that, she was just going to have to eventually throw out and she thought there’s probably got to be a better use for it… kind of went down the rabbit hole ways we can use it and we landed on what we are doing now.”

Mitchell — an alumnus and faculty member of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine — is the one in charge of “logistics” and really brought the whole project together, according to Paquette.

Paquette is handling the public-facing side of the business, sending proposals to prospective partners across the north and selling advertising space on the side of their Sic Sox bins.

Paquette also designed the artwork that adorns each bin.

“We have 60 recycling bins — they’re mauve or pinkish-purple coloured — that we are distributing across Northern Ontario.”

In terms of where the bins can be placed, Paquette said that there are no restrictions, really, so long as the bin is accessible to the public — such as an open parking lot, for example.

He also said that the expense of shipping their bins has been covered so far by grant money.

An email from Mitchell, sent to the township of Red Rock, identifies the money as pilot grant funding from the Indigenous Innovation Initiative via Grand Challenges Canada.

Paquette said that Sic Sox is aiming for a range that stretches from Thunder Bay to North Bay and everything in-between.

Currently, about a third of Sic Sox’s total bins have been distributed but Paquette hopes to see the rest of the bins out by the “end of December.”

Red Rock received their bin on Nov. 23.

Figliomeni said that between Sic Sox and the announcement that Red Rock will be participating in the Food Cycle Science program things have been “busy.”

He also said that Red Rock does not currently have a recycling program, so the introduction of Sic Sox and Food Cycle is a sign that they are “taking some steps in the right direction.”

“We’re ready to go,” Figliomeni said. “The bin is located in the township and we’re excited … who knows where we’ll end up in the future. Maybe it does lead to a full-service recycle program at some point.”

For Sic Sox, the present focus is on ironing out the process of taking the textiles that are donated and shredding them to create industry-approved housing insulation.

“We’re still in the development phase of everything right now,” Paquette said. “We have people that we’re working with — some engineers from Thunder Bay and Winnipeg — that are insulation specialists who will help us get to that point.”

Shredding of textiles will take place at a facility provided by Brunswick House First Nation, which owns 10 per cent of the Sic Sox business.

Sic Sox is currently operating out of a location in Chapleau until renovations can be completed at the facility in Brunswick House.

“We are going to have weekly pickup routes to pick up all the clothing, ship it back to Chapleau, and then once our facility is up-and-running we’ll start shredding it. We’ll do the testing to get the product finalized and then after that we’ll start making our product.”

Further plans for Sic Sox Circular include opening a thrift store right in Chapleau and an ongoing program aimed at getting local youth involved to learn more about the business and gain some valuable experience.

“The stuff that we get that shouldn’t be shredded — because we’re not going to shred perfectly good clothing — will be sold in our thrift store… [and] we’ve got a youth initiative program where we’re trying to encourage volunteers to come in and learn stuff about the industry while we’re learning it as well,” Paquette said.

Paquette noted that ad revenue and the opening of the thrift store should be a good start towards mitigating the costs of hiring drivers to pick up donations.

Even with costs to consider, Sic Sox has pledged to provide 10 per cent of thrift sales towards Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and gender equality supports/programs — once the business is scaled and fully operating.

Paquette remains eager as ever to get through what they are considering a “test” phase.

On that note, he has plenty of ideas for ways that Sic Sox Circular could expand on their current model.

“I’d like to see lots of involvement and we would also like to schedule larger pickups, donations that can’t fit in the bins,” Paquette said. “[To] have relationships with the hospitals or uniform companies that will have excess textiles… we would like to take those off of their hands as well.”

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
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