Designing Woman

by Rona Berg
sustainable workwear

Sustainable Workwear: Spa insider Noel Asmar designs a new sustainability initiative to help eliminate textile waste.

A visit to the spa is a deliciously tactile experience. From massages to facials, spa involves lots of lovely feel-good fabrics: plush robes, soft sheets and blankets for the massage table, velvety towels and slippers. 


But where does it all go when it gets too worn for use? Nowhere good. The average 200-employee hotel turns over approximately five to 10 percent of its bedding and textiles every month or two. While 95 percent of used textiles can be recycled, 85 percent end up in the trash. And 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothes end up in landfills in the U.S. each year.


Noel Asmar, spa insider and founder of Noel Asmar Uniforms, Pedicure Bowls and Asmar Equestrian, thinks we can do better. Asmar, who designs and supplies uniforms to many of the world’s top spas, began to wonder what those spas did with the old uniforms that she was replacing. “Our uniforms last three to six years, and that alone is sustainable,” says Asmar. But the sheer scale of the textile waste in the spa industry has been wearing on her. “Once you know there’s a problem, you can’t unknow it.”

In 2019, Asmar won the International Spa Association (ISPA) Innovate Award for her collection of knit uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles. She recently upped her game and launched Hospitality Lifecycle, a sustainable textile recycling program for hotels and spas.

Here’s how it works: Spas and hotels can box and ship their used uniforms and other textiles (any brand, not just Noel Asmar) directly to Debrand, a Vancouver-based recycling plant. It costs 55 cents per pound to recycle; 1,000 pounds for $550. The textiles are sorted, shredded and, if it’s a pure fiber that can be turned into a thread, “we can close the loop on that,” she says. Otherwise, they are recycled or upcycled into filler for dog beds, wall insulation and more. Less than five percent is destroyed.

The cost, admittedly, can hold some people back from participating, and they end up discarding or donating their textiles. But “spa is about wellness, and we can’t talk about wellness without talking about the wellness of the planet,” says Asmar.

“I’m hoping this will be the legacy of my company someday,” she says. “This is so much bigger than we are.”

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