Wendy Skinner of SewGreen Ithaca and Kelly Moreland of Mama Goose and Mimi’s Attic are two local entrepreneurs that started reuse stores because of the positive economic, social, and environmental benefits they provide.
SewGreen Ithaca is a nonprofit that focuses on the reuse of fabric, yarn and sewing materials. Wendy says that she was motivated to start the organization ten years ago when she noticed a lack of places to donate unwanted fabric and sewing supplies.
“It's hard for people with large collections of sewing materials who are looking to downsize and there are very few places to take those materials,” she said.
In order to stop fabric from going to the landfill, where textiles make up roughly 7% of the overall waste stream, Wendy started SewGreen with the mission of providing a place for people to donate and buy affordable, clean fabrics for their projects. Wendy says that SewGreen now diverts roughly 20 tons of textiles from the waste stream each year and draws retail customers from a nearly 250 mile radius.
While the raw numbers of what SewGreen has accomplished are impressive, Wendy says that running such a reuse-focused organization has been focused on the community SewGreen serves.
“In the beginning I thought it was going to be about stuff--and it is--but it's really about people,” she said. “Unlike some reuse programs where you just drop things off with no emotional connection to them, many of the items donated represent a lifetime of work or the life of a loved one.”
Wendy believes that the economic benefits of reuse shopping are clear when the costs of new and reused consumer goods are put into context.
“It's a question of what do you want to spend your money on? Why don’t you spend less money on something that someone else has owned before you, but is still great, and then have more money in your pocket for things like good food or travel,” she said.
SewGreen, which has two full time staff members and six teen workers and interns, also offers sewing workshops and places a focus on jobs for youth. Wendy says that the mentoring provided by the older workers and volunteers at the shop has made her reuse organization into a community gathering place and a haven for young people.
“We have welcomed apprentices and volunteers ever since we started and we’ve had lots and lots of kids come through and sometimes stay for a very long time. We teach sewing as a self-reliant skill,” she said. “I’ve never worked anywhere else where I received daily affirmation that we were doing something good.”
Kelly Moreland founded Mama Goose, which buys and sells gently used children’s clothing, books, toys, gear, and maternity gear, as well as Mimi’s Attic, a store that buys and consigns furniture and decor.
Kelly says that she has “never liked waste in any form,” which helped motivate her to open Mama Goose in 2003 when she was a young mother shopping for her children.
“I think it's really fun to go into a store filled with unique items and sift through them and figure out what I think is well made or stylish for me; I think it's a creative way to shop,” Kelly said. “It feels great to know that you’re not being wasteful, it's good for the environment, and you’re saving money.”
The positive economic impact of locally owned, brick and mortar stores on the community and the experience of shopping locally also helped to inspire Kelly to start her businesses, which now employ 30 full- and part-time staffers.
“I like to support the concept of locally-owned brick and mortar stores where you can walk in and know the merchant,” she said.
The Ithaca area community has been hugely supportive of her reuse businesses, according to Kelly.
“From the beginning the Ithaca community has really taught me in terms of their ideals and have been very good about supporting their local business owners,” Kelly said. “I’ve learned a lot from in terms of how to put your money behind your beliefs which validates every day that I’m living in the right town.”
Find out more about these stores and over 40 other local Reuse shops at reusetompkins.com.