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Ragfinery brings new life to discarded clothing, textiles

Apr 2nd, 2014 | Category: Crafts

by Brent Cole

Ragfinery, a new textile reuse center aimed at creating new clothes and products from donated materials, has opened in downtown Bellingham. The 4,000-square foot space, operated by the non-profit Reuse Works (also home of the Appliance Depot), will connect artists, textile designers and crafters, and offer workshops and classes, with the sole goal of utilizing discarded materials.

The idea for Ragfinery originated approximately a year and a half ago when Reuse Works decided it was time to move forward with a new project. “Our board of directors said ‘our mission is to create jobs from waste, what else is out there?’” Executive Director Duane Jager said. After doing some research, Jager found that, according to the Council for Textile Recycling, the average American donates 12 pounds of textiles but puts 70 pounds in landfills. That statistic would mean Bellingham residents discard 3.5 million pounds of textiles each year. In addition, between 1999 and 2009, postconsumer textile waste grew by 40 percent while the diversion rate increased by only two percent. Textiles account for five percent of municipal solid waste.

Board member and volunteer Beth Vonnegut prepares the scrap table. In addition to selling products created from used textiles, Ragfinery offers fabric supplies for artists and creative hobbyists, as well as classes and a co-working space for those interested in sewing, cutting, and weaving. COURTESY PHOTO

Board member and volunteer Beth Vonnegut prepares the scrap table. In addition to selling products created from used textiles, Ragfinery offers fabric supplies for artists and creative hobbyists, as well as classes and a co-working space for those interested in sewing, cutting, and weaving. COURTESY PHOTO

Not wanting to open a thrift store in an already thriving second-hand market, Jager said the group examined the best way to take on discarded textile and came up with making new clothes and art from old. “There is a lot of upcycling going on,” Jager said excitedly, citing the website Etsy’s booming business as a prime example.

The idea grew as local artists shared their opinions seeking a co-work space with classes.

“That was a real boost to us. That’s going to carry us in a way that we never expect,” Jager said. “There’s no place in Bellingham where there is space and equipment to teach and have workshops… it’s kind of turned into a co-work space.”

As word of Ragfinery filtered through the art and craft communities, skilled volunteers came out of the woodwork, Jager said. “We have people who have really good skill sets who are in here volunteering and making stuff.” They have connected with Allied Arts as well as groups like Whatcom Weavers Guild, and the space is furnished with sewing machines, a loom, rag cutter and other tools of the trade.

The Ragfinery began collecting clothes in January and are celebrating their grand opening on Thursday, April 3. “Now we’re having the grand opening because we think we know what we’re doing,” Jager said. Although the operation is still finding their footing, Jager added the response has been overwhelming. “The artist community has stepped up and come forward. That was a surprise.”

There are five revenue streams for the Ragfinery, Jager noted. They sort the fabric by color and type; they upcycle the products, host workshops, classes and have a rental space; some of the material will be turned into rags and what is left is bailed and sold to textile brokers.

In addition to selling the products, Ragfinery will also run as a training business and has partnered with the Opportunity Council and Work Source to train workers how to make garments and sew.

All donations are welcome at the Ragfinery. The Whatcom Transit Authority recently donated 500 pounds of discarded bus driver uniforms. A design contest will be held later this spring when people will be able to repurpose the clothes and the winner receives a prize. The Ragfinery also took in several hundreds of pounds of donated drapes. “An artist wants to do a workshop to turn them into something,” Jager said excitedly.

As the group looks forward, Jager added the Ragfinery is open to everyone and are aiming high when it comes to quality items. Stylistically, the project director is Eliza Evans, who Jager noted, “brings the style element.”

Ragfinery is located at 4121 N. Forest Street in Bellingham and open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grand opening and ribbon cutting will be held at 10 am. on Thursday, April 3. 

Published in the April 2014 issue of Grow Northwest

 

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