By Clare S. Richie
The re:loom weave house, which upcycles discarded materials into beautiful useful products, is transforming lives. A social enterprise of the Initiative for Affordable Housing, re:loom employs the poor and homeless to hand-weave rugs, pillows, purses, scarves and more from donated fabrics for sale on-line and in select stores.
Since 1990, the Decatur nonprofit has helped homeless and low-income families become self-sufficient by providing affordable housing and social services. Social workers help participants find a job, repay debt, follow a budget, and enhance parenting and daily living skills in order to secure their own housing.
Executive director Lisa Wise realized that creating stable sustainable wage jobs was critical. So, she paired her personal interest in weaving with the initiative’s never-ending supply of donated clothing and linens and started a weave house. In 2010, with a three-year grant, tons of fabric, gifted looms, and volunteer support re:loom began production.
Inside the weave house are floor-to-ceiling stacks of donated clothes, linen, curtains, uniforms, and plastic bags. Volunteers wash the fabric, sort it, cut it into strips, and roll strips into balls. Weavers select a ball and begin work a floor loom named for its donor, such as “Agnes” given by the Agnes Scott College’s Art Department.
Today, there are 10 full-time positions, nine weavers and an operations manager, all with healthcare coverage. Workers learn weaving, textile design, inventory, sales, leadership, and volunteer management on the job while earning a sustainable income.
“People have been very good to us,” Wise said. “We’ve been given looms, fabric, and sewing machines. We also couldn’t survive without our volunteers. Now we need to get the word out and sell more of our products.”
The day of my tour, Robin, downsized from her banking job, wove clutch purses from Delta safety vests. The airline paid re:loom to make employee giveaways and provided the material. The stretchy orange mesh is now upcycled purses, iPad sleeves, and bracelets. “By using only donated fabric, re:loom diverts more than two tons of material from landfills each month,” Wise said.
The weavers aren’t just diverting and transforming material. Earning a self-sufficient wage is life changing. Dibia, a Bhutanese refugee, has worked at re:loom for two years and recently helped her extended family purchase their first home.
With extra looms ready to go, re:loom is poised to hire more weavers once sales to individuals, stores or corporate partners increase. It starts with another purse sale, another store partner, or another corporate order and the joy in knowing that the fabric passed from donor, to volunteer, to weaver all in pursuit of a better life.
For more about re:loom and where to buy the products made there, visit reloom.org.