Turning waste into jobs the goal of new Bellingham business

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 6, 2014 

Bellingham resident Michelle Grandy and ReUse Works Board Member Libby Chenault browse the notions and supplies section of Ragfinery at the business's grand opening, Thursday, April, 3 in Bellingham.

EVAN ABELL — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Duane Jager admits he didn't know much about textiles when the Ragfinery concept was born, but he did see a great opportunity for reusing products and creating jobs.

The Bellingham job training business organized by ReUse Works celebrated its grand opening last week at 1421 N. Forest St. and is already showing off a variety of fabric supplies and repurposed products created by local artists and people receiving work training.

The philosophy behind Ragfinery is creating jobs from waste, said Jager, the organization's executive director. It's the same philosophy as ReUse Works' other endeavor, Appliance Depot, which has created jobs by fixing and repurposing old appliances for eight years.

One reason Jager is optimistic about Ragfinery is because it has several potential revenue streams: Along with selling donated fabric and repurposed products that include pillows, rugs and bags, the organization can sell surplus items and artist services.

The 4,000-square-foot space allows for plenty of room for fabric supplies as well as being a place that can host workshops and classes. It also can be a co-work space for people interested in sewing, cutting and weaving post-consumer textiles.

That will allow for the primary goal of creating jobs. Jager said the plan is to have 10 full-time employees within five years, focusing on training people who have had a particularly tough time finding work.

Creating a job training business in the textile industry is a bit unusual, but Bellingham is the perfect place to introduce the idea, said Eliza Evans, project director at Ragfinery.

"I can't think of a more receptive place to try this out," said Evans, noting the community is already into reusing products and has a strong consignment mindset when it comes to clothing.

hat's been particularly true in recent years, given the number of successful consignment stores that have popped up in Bellingham.

If it's successful, Evans said the plan is to introduce the concept to other communities.

While the concepts of Ragfinery and Appliance Depot are similar, the supply-and-demand aspect is different.

While it is now a self-sustaining operation, Appliance Depot has a regular challenge getting old appliances to work on. Jager doesn't expect that to be case with textiles for Ragfinery. Even with a booming consignment industry locally, plenty of textiles don't make it back to stores for reuse.

Jager said one recent donation was 500 pounds of drapes from Western Washington University that can be remade into a variety of new products. Ragfinery is also a place some people are connecting with; even though it has had a quiet opening, people are regularly dropping in to see the latest fabric donations.

Ragfinery's retail portion of the business is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, or by appointment. For more information, visit ragfinery.com or call 360-738-6977.

OTHER TIDBITS

-- Building permit applications were filed in Bellingham last week for several previously announced new retail projects, including H&M, Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, Safeway's gas station and Habitat for Humanity's Habitat Store. The projects are slated for summer and fall openings.

-- With the Canadian dollar bouncing around 90 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, border traffic was down in February. During that period, 1,015,064 people went southbound through the five Whatcom County border crossings, down 9.5 percent compared to February 2013, according to data collected by Western Washington University's Center for Economic and Business Research.

-- The drop could also be weather-related. In February, we had a couple of snowy weekends that may have deterred travelers from coming to the county. With better weather in March, that month's numbers may give a better idea of whether the weaker loonie is impacting Canadian shopping in this area.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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