What happens when one’s time in a homeless shelter is up and they haven’t garnered any new skills during their time there? They are back to where they started. This is exactly the worry that led Lisa, the founder, to ideate the concept that became re:loom. re:loom employs and empowers homeless and low-income individuals through weaving beautifully-designed products out of up-cycled materials with all profits benefiting Atlanta’s Initiative for Affordable Housing to reduce homelessness. “Early in the recession, it was obvious that the economy was really suffering. It was those folks who are at the end of the line as far as skill sets and opportunities – they’re the first to lose their jobs or they’re the last to get hired. We have these women who want a better life for their children, but how are they really to accomplish that without any job skills?” Lisa asked when we sat down to chat with her.
When thinking of the business model, there were a lot of different factors that came into play. It needed to be more than just an art project – there needed to be a beautiful end product that was sellable. It needed to come full-circle in both fostering skills in the employees and simultaneously helping the environment. So, why weaving? Because of how complicated it is. “It’s a very linear skill, so you have to be patient. Learning to weave is math-based. It brings the combination of creativity but is also therapeutic because you’re doing a lot of repetitive motion. re:loom uses donated clothing and materials to create all woven products, thereby lowering costs and helping repurpose unwanted items.
Even after creating the concept for re:loom, it wasn’t until the first loom was donated by Agnes Scott College that everything started. “All of the looms are quite historic pieces of engineering, so they bring their own stories. Weavers love their looms, so they’re happy that the looms are starting a different life here for the purpose of helping others.”
While it may seem that re:loom has it all figured out, articulating its business model is still a challenge. While re:loom is a nonprofit, it’s still selling products in the marketplace and needs employees, volunteers and repeat customers to make it all possible. “We’re combining all of these ideas, and we want our stars to all line up. There are so many different layers, so it’s getting all these different levels to click to the outside world – for corporations, for stores and have that resonate with the community, so they can help us help other people. “ A lean staff and limited resources don’t help make this any easier.
Despite the challenges, the success stories make it all worth it. Most recently, a woman with low self-esteem and no GED but a great personality came in eager to help and learn. Within months, she got a better paying job at Costco where she’ll have the potential to be a long-term employee at a managerial level. “Our goal is to have folks come to us and not stay forever. We want them to improve, to learn job skills, to increase their self-esteem and improve their soft skills, so they can move on and we can start the process all over again.”
With several success stories under their belt, the team at re:loom has high hopes to expand. “There are homeless and low-income individuals everywhere in the United States. We have big dreams of taking our model and helping other communities as well as your own.“ While this is no easy task, Lisa is inspired to put in the hard work. “I get up every day to make a difference in someone’s life, particularly children. If you can help a child have a better life through their parents, then that inspires me.”
When we were in need of new rugs for our trade show booth, as with everything else we do, the Alternative team knew it had to be done in a sustainable fashion. It was a no-brainer to partner with re:loom to create the rugs from used Alternative fleece sweatshirts. Not only are we obsessed with our new rugs but also re:loom itself and the impact that their team is making on the community.
WRITTEN BY NURAIN ALICHARAN
PHOTOS BY CHRIS BURDEN