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By Stella Harvey

Nestled at 1421 N. Forest St. is a storefront with bright fabrics piled behind its windows.

Ragfinery, a local non-profit with the goal of diverting textile waste from landfills, collects these supplies to become new creations.

Ragfinery was founded in April 2014 as the second business of ReUse Works, an organization focused on community and sustainability. ReUse Works provides job training and business opportunities for low-income residents using discarded materials. The Ragfinery is a creative community staple with an environmentally conscious twist.

Shan Sparling, program manager at Ragfinery, said the organization has a multitude of facets including upcycling, community outreach and creative collaborations.

The front windows of Ragfinery, stocked with upcycled clothing and supplies. // Photo by Stella Harvey

“When we first started out, we thought we would be collecting T-shirts and 100 percent cotton, but we very quickly learned that the Bellingham creative art community was really looking for something like this,” Sparling said.

Not only a store, the Ragfinery hosts a variety of workshops and weekly events teaching sewing and crafting techniques. By reusing old materials and selling upcycled sewing supplies at a discounted rate, the Ragfinery has made a commitment to reducing waste and diverting textiles from the landfill.

Upcycling, or the reuse or repurposing of used clothing or materials, is a way of reducing waste and reusing materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.

“Upcycling is a creative way to get people thinking about what they’re wearing, where their clothes come from [and] the quality of their clothes,” Sparling said.

According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the U.S. generates an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles per year. Only 15 percent get donated or recycled, resulting in massive amounts of clothes ending up in landfills.

Sparling said the consumer culture created by the fashion industry often makes people feel pressured to go to a store and buy the latest thing, which is to blame for the increasing amount of textile waste.

“Recycling things is important, but teaching people about reducing the amount of stuff they buy and reusing things is the way you can really preserve the embodied energy of what’s already been made,” she said.

According to their website, Ragfinery has hosted more than 144 upcycling workshops and diverted an estimated 743,000 pounds of textiles from landfills since its opening through weaving together local artists, community volunteers and those who want to learn traditional textile skills.

Ragfinery strives to educate and challenge Bellingham’s community to think about who is making their clothes, Sparling said. The textile industry is second only to the fossil fuels in the amount of toxicity it imparts on the planet.

“It’s really a much bigger problem than most people think it is,” Sparling said. “You can make such a big difference in not having a huge wardrobe of cheap clothes, but instead buying a few quality things.”

The Ragfinery will host its fourth annual upcycling runway challenge on Saturday, April 14 at the Leopold Crystal Ballroom. The event comes in conjunction with Earth Day, which takes place on April 22 and celebrates the natural world and what consumers can do to protect it.

For more information on ways to decrease waste, stop by Ragfinery Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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