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Mending job skills at the Ragfinery

Thrift shop offers individualized Job Skills Training to Whatcom County

On Oct. 19, 2023 the Ragfinery, a local nonprofit retail organization located at 1421 N Forest St. in Bellingham, Wash., opens its doors for the day. In addition to offering affordable textiles and upcycled goods, the shop also has a Job Skills Training program available to the community. // Photo by Sophie Cadran

To most, the Ragfinery, a non-profit retail organization in Bellingham, Wash., is known for its affordable upcycled goods, textiles and crafting supplies. However, among the scraps of fabrics, clothing and yarn, Job Skills Training takes place.

Under the umbrella of ReUse Works, the Ragfinery opened its doors in April 2014 as a retail store aimed at creating jobs from what otherwise would have been deemed as waste, such as fabric. The shop provides affordable textiles to the community and hands-on job training for those who are looking to build skillsets or need a transitional job program.

“Through job training and experience here, [community members] can gain new skills, whether that's education of textiles, identifying textiles, sorting, and grading clothing, to mending and upcycling,” Ragfinery Program Manager Rue Macdonald said. 

Job Skills Training is individualized, focusing on areas that each person would like to grow in. The shop can help individuals get experience in anything from running a cash register to practicing customer interactions to leadership.

Main floor

On the main floor of the Ragfinery in Bellingham, Wash. on Oct. 19, 2023, shoppers can find clothing sold by the pound organized on the wall, as well as a variety of yarn, fabric, buttons and more. Identifying these items is one of the tasks that Job Skills Program individuals are responsible for at the shop. // Photo by Sophie Cadran

Shania Zieber started at the Ragfinery Job Skills Training program in January 2019. At the time of the training, she was experiencing houselessness and was placed at the Ragfinery through Northwest Youth Services, a local youth homeless program.

The shop offered a conducive environment for learning and created a space that welcomed mistakes. Throughout Zieber’s training at the Ragfinery, she gained knowledge in sustainability, identifying textiles and fiber and built skills and confidence surrounding leadership. 

In July 2019, Zieber was offered a job at the Ragfinery as their textile specialist. While in this position she shadowed the assistant manager – now referred to as the program manager – and took on more responsibilities at the shop. In January 2020, she was offered the program manager position, which she still holds today.

“I was always scared to be a leader, so they helped me see that I do have those skills and capabilities and invested in that,” Zieber said. “It's awesome to have that support and a family, essentially in the workplace.”

Zieber described how it feels to help community members who walk into the Ragfinery and come from a similar low-income background that she once did.

“Honestly, it's kind of unreal,” Zieber said. “It makes you feel like you're making a difference in someone's life, and giving people the skills to grow and be who they want to be.”

The Ragfinery Job Skills Training program is open to the public and utilized by local social workers and job coaches. Bellingham Public Schools utilizes the Ragfinery’s training for its Community Transitions program. Community Transitions helps students through the age of 21 in the Special Education program at BPS to gain skills that are needed as an adult, such as workplace experience. 

“[The Ragfinery] is a great place for students to learn about job skills because the staff is nurturing, caring and willing to support students,” said Feliecia Mulder, a BPS Community Transitions job coach. 

Back room

In the back of the Ragfinery in Bellingham, Wash. on Oct. 19, 2023, workers and volunteers use tubs and organizational systems to sort through donations to be displayed or given to other local nonprofits. This task is one of many that the shop utilizes in their Job Skills Program. // Photo by Sophie Cadran

Dana Smith, the BPS assistant director of communications and community relations, explained that students who interacted with the Ragfinery Job Skills Program benefited from the hands-on experience.

“To have the opportunity to learn in an authentic setting is really important. Rather than talking about work or running a simulated business, everybody feels empowered when they're doing real work that's important to themselves and to others,” Smith said.

Job Skills Training at the Ragfinery is available for all ages and skill sets. Training varies from case to case and is meant to help individuals build upon skills and gain new work experience. For more information, visit the Job Skills Training page on their website or stop by the shop at 1421 N. Forest St. in Bellingham, Wash.

Sophie Cadran

Sophie Cadran(she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year journalism student at Western with a minor in communication studies. In her free time, she enjoys getting outside with friends and family, reading and swimming. 

You can reach her at

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