The organization provides paid, on-site job training for weavers, 100% healthcare coverage and opportunities to engage in re:loom’s operations while creating upcycled housewares and accessories.
Based in Decatur, Georgia, re:loom is a program of the Initiative for Affordable Housing — a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that employs and empowers unhoused, refugees and low-income individuals who craft beautifully designed products out of recycled materials. The organization provides paid, on-site job training for weavers to earn a stable salary, 100 percent healthcare coverage and opportunities to engage in the organization’s operations – helping them to weave a better life, while creating sustainable housewares and accessories. The brainchild of Lisa Wise, the Initiative’s Executive Director, re:loom continues to change the lives for countless women.
Shaw VP of Global Sustainability and Innovation Kellie Ballew recently talked with Wise as part of the company’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition program, which recognizes organizations that put people at the center of their sustainability efforts.
KB: re:loom is quite honestly changing the world one family at a time. You teach people a trade, provide a stable salary and benefits for them and help them with housing. And you do all this while using recycled materials. That’s incredible.
LW: Thank you for acknowledging our core missions of sustainability and human service. We take pride in our commitment to women and, in turn, their extended families. re:loom is unique. We not only change the outcomes for homeless and low-income women by empowering them to take charge of their financial futures through education, training and employment in re:loom’s weavehouse; we also repurpose and upcycle tons of donated textiles that would otherwise end up in the landfill. We are very proud to celebrate wins on many levels every day.
KB: Is this a program that can be replicated elsewhere?
LW: re:loom offers a unique solution that addresses two disparate issues that affect every community: the economic impact of homelessness and the impact of waste management on global climate change. While we specifically teach weaving as a job skill, our primary goal is to instill in women the skills necessary to become reliable, dependable employees who can take charge of their financial futures and advance life for their families.
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We began to think differently about the things we throw away daily, like clothes. “Fast fashion” creates choice; but it also causes a ripple effect with increased water usage, pollution and waste. We asked, what happens to the scrim from job sites, and the giveaway bags and banners from trade shows? We saw the potential in raw materials like these and began to imagine a second life for them in hand-woven, upcycled new products. This unique combination has made re:loom a success that is making a tangible impact on our world.
Communities everywhere can develop similar initiatives to shape future generations through job training and financial literacy for low-income individuals. If these initiatives can also address wide-reaching issues such as social inequity and economic empowerment through innovative, hands-on solutions, all the better. Identifying ways to reduce society’s carbon footprint is a great place to start.
KB: What kind of partnerships have been important in making this program a success?
LW: We work closely with corporations committed to reducing their carbon footprint. For industry leaders like UPS and Delta Air Lines and institutions like Emory University, Jamestown Properties, and the Georgia World Congress Center, we repurpose uniforms and other textiles into meaningful, hand-woven products such as key chains, laptop bags, pet accessories, rugs and pillows, and more. These partnerships are a win-win-win for re:loom, our partner companies and the environment. Our combined efforts share the message that we all care about people and our planet.
KB: What is next for re:loom?
LW: In the coming years, re:loom will scale its operations to work with more partner organizations and reduce the carbon footprint of daily life here in Georgia. We are developing new programs and initiatives to broaden our workforce, expand retail operations for sale of re:loom goods, and increase corporate and community engagement. We are excited and ready for the opportunities the future will bring. We are grateful to companies like Shaw Industries that thoughtfully recognize how we all can do our part to make our world a better place. Thank you again for this honor.
This is part of a series of articles recognizing the second slate of organizations to be honored by Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program. Each of the 10 organizations selected for this year’s recognition program is a leader in its own right and offers something from which we can all learn about putting people at the heart of sustainability. To read more about the other organizations recognized by Shaw, visit the landing page for this blog series.