Weaving a better life in Atlanta

March 16, 2017 | GET MORE : Community

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How nonprofit re:loom recycled old U.S. Bank shirts into new jobs for women in need.

Needing a home for a closet full of outdated U.S. Bank shirts, Mary Easton’s colleague Jack Ellerin on the bank’s corporate trust team in Atlanta suggested she take them over to local “upcycling” nonprofit re:loom.

It felt like a natural fit, as Mary (pictured above on left) led the bank’s sustainability initiative in the market. But when they arrived and heard re:loom’s story, they realized the organization did much, much more than take in donated clothes.

The impetus for re:loom was pre-recession 2008 and a lot of anxiety. Lisa Wise, executive director of the Initiative for Affordable Housing Atlanta (IAH), worried about what would happen to the women they sheltered and supported if a crisis hit.

Ever resourceful, Lisa realized that donated clothing was one of the few things the organization had in abundance. A hobbyist weaver herself, she started to plot out how upcycling this clothing may translate into help for their families.

Enter re:loom. The program, which Lisa and IAH launched in 2010, provides opportunity for individuals to work as weavers, designing and producing handmade, upcycled products and leading a team of weavehouse volunteers. re:loom then sells the goods online and in their Atlanta-area shop located in Decatur, investing all of its profits back into the women and their families.

A woman, Lisa, stands in front of shelf with weaving materials

In addition to a stable salary and healthcare coverage, re:loom provides weavers with life skills training and rehabilitation services – from financial education and how to maintain a job, to how to utilize health insurance and self-advocate for care – to help them get on the path to sustainable self-sufficiency. 

The organization aligns with U.S. Bank's corporate social responsibility platform, Community Possible, which focuses the bank's volunteerism and giving on creating opportunities for Work, Home and Play in its communities.

“When you invest time and education in someone and give them an opportunity, they thrive and learn how to make their own stories come true,” said Lisa. “We want to help people move on to what’s next in their life. Our business model is ‘bring them in and move them on.’”

re:loom has done just that, employing 28 people since 2010 with more than 60 percent having moved on to a new career. Among those successes: Faye Rutledge.

Faye sits, smiling on top of several rugs at re:loom

Several years ago Faye had a good job as a web developer, and was in a relationship with a child on the way. Her world flipped sideways when the relationship turned toxic and threatening, leading to pregnancy complications and required bed rest that forced her to choose between her job and her and her baby’s health. She resigned from her job and soon after left her apartment, with two bags and her newborn baby.

Faye had no future in mind other than the dream of safely raising her only child. She stayed with family for a few months and eventually found a low-income apartment to live, but was quickly burning through her savings while struggling to find work because she had no childcare.

“Prospective employers don’t want to hire someone who brings a baby to an interview,” Faye said. “I had $750 left to pay rent and expenses and nothing else to spare when a community center suggested I reach out to re:loom. I interviewed on my birthday and knew that was a sign.”

Faye says that birthday, three and a half years ago, was the first day of the rest of her life. Today, she owns her own home where her daughter attends a nearby kindergarten, and she recently moved on to a new job running re:loom’s website.

One of the latest creations she added to the website: the Blue Mug Rug, a coffee or tea coaster woven together from that closet of old U.S. Bank shirts.

A blue woven square that can be used as a coaster for beverages

“Reaching out and helping people who are trying to make their lives better makes you feel good,” said Mary Easton, who regularly leads groups of employee volunteers at re:loom. “At re:loom, you can see firsthand how giving your time makes a difference in other people’s lives.”

Story by Holly Maddox of U.S. Bank.