It all started with a bag left on my hallway. I thought to myself “It just doesn’t make sense for anyone to collect that one bag of used clothing.” As that bag was left there over a week, it seemed like the supposed collector felt the same way. Putting together some ideas that had been flowing around in my mind due to various circumstances : raising funds for spinal cord research and opportunities in the used clothing industry, I had my light bulb moment – what if we could place a larger bin inside of buildings for people to recycle their old clothing, as they already recycle paper, plastic and glass. There was no business plan. There was no experience in this field. There was no mainstream sustainability movement. There only was an understanding that a building was a community itself and that New York City has a bunch of residential buildings.
Lots of things have changed over the past 10 years but one thing that hasn’t is that New Yorkers demand convenience. Wearable Collections started out as a grassroots project. Here we were, forming a new company with no experience in waste management asking building management companies to place our collections bins on their property. Convincing them that our program will be well received by their residents and that we could provide an outstanding service so that these bins will not be an eyesore. We were creating a solution for a problem they didn’t know they have. Though we didn’t have much experience or even a great plan, what we did have was a strong community who supported our mission: to raise funds for spinal cord research through the collection of clothes. Our founding member, Ethan Ruby was hit by a car on Delancey St., an accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. A survivor in so many ways, Ethan was the inspiration behind our project and our community rallied behind it in wondrous ways. We’d ask them to ask their management companies if we could place our bins in their buildings and it wasn’t before long that we had our first 15 buildings. The excitement we had for having others join in our journey was countered by the confusion of how we were going to actually service these buildings. The first of our many bumps on the road. Anyone who has spent any time in Manhattan can understand how difficult it is to run a logistics company here. With a little help from our friends at Zipcar, who gave us a great rate on rentals in exchange for some exposure, we were able to service these buildings cost effectively with a little bit of hustle and grit.
As the company grew, so did the need for infrastructure: better bins, buying of trucks, and lots of grassroots promotion. We weren’t sure what we were a part of at this time, but there was a certain groundswell that was occurring and intuitively we could sense it. Lots can be attributed to the film The Inconvenient Truth. Not to give the film so much credit, but it was very influential in the mainstreaming of the eco-movement. The wave was just beginning and we were in a position to take it on a very fulfilling ride. Everything associated with our growth could be considered organic. In 2007, it was clear to see that this idea that started out as a project was ready to be turned into a full-fledged business, the demand and the need was there.
I know this sounds corny and is overused, but when I say we are nothing without our community of supporters, I truly mean it. I always say we came up with a local solution but our locale just happens to be one of the largest cities in the whole wide world. We owe thanks to such a wide array of people for taking a risk with us: From the residential managers who allowed us to operate in their buildings at the beginning, to the PTA’s that do recurring drives with us, to the community organizations helping to green their areas and GrowNYC for being such an amazing partner for all these years in our greenmarket collections. We are nothing without all of you who have supported us with your time, efforts but more importantly being kindred souls. Together we have diverted nearly 10 Million lbs of clothing, shoes and textiles and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to our partner charities over these past 10 years. This is no small feat.
Wearable Collections never has looked at a task as being too big or insurmountable. We have embraced every challenge that has been brought upon us. When we were approached by the New York Road Runners about all the textile waste at the starting line of the ING NYC marathon, we looked at it as a an incredible opportunity. We gathered up 30 of the hardest workers we know, and in a 3 hour span from when the last runners leave till the plows come to open up the Verrazano Bridge, we were able to divert 30,000 lbs of clothing left behind and raise money for the New York Road Runners Club in the process. That’s what we call the Wearable Way! When Hurricane Sandy did her darndest to knock us out of business. Knocking all three of our vehicles out of commission in Red Hook, and sparing our full load in a container by a mere 5 inches. We took a deep breath and empathized with all in our community who were suffering. When the waters subsided, we started to receive calls to help with the outpouring of clothing donations that various organizations were inundated with. With no vehicles and no gas to be had, we could have easily put the” closed for business” sign up. But thats not the Wearable Way. We called up our good friends at Movers Not Shakers, who were luckily running a fleet of trucks off bio-diesel. Together we collected over 100,000 lbs of textiles and clothing while raising funds for charities in the affected areas in less than a month. When the City of New York decides that its a good idea to collect clothing and textiles within residential buildings 7 years after we have been doing it, essentially copying our program but not allowing us as part of the bid, do we hang ‘em up? No! We say thanks for the tip of the cap, and welcome along this journey to hopefully eliminate textile waste.
The problem is much larger than anything one company can handle. The New York City residential waste stream alone creates nearly 400 million pounds of textile waste annually. . Nationally the number has been estimated to be around 22 billion pounds. This number is tragic in itself when you think about all the money and wasted resources that go into landfilling these items, but it is even more astounding when you take a deeper look into the resources that went into creating these products and the fact that the vast majority of the items have another life in them, whether its on another person’s back , the rags they use industrially or the padding underneath your carpet. It simply doesnt make sense for textiles to be thrown away. We are very proud to be part of the public education, raising consciousness to a very important segment of the wastestream. We believe that the reduction of clothing waste is a subject that everyone can get behind, and also can be a gateway into an understanding of the value of all items in our wastestream.
It’s hard to believe that it has already been 10 years of Wearable Collections because we still feel like a start-up that is just beginning to make a difference. I can’t say enough about our Wearable Collections team, those who have come before and the great group we currently have, who do the dirty work day in and day out. You may have heard these words associated with the USPS, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” , But they are just as relevant when speaking about our incredible team. We promise to keep on doing what we do best, provide a quality service in a convenient manner and also promise to continue to innovate and push the ticket. For our 10th birthday we have decided to focus on our new venture, Walkable Collections, the shoe recycling division of Wearable Collections. Our mission is to eradicate the 300 million pairs of shoes that end up in our landfills, the vast majority which have another life in them. Please join us in celebrating 10 years of Wearables by participating in one of our upcoming events. These events are our way to give back to all of you who have given so much to us. I have said it before and I would like to say it again, we are nothing without you. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts.
Founder/CEO Wearable Collections