GREEN BUSINESS – From old clothes to fun fashions – Goodwill's Goods Made Good finds new life for old fabrics

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

How did parts of old wool suits from the Fox Cities make their way to the store window of Brooks Brothers in New York City this past fall?

That’s the story of Goods Made Good, an innovative and environmentally friendly product line with a very bright future.

Goods Made Good are one-of-a-kind clothing and decorative items created and sewn by team members of Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin at its Shiner Center, a production, distribution and training facility on Spencer Street in Appleton. What makes them extra special is that they are made from fabric that might very well have ended up in the landfill.

Here’s how the idea was born. Robin Janson, who already knew something about repurposing salvaged materials as co-owner of the reclaimed building materials business in Menasha called Urban Evolutions, became intrigued by the idea of using old fabric to create entirely new items. She and some friends created prototype products and brought the idea to Goodwill NCW.

Goodwill leadership liked the concept almost immediately.

“First, it gave us an outlet for textiles that, for a number of reasons, did not sell in our stores, and might otherwise have had to go to the landfill,” says Mary Haller, Goodwill’s chief operating officer-supply chain. “And, since part of our mission is to provide job skills training for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment, we saw a real possibility to create a whole new line of work.”

After initially testing the concept with skirts made from reclaimed sweaters at the Downtown Appleton Farmers’ Market in 2009, Goodwill decided to move forward full-force. Today, a dozen people work daily sorting reclaimed fabric, cutting templated shapes, combining compatible color schemes and stitching them together into skirts, pocket purses, ornaments, backpacks, scarves, fingerless gloves (for texters, of course!) and even Christmas tree skirts. More than 65 Goodwill employees have already been involved in the operation.

“We have an advisory council of volunteers from the community,” adds Haller. “Their passion for fashion design helps us come up with new ideas that fit with emerging trends.”

One hot-selling item resulted from a collaboration with the Wreath Factory, which has stores in Plymouth and Menasha. Before the holiday season, Sandra Began, one of the company’s designers, approached Goodwill about creating Goods Made Good fabric ribbons to use in decorating their wreaths. The Goodwill

team ultimately recommended a special scarf design that would be a ribbon for the wreath, but could actually be used as a winter scarf once the wreath had served its purpose.

Goods Made Good products are marketed locally through Urban Evolutions of Menasha, in downtown Appleton and periodic trunk shows at the Harmony Cafés in Appleton and Green Bay. They are designed for trendy, upscale buyers; sweater skirts start at $58, messenger bags at $48, and smaller cargo pocket cross body-bags at $28, for example.

In addition, the products are receiving national exposure. They are available on eBay’s® World of Good website, which features environmentally friendly and socially responsible products. Through a relationship with Green 3 of Oshkosh, Goods Made Good produced-items have appeared in Uncommon Goods and other national catalogs. And, through connections with national home décor distributors such as Design Legacy of Dallas, they were shown in last April’s issue of House Beautiful and have been featured at national shows, including the prestigious High Point Market furniture show.

One other Goods Made Good product line has emerged in recent months: sewing repurposed cloth pieces together in 20-yard bolts as upholstery fabric. Design Legacy is a leading customer, and creates trendy, high-end furniture and décor items, which it sells to major retailers nationwide.

And that’s how old wool suit fabric from the Fox Cities – that covers a Design Legacy settee – made its way into the show window of Brooks Brothers in New York City not long ago.

Paul Brunette, contract operations leader for Goodwill and designer and leader of the Goods Made Good team, marvels at this opportunity.

“It’s the whole mission of Goodwill. We’re creating one-of-a-kind pieces, teaching skills, creating funds for our programs and keeping materials from going to waste,” he says.