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Beauty & Function

Picture a vibrant new store that takes Bellingham’s collective passion for reusing and repurposing in a new, untapped direction. What a wonderfully cluttered used bookstore is to boxes of lonely books in your attic, Ragfinery is to those bags of clothes, jars of buttons, and McCall’s bell-bottom patterns you stumble over while trying to reach those boxes with the books…only without the clutter, musty smell and paper cuts.

Ragfinery, located downtown at 1421 Forest Street, opened its doors last April, the second “Jobs from Waste” program from the non-profit group ReUse Works. ReUse Works’ first store, Appliance Depot, opened in 2005 as a job straining business, giving new life to old kitchen and laundry equipment by giving real job skills and hands-on experience to those who needed a chance. And Ragfinery is continuing that mission by targeting a more common form of household refuse—clothing.

Ragfinery answers the vital questions “What kind of person looks at a discarded Dutch army uniform and sees a luxury pet bed?” or “Is it okay to make a fragrant, lavender sachet out of a vintage Night Ranger tour t-shirt?” A nexus of beauty, and conscious living, Ragfinery offers a clean environment, an organized selection, and a friendly staff to help you with any project you can dream up—and perhaps some that you haven’t yet dared.

By manager Shan Spalding’s count, close to 100 volunteers have passed through Ragfinery’s doors, some gaining valuable experience to put on their resumes and others enjoying a way to serve their community. On a recent afternoon, Deming native
Skye Henterly and long-time resident Marian Methner were both organizing items from that morning’s donation sort-a-thon. “You came in at just the right time,” Marian declared with a smile. “We just got the piles put away!”

Skye, an AmeriCorps volunteer, explained to me how Ragfinery works. First, clothing is donated both from individuals who drop off items in the collection container in front of the store and from business partners, including local thrift stores and consignment shops, who donate collected items that can’t be sold or have languished on their shelves too long. Twice a week, this mass of clothing, accessories, notions and textiles is sorted by the manager and volunteers. Items are separated into bins labeled by fabric; cordura, silk, cashmere, hats, yarn and leather are just a few of over two dozen labels. These labels are color coded into an easy “price per pound” system that removes guesswork at checkout. Put your selections on the scale, pay the nice person and you’re done!

Beyond the wonderful collection of reasonably priced recycled textiles that would turn the heads of any quilter, sewer, leatherworker, or multi-media artist, Ragfinery is putting a great deal of energy into the promotion of upcycling, or converting old garments into new or better quality apparel. In addition to renting sewing machine space for $10.00 or less a day, they offer regular workshops to teach anyone the skills to start upcycling. Four to twelve workshops are offered per month with a constantly changing schedule. Basic skills such as beginning sewing and crocheting are offered as well as the more creative “Fingerless Gloves & Hats from Sweaters” and “Market Tote Bags.”

The future is wide open to the opportunities sold alongside beer growlers. Other chances to give new life to items once thrown into landfills should quickly follow the trend. “The more people we can get upcycling, the stronger the concept will take hold,” said Shan. “And the less waste we’ll have.”

In a world of seemingly endless consumption and disposal, Bellingham is quietly finding new ways to reduce waste. Ragfinery is the latest player in a local tradition of showing folks creative and fun ways to get more life out of their stuff.

Ragfinery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10–5. Information about their mission and how you can get involved can be found at their website, ragfinery.com

"Ragfinery is the latest player in a local tradition of showing folks creative and fun ways to get more life out of their stuff."