Above: Robin Upshur (front) and Lakh Khanal (back) set up for a day’s work at the Weavehouse looms. Photo by Isadora Pennington
The odds are stacked against you when you’re homeless. Without a home address, it’s difficult to get a driver’s license or land a job.
re:loom Weavehouse, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit in Decatur, is trying to help. The organization seeks to employ homeless and low-income people through weaving rugs and other cloth-based products. re:loom’s employees learn the skill of weaving, get a stable salary, health coverage and leadership training.
re:loom started as a project of the nonprofit Initiative for Affordable Housing. “The idea of re:loom came about because, as an agency working with homeless women for over 25 years, we worried about the women in our homeless program getting jobs and taking care of their children as we could see that the economy was faltering in 2008,” said Lisa Wise, Executive Director of the parent nonprofit Initiative for Affordable Housing, who has been a DeKalb county resident for more than 30 years.
“As a nonprofit, Initiative always had a lot of donated clothes around, and we combined what we hoped would be a green movement and cultural shift of sustainability with the ancient craft of weaving, which is complex and very orderly and linear,” Wise said.
The organization functions as a sort of factory for repurposing cloth items. They take donations and cut them up, then weave them together into things like rugs, bags and wallets. The space is stacked with reams of fabric and bundles of cloth strips. One bright, sunny room is lined with looms, a peaceful and rhythmic hum emanating from the work of several weavers.
Since its inception, re:loom has helped 28 participants in the job training program, and all but a few have moved on to other employment, according to Wise. Those who’ve remained have continued to develop their skills and craftsmanship, producing hundreds of handmade products a year.
re:loom is not only beneficial for those homeless individuals who work there, but it also provides an opportunity for volunteers from all walks to give back to the community.
“Our volunteers help prepare the donated clothing and fabric and get it ready for the weavers as they weave beautiful pieces for sale; some volunteers help us spread the word and some love to work with us at the festivals,” said Wise. As someone who qualifies for the senior discount herself, she can attest that it’s a great experience for seniors who like to volunteer their time and effort. “Many seniors belong to sewing, quilting groups, church or other kinds of groups and have heard about us, visited and decided to help us.”
In addition to selling their pieces through their website and in the store at the Decatur warehouse, re:loom sets up at a variety of festivals throughout the year to sell handcrafted and one-of-a-kind items. Partnerships with corporations also have proved successful for the organization, with companies like Delta Air Lines, Orkin, Emory University and U.S. Bank placing large orders.
“They provide us work that helps our homeless women have jobs, and we help them by taking uniforms or shirts that their companies can’t use because they’re branded in a way that they can’t be given away to a thrift store. We cut up their pieces, make things for them that they can give away to employees, plus it keeps things from the landfill. It’s a win-win for everybody,” said re:loom operations manager Tammy Carden.
The team is currently working on repurposing Delta uniforms into a large batch of keychains.
At the Weavehouse shop, open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can see the items in person and even catch a glimpse of the artisans hard at work at the looms. The Weavehouse is located at 3032 North Decatur Rd., Scottdale 30079 and can be reached by calling 404-247-4134. For more information, go to reloom.org.