Incredibly, this Earth Week, 10 years into our companies’ existence, we will surpass the milestone of 10 million lbs of clothing, shoes and textiles recycled. This is an achievement that we are extremely proud of and while that number is a very large one, it is still only a small percentage of what is still destined for landfills. I would like to share some tidbits of wisdom I have learned along the way in hopes that others can have a smoother path in search of recycling solutions.
- Sometimes a Project Turns Into a Business
We started out 10 years ago with the idea of raising funds for a cause that was near and dear to us. That cause, spinal cord research, compelled us as one of our co-founders was left paralyzed when hit by a car. At the time, we knew very little about the amount of clothing that was cluttering up our wastestream. As we learned more about the problem of textile waste, coming up with solutions was something we couldn’t walk away from.
- It’s Hard to Compete with Non-Profits
I know, it sounds silly even saying a line like that. But what I mean is that it is hard to compete with the idea and perception of non-profits, especially in the realm of clothing collections. We are a small biz that dedicates a portion of our proceeds to charity. There hasn’t been one year where we have profited more than we have given to charity yet there are still people who act as if we are a big box corporation simply because we are for profit. We are proud to be among the early social entrepreneurs and plan to continually make a mark along this path.
- Partner, Partner, Partner
A great partner can go a long way in helping you achieve your mission. We couldn’t have accomplished even a small percentage of what we have without our great partners. Partners can come in all shapes and sizes and some of our best ones weren’t the most obvious ones. We feel that we can work with anyone: individual, school, corporation and charities. All it takes is a little creativity.
- Being Proficient Online can Have a Major Impact on an Offline Business
While we spend most of our energy driving around collecting clothes in what is very manually intensive labor, we cannot stress enough the importance of having a strong presence online has meant to the business. A simple REQUEST A BIN form placed on our website in 2005 did wonders for generating interest in the company and connecting us to buildings. The web is the best way to leverage your output. Something every business needs to do.
- You Can Never Stop Innovating
In this age of instant gratification and inundation of social media, ideas become stale very quickly. In order to remain relevant you need to continually push the ticket. Resting on your laurels will likely lead to dying on your laurels.
- Running a logistics company in NYC is challenging
Street closures, construction on new buildings, subway lines, the oh too infrequent ticker tape parade, and the big one..TRAFFIC, all make for a dynamic puzzle that needs to be solved each and every day. Much respect to companies like Fedex and UPS who make it look routine.
- Used Clothing is a Commodity
Like all commodities it is subject to market conditions. For some reason there is a dearth of data on the industry. Used clothing is rarely spoken in the same breath as other commodities such as plastic, metal and paper, but when the dollar is strong, like it currently is, it puts a lot of pressure on distribution of collections and we need to adapt.
- Winters Can be Very Cruel to Business in the Northeast
The last few winters have been brutal in the northeast. Not many businesses escape the wrath of such an onslaught. It can be especially hard for small businesses that don’t have the resources or cushion to do proper risk mitigation. It has felt a little ironic the past couple of winters, running an eco-friendly business while being blasted by Mother Earth.
- You Can’t Make Everyone Happy
Its an old truism but something that I have really had to internalize lately. We have needed to adapt to the changing market conditions which has left some folks a little upset. That being said, when we do hear a complaint, we try to connect the dots and develop a solution.
- Serving the Public is Very Rewarding
We have met so many great people along the way, ones who actually bless us as we handle their discards. This relationship has meant so much to our success and inspires us to do more.
Wow! After going through all these lessons its hard to believe that we were able to make it to 10 million lbs. Thanks to all of you for your support over the years.