Local secondhand store Clothing Cottage is doing its part to implement sustainable practices within the Laramie community.
In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made; nearly 20 years later, that figure has doubled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
About 20 years ago, members of the St. Matthews Cathedral realized there was need in the community for low-cost clothing and necessities.
“There was a lot of potential in the St. Matthews community, people were wondering what to do with their extra things, the clothes they didn’t wear anymore,” said Britt Jonart, manager of the Clothing Cottage.
With an increased awareness surrounding the need for low-cost clothing and necessities, Kathleen White and her mother started the Clothing Cottage and it has progressed from there into the secondhand store it is now.
“It started with a couple of hanging racks and then it grew into what we now know,” Jonart said.
Clothing Cottage is a nonprofit organization that relies solely on community donations. Jonart explained three pathways of donation for the Clothing Cottage.
“We sort through everything and put the higher quality stuff out on our floor for sale,” she continued.
Jonart detailed how secondhand shopping is inherently sustainable, stating, “If you buy one item of clothing here, that decreases its footprint by 80%.”
On the other hand, fast fashion is inherently unsustainable as it exacerbates the problem of waste by increasing the pace of design and production.
“There’s so much that goes into manufacturing clothing,” Jonart explained. “The factories have a footprint, the transportation has a footprint and I think people are becoming more aware of the situation with our landfills and even discovering some of the ways things are recycled may not be the best or most efficient ways.”
Aside from environmental sustainability, the Clothing Cottage is also working to build a more sustainable community. A part of this is ensuring affordable prices for all.
“There’s nothing in this shop that is more than $10 dollars, we want to have really high quality clothing at a low cost that’s affordable for the Laramie community,” Jonart said. “We’re very conscientious of how the economy affects Laramie and we’re really receptive to that.”
The Clothing Cottage also supports the health and well-being of the Laramie community through its second donation pathway; their voucher program.
The voucher program provides free clothing, necessities and household items to families and individuals in need. Jonart emphasized that anyone can access the voucher program without having to provide any proof of need.
“We have 600 families enrolled in our voucher program right now,” Jonart said.
Through the voucher program, each adult gets $20 dollars worth of free clothing three times a year with three months in between. The same voucher is also applied to children who may be wearing adult sizes. For children below size 16, each child gets $10 dollars worth of free clothing across the same time periods.
Jonart told the Boomerang that this voucher goes a long way in the Clothing Cottage and people are usually able to get around three outfits for $20 dollars.
In addition to the voucher program, the Clothing Cottage also has a 24/7 “free shack” available for community members.
“The free shack is highly shopped by our community,” Jonart said. “We put seasonal clothing out there, kitchen items, household items and our community has access to that 24/7.”
The Clothing Cottage’s third donation pathway encourages sustainable consumption and production through conscious recycling of items it’s unable to sell, or what the Clothing Cottage refers to as poundage.
“We store it in our storage unit that we share with Rob (Harder) from NU2U and it gets recycled through Colorado Business Solutions so it has another chance to be worn,” Jonart continued. “Anything that can’t go through their channels of distribution, they recycle into car racks.”
This means that whatever comes into the Clothing Cottage is either recirculated into the Laramie community or completely repurposed for alternative uses.
For the Clothing Cottage to impact the community in the way it does relies on heavy community involvement as it is primarily volunteer powered and only has two true employees.
“We couldn’t be here if the community we have didn’t so generously donate, we are volunteer powered,” Jonart said.
For the Clothing Cottage, its main mission revolves around contributing to the already strong base of nonprofit organizations in Laramie.
“We’ve got (Laramie) Interfaith that can put a roof over someone’s head in times of emergency, the Soup Kitchen and our role is to make sure people are clothed and cared for.”
Jonart said they’re really focused on providing direct services to the community.
“We’re here for the people who are on fixed incomes, who are on disability, who are retired and on social security,” Jonart said. “We want to make sure that they can come and have a wonderful shopping experience at a very affordable price.”