The Raghouse: EXPOSED
Do you dream of finding tons of old t-shirts and jackets to transform into your amazing upcycled pieces? Are you looking for second hand jeans, but are only finding a few at a time? Are you paying too much for used garments to upcycle?
When I started NOORISM I had the same frustrations. I was going to my local goodwill and spending hours scouring for the just-right non-stretch jeans to make my first samples. It was very time consuming, I never knew if I was going to find what I was looking for, and it was expensive.
Work smarter not harder, right? I knew there must be a better way to find what I was looking for. I did a little Googling and found out that there are huge warehouses for unwanted second-hand clothing. These places are called Raghouses.
Raghouses are textile recycling facilities that purchase second hand clothing in bulk. The clothes are aggregated and sorted on an industrial scale and usually end up in one of three places: recycled into rags and wiping cloths, baled and shipped to the developing world, or for the items deemed the most valuable, sold to vintage and consignment stores.
Close to 80 percent of clothing that is donated each year is sent to raghouses. Raghouses have curbed the flow of unsellable items going to a landfill by turning un-fashionable or tattered items into other materials, such as stuffing for pillows.
They make a profit off of clothing that would have been thrown away.
Going to the raghouse is like being in second-hand clothing heaven! They have soooo much clothing to choose from it's overwhelming. Purchasing from the raghouse is also very inexpensive and the best way to find lots of the same second-hand item all at once.
How does this work, you ask? Will they let just anyone go there and shop? How do I even find one of these places? These are all the same questions I had when I first started.
You can find your local raghouse by searching on google. It helps if you live near a port city because raghouses specialize in exporting second-hand clothing to developing countries, as such, they are most likely to be found on the coast. If you haven't had a chance to download my free guide to finding upcycled materials I suggest you start by checking out the raghouses on my list.
When I need more materials to upcycle, I call or email the raghouse and set an appointment to go shop. They open really early and they close at 3:00 PM so I try to get there as early as possible. I also tell them ahead of time what I am looking for (in my case jeans). This helps them prepare for my visit so they can have the bale of jeans open and ready for me to start picking through. This allows me to shop through bales of jeans that they have already sorted and prepared for export.
There is a minimum amount to purchase at the raghouse and you have to be purchasing as a business via wholesale. They do not want regular shoppers coming in since it distracts from what they mainly do; which is sort second hand clothing and export it. They also have a vintage section where the clothing is a little nicer and more carefully sorted out and more expensive. A lot of vintage stores get their merchandise from this area as well as costume designers. I prefer to shop in the export section because they have big volumes of the same category and it's cheap. I usually ask for Levi's grade B and they tell me how much per piece the cost is and what the minimum purchase amount is.
Then, they bring me to the sorting area where I pull the jeans out one at a time. I look them over, check for stains and decide if it's what I am looking for. I throw the 'yes' jeans into one big container and I throw the 'no' jeans into another one. I do this for hours, going through them one at a time, until I have what I need.
There is nothing glamorous about this!! It ends up being a really really long day. First, I have to drive there (over an hour) spend the day sorting through the jeans one by one, wait for them to count and bag them up for me, pay and drive back to Brooklyn. I usually then go straight to an industrial laundry facility and drop them off for washing.
Although it's a little rugged and grungy, there is something really exciting for me to be doing this! I find so many amazing pairs of jeans and I know I am saving these jeans from either going to landfill or being underutilized. I imagine all the really cool things I will create from them while I am sorting and being there often inspires me to push my upcycled ideas even further.
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