Repurposing Done Right
By Amy Newman
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Anchorage re:MADE is a run-of-the-mill thrift shop. It certainly gives off a discount-store vibe when you first pull up. Donated items are piled around the front entrance, waiting to be sifted, sorted and stocked (or discarded, if they’re completely unsalvageable).
Inside, a hodgepodge collection of furniture, kitchen wares, accessories, clothes, toys, artwork and other assorted odds and ends are jammed in to every nook and cranny of the two-story, 17,000 square foot building.
But it takes just a few minutes of browsing to realize that Anchorage re:MADE isn’t your typical thrift shop. A sign on the front entry table advertises classes focused on crafts, cooking and computer basics. Jewelry displays hold Scrabble tile necklaces, artsy photo pendants, and earrings with “feathers” made from bicycle tires.
Stuffed salmon and whales are crafted from denim jeans and corduroy. A skirt in the second-floor clothing section is made from a men’s button-down shirt and some fleece remnants, and mannequins carry purses designed from furniture upholstery remnants.
“People are recognizing we don’t want to throw anything away, but they don’t know what to do with it,” says Jill Kaniut, community networker and full-time volunteer. “So, they give it to us, and we try to come up with products.”
A non-profit organization, Anchorage re:MADE began three years ago with the motto “Resale. Repurpose. Renew.” It is built on the heart and vision of executive director Patti Buist, who in the beginning stored items in her garage and sold her artful creations at community craft fairs, which is how she and Jill met.
They began selling repurposed items – old cabinet fronts lined with hooks to serve as a key or coat rack, painted picture frames, and handmade signs with whimsical sayings – at a Huffman coffeehouse before moving into the current location, Jill says.
A large workspace on the second floor is where the restorations happen, and it’s a picture of organized chaos. Clothing and fabrics are piled and sorted in the sewing area alongside sewing machines, with paper supplies in another corner of the space.
“Somebody will take up scrapbooking, and then a month later say, ‘This isn’t for me!’, and bring it to us,” Jill says.
There’s almost always a piece of furniture wet with paint resting on tables or stools, and random items are scattered about, waiting to be transformed by a spark of inspiration. Often, Jill says, transforming donations into something sellable involves a bit of trial and error.
When Jill had the idea to turn old jeans into stuffed salmon, the volunteer seamstress’ first pattern didn’t resemble a salmon at all. Working together, they tweaked the pattern until the design was perfect. That give and take is just part of the store’s appeal, Jill says.
“Part of the beauty of what we do here is people get to be creative together and collaborate,” she says. “Everybody comes with their own set of different creative whatever. You never know what someone’s going to do with something.”
Donations come not just from people clearing out their storage spaces, but from local businesses as well. An interior designer passed along old fabric samples, which were turned into purses. A pallet of cabinet fronts from a dealer closing up shop became wall hangings. And hundreds of clear plastic dress protectors from David’s Bridal now serve as the inner lining in reusable car trash bags, themselves made from donated fabric remnants.
While repairing and reselling usable goods – and repurposing (or upcycling) items that still have life left in them, albeit in a slightly different form – was a large part of Patti’s vision, the organization’s heart lies in helping those in need through community partnerships and economic empowerment.
“We get to be a blessing to (community partners) and give stuff back,” Jill says. “That’s one of the most exciting things we’re doing.”
In 2017, Anchorage re:MADE partnered with more than 30 community organizations and agencies across Anchorage, donating much-needed furniture, clothing, home goods, and other items. Jill says she was moved to tears last year as she shopped the store for a woman moving out of Clare House, Catholic Social Services’ emergency shelter, and into an apartment.
“I have a degree in interior design and I didn’t know where God was going to lead me in that,” Jill says. “I was just crying that day.”
She collected everything Clare House had requested and more, and put her interior design skills to work to give the woman a coordinated ensemble that would make the apartment feel like home.
The organization has also awarded several micro grants that helps people make a product to sell in the store. One recent grant was to an elderly woman with vision difficulties; she used the grant to purchase materials to make dog collars and leashes, giving her some much-needed income, Jill says. Volunteers also sell their creations in the store for a portion of the proceeds, which empowers them to put their skills to use and earn extra income, she adds.
Because the store’s mission is to help as many people as possible, every employee – Patti and Jill included – is an unpaid volunteer. Jill says there’s always a need for people who can sew or have a crafty side, as well as for people who can sort through donations, work the register, or supervise a shift. If you’re interested in helping, she says, don’t let not knowing exactly how you can pitch in deter you.
“If you can operate a paintbrush, we can put you to work,” Jill says.
Anchorage re:MADE is located at 13500 Old Seward Hwy. and is open Monday – Saturday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Thur. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer or want to check out their classes offerings, visit anchorageremade.com.