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Sustainable Entrepreneurship: Women Start Eco-friendly Businesses in Richmond

Director of Scrap RVA Amy Turner promotes creative reuse to keep things out of landfills. Photo: Yasmine Jumaa
Director of Scrap RVA Amy Turner promotes creative reuse to keep things out of landfills. Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE

Next week, people around Virginia will celebrate Earth Day with service projects and educational events. Year round, environmental solutions have sparked creative businesses around Richmond. Three of them are run by women who have merged sustainability and entrepreneurship. WCVE’s Yasmine Jumaa has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Find details about donating your stuff to Scrap RVA, classes with Top Stitch Mending and the process behind Recycled Yarn. See Virginia's recycling numbers in the Department of Environmental Quality's Annual Recycling Report


In Northside’s Scrap RVA, Director Amy Turner is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves, overflowing with art supplies and unconventional craft materials.

Turner: Canvas frames, oil pastels, acrylic … feathers, googly eyes, glitter …

Also in stock are keys, bottle caps, baby’s crib-bumpers, circuit boards and other surviving parts from forgotten machines.

Turner: We have the weavers, the Crocheters, knitters, quilters, the jewelry people, the fine artists. It's amazing the collection of people that we can hit every single spectrum in the art world.

The non-profit store is donation-based, providing a wide range of supplies at low-cost.

The Scrap RVA store-front in Northside. The donation-based center offers a wide range of art and crafts supplies at low-cost. (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE) 

Turner:  It saves money. It keeps everything out of the landfill, keeps it moving. And it's an adventure, It's a treasure hunt and it's a win win for everybody.

In Virginia, nearly eight million tons of waste was generated in 2017--that’s about 2000 pounds per person. According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, about 40 percent of that is recycled.

Scrap RVA is doing their part to increase that number. Last month alone, residents donated nearly 4,000 pounds worth of stuff.

Turner: That's two tons of waste--things that are kept out of the landfill.

Lisa Hutchinson started Top Stitch Mending in 2016. She works in the foyer of her home, where two long tables hold various sewing machines.

Hutchinson works on mends for Top Stitch at her home studio. Eager to build a more sustainable community, she also offers sewing classes around the city.  (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE)

Tucked underneath are bags filled with scraps of thread and fabric. Hutchinson uses every bit of material she’s accumulated.

Hutchinson: I do anything from a missing button all the way to vintage restoration and alterations are always sprinkled in the mix. Anything on its last leg or in between just to keep it in circulation.

Hutchinson utilizes her platform to promote repurposing clothes that can’t be fixed, and to raise awareness about the detriments of fast fashion.

Hutchinson: When something's damaged it's not the end of its life. We've had a lot of disposable clothing produced in the last, well 20 or so years. And the faster it gets, the easier it gets damaged.

So far Hutchinson pays a couple of her friends to help with mends at Top Stitch, but she hopes to expand her business to provide more jobs.

Nolen: My name is Misti Nolen and I recycle 100% natural fiber sweaters back into yarn.

Nolen’s business is Recycled Yarn. In her studio, she carefully threads a string of yarn around the pegs on her loom. What was once a sweater sleeve becomes a bundle of yarn called a skein.

Nolen unravels the sleeve of a thrifted wool sweater on her loom for Recycled Yarn. (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE)

After graduating from VCU’s art school, Nolen couldn’t find sustainably sourced yarn around the City.

Nolen: I did a little experiment and found a men's extra large chunky L.L. Bean wool sweater, took it home, unraveled it, and ended up with like one or 2000 yards of yarn.

Through trial and error, Nolen learned what to look for in both handmade and industrially made garments, and how to unravel them efficiently.

Nolen: I think of it as kind of like rescuing a piece from the vicious cycle of fast fashion.

Nolen recycles garments made of plant and animal fibers, including flax, linen, cotton, and wool. She also works with rare fibers like silk, camel hair, angora and alpaca.

Nolen: It's a responsible practice for fiber artists. It's respectful to the animals and plants these fibers came from and it's a good use of earth's resources.

Nolen recycled an Old Navy sweater to make four skeins of 100% lambswool yarn. (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE)

Nolen sells the yarn on Etsy--where she’s been able to connect with people in the sustainability movement locally and around the world.

Nolen: I love engaging with my community and sharing my sustainable initiative in local small craft show settings. But online enables me to connect with people I wouldn't meet otherwise.

In Virginia, more than 13,000 tons of textiles were recycled in 2017. Nolen herself has recycled over half a million yards of yarn--that’s about the driving distance from Richmond to Trenton, New Jersey.

For Virginia Currents, I’m Yasmine Jumaa, WCVE News.