Wednesday, February 28, 2024

As the Upper Valley strives for a sustainable future, Cashmere becomes the center for a circular economy

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With sustainability, affordability, and community in mind, some businesses in the Upper Valley are ditching the traditional linear economy model of take, make, and dispose, and adopting circular economy practices, such as reuse and repair. 

“I think these types of businesses just in general are on the rise, I think as people are thinking more critically about where the things they buy come from, trying to reduce their impact. In addition, kind of like that post-pandemic economy has just really changed the way that people spend money,” said Laura Patton, Co-owner of Colchuck Consignment.

Colchuck Consignment is an outdoor gear consignment shop that began online for Upper Valley residents during the pandemic. In 2021, it opened its brick-and-mortar shop in Cashmere. This year, a number of shops and spaces are following suit. 

Small Change recently had its soft opening, selling second-hand art supplies. Just down the street, the nonprofit Waste Loop will open a reclaimed building materials shop called Eastside Rebuild in the spring. Once open, Eastside Rebuild will also host workshops and Repair Cafes, which are currently scheduled as pop-up events at different locations across the Valley.

Due to its low cost and prime location, Cashmere has inadvertently become the ideal place for a circular economy to function. It lies in the middle of its two largest markets, Wenatchee and Leavenworth, offering advantages such as parking and lower rent.

“I think that probably one of the reasons is that when you're selling used items, your margins are definitely quite a bit lower than if you're selling new items. The fact that commercial space, commercial rent, in Cashmere is so affordable is super helpful,” said Patton. 

For Colchuck Consignment, Cashmere also sits in the midst of world-class outdoor recreation. Reselling outdoor gear is a way to make these sports more affordable and inclusive to the community.

“Community is at the forefront of everything we do. So basically, every decision that we make, is coming from a place that will benefit the community…We want to be a place where everybody feels welcome, where everybody feels safe,” said Patton.

In addition to reselling clothing and gear, it hosts community events, rents out gear, and has an in-house repair specialist, Clare Thompson. Thompson will do about four repairs a day on any outdoor clothing or gear she can fix with her old sewing machine.

 

“My aunts and my granny bought me a sewing machine when I was like 14, and that's the same sewing machine that I'm doing repairs on now. So, you don't need anything fancy,” said Thompson. 

Thompson grew up around sewing in her family. She remembers both of her grandmothers hemming, fixing, and even making clothes for their daughters. Thompson would sew with her aunts, making clothes out of unconventional materials such as duct tape or book pages until realizing she enjoyed fixing the clothes she already had.

“I feel like clothing has a lot of memories in it, and so much of our energy gets imbued into our clothes. I wanted to keep these garments that meant a lot to me, and so figuring out how to do that in a way that was enjoyable and gave new life and better life to these clothes that I already had was really cool,” said Thompson.

Some of the repairs Thompson does can be complicated fixes, such as a motorcycle jacket with multiple tears. However, many of the items are basic fixes that just require a little bit of sewing knowledge.

“Sewing and mending is definitely on the rise, but it's also a lost skill. Not everybody's grandma is out there teaching them how to sew…That's just not the case for everybody, and so now we need new ways for people to learn those skills,” said Thompson.

Waste Loop is making efforts to revitalize those lost skills through its Repair Cafes, which will be restarting this February. Each Repair Cafe event will have about eight volunteers showing people how to repair anything they bring in, from textiles to appliances or electronics.

“I know when I was growing up, I wasn't taught how to take apart a laptop or fix a blender. That's just not something that I learned in school and or with my family. So, our goal is really to connect these folks that have these really important skills to enable them to transfer them to other community members to create a more resilient and robust community and circular economy here, and also to have fun,” said Amanda Close, Waste Loop’s Education and Outreach Coordinator

The first two Repair Cafes will be held in Leavenworth and Wenatchee, but Close hopes they will also be a monthly event at Cashmere’s Eastside Rebuild once complete.

“Cashmere seems like a really great in-between for folks in the Upper and Lower Valley to gather together,” said Close.

The Repair Cafes are one of many events Eastside Rebuild plans to host in its community space. With sustainability in mind, a large focus will be DIY workshops to encourage new builders to take on projects.

“I want to be part of a solution on how we can be more ethical while building, and also be really friendly to DIYers who are trying to teach themselves how to do projects because that's where I started at…I want to be a place where people can come and ask questions and learn,” said Beryl Bils, Eastside Rebuild’s Co-Manager.

In addition to providing a learning space, Eastside Rebuild will offer affordable and sustainable resources for building projects. As Colchuck Consignment has a library for outdoor gear to rent, Eastside Rebuild will have one for tools. Homeowners or construction groups can donate leftover or salvaged materials from a project, then Eastside will sort and resell the items at a lower price than they would be new at large department stores.

“We want to be part of a solution that takes that waste and puts it to good use because oftentimes a lot of that waste was usable materials. People are just not willing to go through the trouble of sifting through it and finding what can be rehome to a new project,” said Bils.

Eastside Rebuild is slated to open this spring. The first two Repair Cafes will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Feb. 29 at Wenatchee River Institute (WRI) in Leavenworth and Mar. 13 at Pinnacle Prep Charter School in Wenatchee. More information can be found at Wasteloop.org. 

Colchuck Consignment is located at 5653 Sunset Hwy in Cashmere and is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday.


Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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