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Women With a (Re)Purpose

Creativity and enterprise give old apparel and fabrics a second life


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Colorado sent nearly 10 million tons of waste to the landfill in 2017, according to the Colorado Public Interest Research Group. That's about 4,000 pounds per resident, and the state's 12 percent recycling rate was about one-third of the national average.

But some enterprising women are transforming that waste stream into a supply chain for a wide range of products, while reshaping public perception in the process.

Elisabeth Delehaunty launched Elisabethan in Paonia in 1996 to upcycle old T-shirts and sweaters into new clothing and accessories. In her mind, the term “throw it away” makes no sense. "There is no away," Delehaunty says. "I feel like a lot of (the growth in repurposing) is a growing awareness of how much stuff is already out there."

Elisabethan's evolution is a reflection of this dynamic. "I started out with a mix of repurposed and new fabric," she says. "The more I learned about waste in the apparel industry, I felt compelled to use all repurposed. There's no shortage."

After filling shopping carts at nearby thrift stores, Delehaunty now sources bales of sweaters from an Oregon ragman and surplus T-shirts from Heirlooms for Hospice thrift stores on the Western Slope. "It's more than they can ever sell," she explains. "That's really helped me to be able to grow."

Delehaunty now repurposes "thousands of pounds" of clothing annually and even opened a store called Refinery in Paonia to get off the road traveling to festivals. She says different materials are next. "I've been using T-shirts and sweaters for a long time. I'm looking for another fabric to add to the mix. I'm not sure what it is yet.”

READ MORE ABOUT THE OTHER WOMEN TRANSFORMING THE STATE'S WASTE STREAM: 

KARMA CARD JEWLERY

FARMHOUSE FEEDBAGS

WHO GIVES A SCRAP

FROM THE HEART LOVELAND

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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