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Don't throw out those old clothes! Business owners in Peoria and beyond can keep them in use — and out of landfills

Children's clothes are amongst the hardest items to keep in stock at Enough Stuff in East Peoria.
Camryn Cutinello
Children's clothes are amongst the most requested items at Enough Stuff in East Peoria.

When Savvy Kutkat moved from Oregon back to Central Illinois, she set out to create a place for old clothing and household items to find a new use.

Kutkat opened Enough Stuff in East Peoria in 2020. The non-profit accepts donated clothes, shoes and household items. The items in the store are available to anyone for free.

Kutkat said she’s always wanted to reexamine the way people value objects.

“I have always wanted to value things in a way that says we don't have to value it with just money,” she said. “So this is one way for me to express that. We are saying that things can be valuable, even if you can't put a dollar amount on it, and maybe how much more it could be used or reused or upcycled in a way to connect with people.”

Kutkat said she was inspired by a free store operated out of a church in Oregon, but it was open for only a few hours a day and was not handicapped accessible. She wanted a store which was open for regular business hours, and was accessible for anyone.

“What's unique is that we then give everything away back to the community,” she said. “So everyone here shopping behind me right now is getting stuff for free. And they can donate money for things we have. We have a little cash box, if people want to donate money, but nobody ever has to. People just give what they can.”

Savvy Kutkat, left, founder of Enough Stuff and volunteers Cindy and Gaynell. Volunteers sort through donations before placing them on the racks and shelves.
Camryn Cutinello
Savvy Kutkat, left, founder of Enough Stuff and volunteers Cindy and Gaynell. Volunteers sort through donations before placing them on the racks and shelves.

She originally paid for the rent on the storefront at 422 E. Washington St. herself, but now it’s fully self-sustaining.

Donations are used to pay rent, utilities and other expenses for the store. They also operate a food pantry and serve as a warming and cooling center during extreme temperatures. Kutkat said they are currently working to raise money to expand the storefront.

Almost every item brought into the store finds a new home. Kutkat said that exchange helps keep items from getting thrown out when they still have use.

“There are so many things that people say, ‘Oh, I thought about throwing this away, but I wanted to bring it here first and check’ and then it's gone immediately,” she said. “If it’s a coat with a stain or a rip or a broken zipper. Somebody is still going to use that item for quite a while before it ends up in a landfill.”

Textile recycling

A 2018 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that America produces 11.3 million tons of textile waste every year.

Fast fashion, low-priced and often low-quality clothes mimicking trends, has only worsened the issue.

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of carbon emissions. About 60% of textiles are now made of plastic, leading to 1.4 trillion plastic fibers ending up in the ocean.

Enough Stuff accepts clothes in all conditions. Kutkat said if someone else doesn’t have use for an item, they recycle it though the company Green Zone Recycling.

Lucas Benoit, owner of Green Zone, said they saw a need for companies who could recycle textiles.

“The whole concept of textile recycling is repurposing it, getting it from the landfill, keeping it out of the landfill and repurposing it somewhere else,” he said. “Everything that we collect on our recyclables is used. The top stuff is where it goes to people who can rewear it.”

About 45% of the clothes they get are reusable items which can be resold.

Benoit said clothes that can still be used are sent to areas where they’re needed, such as Central and South America.

“And then the bottom quality stuff, stuff that has holes in it, or stained stuff that people wouldn't wear is shredded up and made into rags that you clean your house with,” Benoit said. “It's actually seats of cars, like the cushion part is old clothes, insulation in houses is old jeans.”

They currently have donation bins in six states and are expanding. Businesses, municipalities and property management companies can apply to host a donation bin.

"The reason that most of it goes into the landfill is because (of) the accessibility of your garbage can in your garage," Benoit said. "You can't have a donation store on every single block of every single neighborhood, but with the bins you can so it's the accessibility of it."


A bag created by Boyd.
Courtesy of Aareon Boyd
A bag created by Boyd.

Older clothes can also be repurposed into new items. Aareon Boyd is a Peoria-based artist who makes clothes and bags using fabric found from various items.

He said he started sewing after his great-grandmother left him her sewing machine in her will.

“I made a bag for the first time, it was an upcycled bag made out of an old cigar package,” he said. “I had a friend save up a bunch of them, he saved them for the year. And I bought those off of him and turned that trash into a fabric. And I made a bag. A duffel bag is the first thing I made. I still have it to this day.”

He then started using items out of his closet and quickly fell in love with upcycling clothes.

Boyd said anyone can find new ways to reuse their clothes.

“I think your clothes talk to you, they know what's up,” he said. “And if there's a stain, maybe you throw a patch on there. Maybe you dye it, there's lots of things to do, maybe you can do some hand sewing on top of it. There is there's a lot of cool activities out there. That's kind of what got me into the world of textile.”

Boyd sells the items he makes through his company Twisted A-ways. He’ll be opening a shop at the Sunbeam Building March 1 where people will be able to bring in their clothes to be upcycled.

“When you're upcycling you're doing something better for the world, you're creating something that doesn't need all the new raw materials that you would need for a whole new collection,” Boyd said. “So that alone will save you energy and pollution.”

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.