After years of devoted service to Atlanta’s Initative for Affordable Housing (IAH), Lisa Wise understood the variety of challenges for homeless citizens trying to find work. She knew that for many, breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness required addressing a lack of employment. Through creative brainstorming and resourceful ingenuity, Lisa developed the IAH program re:loom and began transforming her clients into craftsmen, who apprenticed in the art of loom weaving. Soon, their upcycled products began appearing in stores, and Spanx awarded re:loom the Leg Up award, established by Sara Blakely to recognize outstanding female entrepreneurs. Here, Lisa shares with us
After years with the IAH, how did you come to start re:loom?
At the beginning of the 2008 recession, my worries were rising that the women in our homeless program would not be able to find jobs that could lift them out of poverty because of limited skills, no GED, poor self-esteem and years of unresolved issues. Starting our re:loom social enterprise was our way to use the donated clothing that we received and replicate our homeless program model, which helps our homeless women practice new skills repeatedly until they learn them, feel successful and move on to independent living. Weaving is complicated and requires many, many steps and lots of practice to finally be able to make something. It is very tactile but repetitive, so weaving seemed like the right combination — using recycled clothing and teaching job skills to employ our clients and help them “weave a better life” for their themselves and their families.
What is The Weavehouse?
Weavehouse is the name of the worksite for re:loom. It is where the magic begins with the volunteers who help us cut up and prepare the donated fabric to be woven using the old-fashioned floor looms that creak and bang while the weavers work on them. These fabric pieces are transformed into the beautifully designed colorful rugs and fashion accessories that the re:loom weavers handmake for sale.
What makes a weaver qualified for re:loom? How do you train your employees?
All of our weavers came from either homeless situations or they were at-risk of becoming homeless. We provide on-the-job training, and they receive full-time wages, health insurance and benefits for learning new skills and weaving full-time. Once they are employed, their lives stabilize, their self-esteem improves, and they can decide with our help if they want to move on to another work environment or stay with re:loom while they address other situations.
Where do you get your materials and these incredible looms?
We get donations from all kinds of people and places. Wonderful people give us clothing and fabric that they don’t want to throw away. We are lucky to have interior decorators and designers give us fabric, and companies give us all kinds of refuse textiles in an effort to keep them from going to the landfill. Most of our looms have been donated to us by former weavers who want the looms to go to a place that has good karma and is helping someone.
What do you wish more people understood about homelessness in Atlanta?
That no one wants to be poor and live a substandard existence. Things happen, and life can be complicated. Every mother wants her children to have a better life and for them to grow up to be happy people.
Tell us a few of your favorite projects completed at re:loom?
I love the special custom pieces that the weavers make to remember someone special using their clothes or fabric that has sentimental meaning. We have made bracelets for a big family reunion out of the patriarch’s running tee shirts; a large family room rug out of the family’s draperies from every house they had lived in. We’ve also done some special projects for companies like Delta Airlines, using their safety vests that were being retired. The weavers made passport and business card holders that Delta gave as employee gifts. We are in the process of using maintenance uniforms from Emory and weaving them into recyclable coffee sleeves for the Emory campus. Weaving has endless possibilities.
Where can re:loom creations be purchased?
We have a retail store in Decatur as well as online shopping at www.reloom.org. We’re also online at Scoutmob and Houzz and in some wonderful retail spaces across town — Atlanta Made, Wild Oats & Bill Goats, Lewis & Sheron and Simply Put.
How do you relax and unwind?
I walk the dog, which gives me a chance to think and process the day, all at the same time. I can crank up that Cuban music too. It makes me move and unwind.
Who would be your cartoon or superhero alterego?
Wonder Woman because she makes it happen!
Where might we find you hanging out around town — shopping, dining, sights?
I love walking around neighborhoods and into little shops to see what great finds there are. Little Five Points is a great spot, and I am looking forward to all of the luxury brands coming to Buckhead. I love every thrift store there is and can’t wait to get a good bargain! I love lots of different kinds of food, but my special place is Calla Latina by the Decatur Marta Station.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
I’m reading Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I want to invite her to my house for a cup of tea … but she gets to cook.
Name three things you just cannot live without — other than faith, family and friends.
I can’t live without helping others; it makes me happy. Of course weaving, which I don’t have much time for, and reading pretty much whatever is in front of me.
Lisa, we are so grateful to have your benevolent spirit at work in our community! Thank you for all you do to lift up those in need.
For more information about the re:loom project, or to volunteer, check out the website at reloom.org.
Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography really captured the special charm of the Weavehouse and the joy Lisa Wise takes in this project. Thanks, Cat!