Adam Baruchowitz, a 38-year-old New Yorker, had an "aha" moment when he saw a bag full of clothes intended for a charitable organization sitting outside an apartment in the building where he lived. The bag sat there for a week before someone came to pick it up.
"I thought, that doesn't really make sense to pick up one bag at a time. In New York, it's super inefficient with traffic, gas and all these logistical obstacles," Baruchowitz said. "I was thinking ... this building has 250 units, that'd be a whole neighborhood in and of itself."
There, Baruchowitz saw the potential to streamline the clothing donation process for New Yorkers, while helping out various charities. So came the beginnings of Wearable Collections, a company started in 2004 that partners with residential buildings in New York and New Jersey to provide on-site clothing donation bins and pick-up services. The organization has now partnered with 190 area buildings.
"This is pre-Al Gore and 'An Inconvenient Truth,'" Baruchowitz said. "I thought, huh, maybe we're onto something. This is basically green: We're keeping items out of landfills."
Between people moving in and out of apartments and cleaning out their closets, New Yorkers generate tons of clothing, and it's not always donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. According to Wearable Collection's website, a recent study showed that 386 million pounds of textiles enter the New York City waste stream per year.
Wearable Collections helps solve that problem by accepting all clothing, linens, towels, shoes and handbags and then selling the items to a sorting facility. That sorting facility might resell the clothes overseas in areas like Latin America, or sell it to other facilities that will repurpose it. Approximately 20 percent of the profits Wearable Collections makes then goes to charitable causes.
"I always connected clothing donations with charity," Baruchowitz said.
When he started the company, Baruchowitz was particularly concerned with raising money for a cause very close to his heart: spinal cord research. One of his best friends had been hit by a car in 2000 and was paralyzed from the chest down.
"All I could think about those days was how I could make my friend's life better," Baruchowitz recalled. He and several other friends were already trying to raise money for spinal cord research through various channels like running races or holding fundraisers. Using the company as a vehicle to raise more money seemed like a natural fit.
As a result, Wearable Collection's first partnership was with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Today, Wearable Collections isn't limited in scope to any one charity or to just residential buildings: They've hosted clothing drives in partnership with elementary schools, churches and local sports clubs like the New York Road Runners (during the marathon Baruchowitz chased after runners as they discarded their additional layers of clothing).
Wearable Collections also has weekly collection booths at nine area greenmarkets, including Union Square and Tompkins Square Park. They've just helped the markets, all of which are part of GrowNYC, hit the mark of 1 million pounds of clothing collected.
The company's staff is small (Baruchowitz still sometimes helps unload the trucks of clothes) but they're growing every month. Like any start-up, they've face their share of challenges, but for Baruchowitz it's been well worth it.
"I've sacrificed a lot to keep this thing going," Baruchowitz said. "I'm a socially conscious person by nature. I think that this company totally suits who I am."