Uniform Thrift Store Benefits Employees

Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight Feature

News posted May 23, 2016 - 6:00 am
*Employees shopping at Public Utilities Thrift StoreEmployees shopping at Public Utilities Thrift Store

According to a 2014 article in The Atlantic, “Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills, giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material.”

Work-issued clothing can be part of the problem as it gets too big or too small. City of Raleigh uniforms can’t be donated to charity, as a protection to citizens, so the Public Utilities Department decided to collect gently used articles of clothing from employees to stock its own City-issued uniform thrift store.

According to Carolyn Dumas, Public Utilities Communication Administrator and store organizer, the idea came from Susan Decker, Utility Billing (UB) Service Manager. Utility Billing is one of nine divisions within the Public Utilities Department.

“UB staff would occasionally place unwanted uniform garments on a table and the newer employees would select what they needed. After hearing that, I knew that the entire department could benefit, especially our divisions that have staff that work in the field and wear out clothing fairly quickly. Also, the department typically places a uniform order only once a year, so depending on when a new employee was hired, it could be 11 months before that employee has the opportunity to place a uniform order. From that, the employee uniform thrift store idea was born,” Dumas said.

Open for three days in March, employees were allowed to visit the store to select garments of their choosing, ranging from jackets, sweatshirts, slacks and other official City apparel. The best part of the effort? Every item was free.

“This was much needed for newer employees like me,” said Chad Moss, an employee in the department’s sewer maintenance division. The thrift store’s first day was specially designated for employees with less than five years of service.

“We realize these employees have not had much of an opportunity to purchase City-issued clothing, so we wanted them to be able to have first dibs on the items,” said Michele Burton, Public Utilities Communications Specialist and store volunteer.

The thrift store was a huge success with 125 “customers” served. Store volunteers collected more than 500 articles of clothing, and by the close of business less than 100 items remained. Those that were left will be stored until the next event.

The department hopes to host the store bi-annually as a benefit to employees, and a sustainable approach to reducing landfill waste.

This Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight is one in a series of City of Raleigh sustainability stories.

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