FARGO – Madonna was right: we live in a material world.
But what happens to all this material once we’re done with it? What do you do when your daughter gets too big for her dance recital outfit, the curtains in your living room no longer match your new color scheme, and you want to get rid of the applied atrocity that helped you win? the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest?
Enter Rolland Elendu of Elendu Textiles, LLC, in Fargo. Rolland and his family are specialists in the recovery of old, unwanted or overstocked textiles –
one of the most overlooked categories of recyclable materials – and give them a second life.
Elendu Textiles operates from a cavernous 15,000 square foot warehouse at 1401 5th Ave. NOT.
The interior is dominated by a veritable mountain of clothing, perhaps 14 feet tall, that contains everything from sofa cushions and children’s Halloween costumes to quilt fabrics, parkas and baby clothes. On the side, a stack of trash bags holds shoes of every style, size, color and brand imaginable.
Brightly colored balls of compacted sweaters, shirts, pants and dresses line a wall. These 1,200 pound bales will be stacked in even larger white bags for shipping. After Elendu amassed 44,000 pounds of clothing –
which happens about four times a month –
Rolland and his crew will load them into a semi-trailer and send them all over the world.
The vast majority of these clothes, accessories, blankets and sheets will be purchased by “textile sorters” around the world, who will sell them to buyers in the Poland market in Auckland. They can then be purchased, sometimes for pennies, by consumers in other countries.
Anything that is too stained or damaged to be resold will be shipped to a German company, where it will be shredded, cleaned and reused as rugs, rugs and insulation.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that around 95% of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) could be recycled, even though we currently throw away around 85% of PCTW, or the equivalent of 21 billion pounds per year. The United States alone is responsible for producing around 11 million tonnes of textile waste per year, according to the Elendu website.
Sadly, the textile recycling industry has encountered several major issues in recent years, ranging from skyrocketing shipping costs and labor shortages to an overall reduction in recycling amid COVID.
“I don’t know if it’s just that people are so overwhelmed with COVID and everything that they aren’t, but they don’t think about recycling so much,” he says.
Rolland therefore hopes to get the word out about this form of recycling under the radar. “I believe the change we want to see starts with education. If we educate the masses on the issue, they will most likely become part of the solution because they understand that it affects everyone, including them, ”says the 30-year-old businessman.
Once people find out about recycling textiles, most are happy and relieved to learn that it is an option. “Whenever people find us, the first thing they say is that they would like to know as long as we existed because they always felt bad when they had to throw their clothes in the trash, knowing how bad it is for our environment, ”he says. .
Recycling clothes is a family affair
Although the Elendu family has made a living reusing clothing for almost half a century, they still find surprisingly few people who realize that textiles can have a second life.
The story of their company began 45 years ago, when Rolland’s father, Sylvester Elendu Sr., lived in Holland. After noticing the volume of clothing donated to charity, he wondered what happened to items that didn’t sell. Did it just end up in landfills?
In no time, Sylvester agreed on an idea: He could help provide clothes to underserved families for pennies, while keeping perfectly good textiles from being thrown into landfills.
He started buying the used textiles and exporting them abroad, selling some to wholesale buyers who then sold the lots of clothing very cheaply in local street markets.
He would also split the other part into smaller bales, which he would give on credit to poor and struggling families to allow them to create cash flow and raise capital to get them back on their feet.
Today, Sylvester continues his work, traveling between Africa and Europe, while his four sons have made Elendu an international adventure.
The four boys all attended American schools in their native Nigeria. Very early on, Rolland, the second son, showed the most interest in his father’s business and always considered becoming an entrepreneur.
He came to the United States to study at university and received a computer science degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2016. However, he always knew deep in his mind that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. .
Rolland remains the most closely related brother to Elendu Textiles, while his brothers occupy either advisory roles or silent partners.
They launched their Fargo base in 2017 in a 6,000 square foot space and almost immediately overtook that facility.
Recycling textiles requires a learning curve
Rolland moved his business to his current building and began working hard to educate local organizations and businesses on a concept of recycling that was still largely unrecognized by most.
Some of its earliest partnerships were with stores run by organizations such as the Salvation Army, The Arc, Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Many thrift stores will only keep clothes on their shelves for 21 days because such an endless volume of clothes is constantly passing through their doors. Some even had to resort to waste management companies to get rid of it, explains Rolland.
But these types of partnerships are win-win, he says. Rolland pays these entities between 3 and 5 cents per pound for their unsold items. So instead of paying to get rid of unwanted items, they get money to help fund important community programs.
The volume of clothing they bring in helps create more shipments so that it can stay in business.
And the overall layout reduces solid waste. Since the Fargo center was established in 2017, Rolland claims to have saved 9.6 million pounds of clothing and textiles from loading local landfills.
Even so, he says Elendu’s first few years of Operation Fargo were tough. “It was harder to get people to understand that it even existed,” he says. “In our first three years, we operated at a loss, but we were determined to continue in the interests of recycling. I never won a paycheck for three years, but our persistence paid off in the fourth year. “
At that time, Rolland said he understood the area better, had established partnerships with local thrift stores and was able to pass the benefits on to textile recycling partners.
In fact, the business was really taking off when it was hit by another major blow: COVID-19. Rolland says the pandemic years have been tough, especially in terms of worker retention. Lately, it has relied on the hiring of daily labor.
But like a polyester leisure suit that refuses to wear out, this tenacious entrepreneur isn’t giving up either. He’s already set some ambitious goals for 2022, including a plan to hire long-term employees in March and an effort to increase the company’s four truckloads to 10 loads per month.
“I woke up one morning and said, ‘We can’t give up on this. We have to figure this out, so we better put our butt in the warehouse and kick it off. So here we are. “
Those interested in disposing of a bulk shipment of clothing or textiles can contact Elendu Textiles by calling (218) 790-7502 or by visiting https://www.elendutextile.com/.