Enter Rolland Elendu of Elendu Textiles, LLC, in Fargo. Rolland and his family specialize in taking old, unwanted or overstocked textiles —one of the most overlooked categories of recyclables — and giving them a second life.
The interior is dominated by a veritable mountain of clothing, maybe 14-feet high, which contains everything from couch pillows and children’s Halloween costumes to discarded quilting fabric, parkas and baby clothes. Off to the side, a pile of garbage bags contains shoes of every style, size, color and brand imaginable.
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Rolland Elendu of Elendu Textiles, Fargo, stands before a veritable mountain of textiles, which will eventually be baled, loaded into semis and sold to textile sorters around the world. Although many of these items are made in China, Elendu says they are sought after in his home country because they tend to be sturdier and better-made than Chinese-made garments for African countries.
But what happens to all that material once we’re done with it? What do you do when your daughter outgrows her dance-recital outfit, your living room drapes no longer match your new color scheme and you want to get rid of the appliqued atrocity that helped you win the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest?
Elendu Textiles operates out of a cavernous, 15,000-square-foot warehouse at 1401 5th Ave. N.
Vividly colored bales of compacted sweaters, shirts, pants and dresses line one wall. These 1,200-pound bales will be stacked inside even larger white bags for shipping. Once Elendu has amassed 44,000 pounds of clothing —which happens about four times a month —Rolland and his crew will load them in a semi and send them all over the world.
The vast majority of these garments, accessories, blankets and linens will be purchased by “textile sorters” worldwide, who will sell them to market buyers from Poland to Auckland. They then can be bought, sometimes just for pennies, by consumers in other countries.
Whatever is too stained or damaged to resell will be shipped to a German company, where it will be shredded, cleaned and repurposed into carpets, rugs and insulation. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 95% of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) could be recycled, even though we currently throw away about 85% of PCTW — the equivalent of 21 billion pounds per year. The US alone is responsible for generating about 11 million tons of textile waste per year, according to Elendu’s website.
Unfortunately, the textile-recycling business has hit several major snags in recent years, ranging from soaring shipping costs and labor shortages to an overall reduction in recycling amid COVID. “I don’t know if it’s just people are so overwhelmed by COVID and everything that they’re not, but they’re not thinking as much of recycling,” he says.
So Rolland hopes to spread the word on this under-the-radar form of recycling. “I believe that the change we want to see starts with education. If we educate the masses on the issue, they will most likely become a part of the solution because they understand that it affects everybody, including them,” says the 30-year-old businessman. Once people learn about textile-recycling, most are happy and relieved to learn it’s an option. “Whenever people find us, the first thing they say is they wish they knew this whole time that we existed because they always felt bad when they had to throw their clothes in the garbage, knowing how bad that is for our environment,” he says.
The story behind their venture started 45 years ago, when Rolland’s father, Sylvester Elendu Sr., was living in Holland. After noticing the volume of clothing donated to charities, he wondered what happened to items that didn’t sell. Did it simply wind up in landfills? Before long, Sylvester settled on an idea: He could help provide clothing to underserved families for pennies, while saving perfectly good textiles from being tossed into landfills.
Although the Elendu family has made their living by repurposing clothes for nearly half a century, they still find surprisingly few people who realize that textiles can have a second life. Recycling clothes a family affair