What’s your educational background?
I have a bachelors in Spanish language with a minor in studio arts.
What do you make/what are you currently working on?
Ray’s Reusables began with transforming trashed jeans into practical everyday items, and denim up-cycling is still something that I really love. Over the last year and a half or so it has taken a back seat to projects like making masks and creating the refill van, which admittedly takes up the majority of my time now.
How did you come up with this idea/how did you get started?
I started up-cycling denim because I couldn’t bear to throw away jeans that had ripped through in the thigh. I felt that there was so much fabric that it would be a huge waste to just toss it all. I was trying to live more sustainably and one of the first swaps I made was to carry reusable cutlery with me. So, when the idea for a cutlery roll made from the back pocket of jeans (ft. a tiny napkin in that pocket) came to me, I started sewing!
The idea for the refill van goes hand in hand with those cutlery rolls. It had been my dream for a while to open a sustainable store featuring plastic-free products and bulk refills to help people reduce their waste. As the pandemic wore on and I saw just how much trash was being produced I decided to accelerate that idea and make it mobile in the hopes that I could make it more accessible to people around the city.
What’s the hardest part?
Wearing all of the different hats of being a small business owner. I don’t have any background in business or sustainability, so there was a huge learning curve involved in figuring out everything I needed to know about running a business. Even after nearly 2 years I still feel like I’m learning new things daily.
What are your goals?
Sometimes I think that people see it as this “members only” club, but I want people to feel like they can ask questions and learn more about changing their habits without worrying about not being in the know.
I want to offer people an entry into sustainable living that’s non-judgmental and accessible.
What inspires you?
Getting to meet and connect with other local makers has been super inspiring to me. Learning more about them and their journeys makes me feel so connected to the creative community in Philadelphia. Not only that, but so many of the people that I work with are taking what many people would see as literal trash and turning it into some of the most gorgeous things. The creativity is outrageous!
What’s your most rewarding memory?
Probably the most rewarding thing for me is when someone walks up to me at an event and says “I’ve been following along on instagram waiting for a chance to get to you. You’re exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
I seldom think about my business as being something that is for me. Sure, I get a lot out of running it, but at the end of the day I want it to be something that brings people together, brings them joy, and is useful to them. Hearing people say those things to me is really touching and makes me feel like I’m doing what I set out to.
What machinery/shops do you often use at NextFab?
At the moment I’m exclusively in the textiles studio. I love how the industrial sewing machines give my projects a professional polish.
What advice would you give to aspiring makers?
I think my advice would be to take it easy on yourself and not put too much pressure for everything to happen immediately (I say this as someone who did exactly that). Sometimes you end up experimenting a whole lot more than you thought you were going to, and sometimes the thing that you thought you were going to do falls away and you find that something else actually works better for you.
Learning to be more flexible and letting those things happen has really helped me feel a lot more peaceful in figuring things out.
What is your favorite part about NextFab and why?
My favorite part about NextFab is the community that it fosters. There are so many creatives working side by side that you get the chance to ask questions when you’re stuck in a project, or find a new collaboration partner, or even just discuss upcoming projects with people who are just as excited as you.