The Art of Recycling: Recologie, New Rochelle, NY

While the dictionary defines “garbage” as “any matter that is no longer wanted or needed, contemptibly worthless, inferior or vile,” artists have been disposing of this definition for over 20 years. As have Maria Cisneros and Judith Weber, who opened Recologie, a vegan/vegetarian dining and eco-retailing space. They consciously source beautifully crafted clothing, accessories and home goods from designers working directly with artisans in Brazil, Africa, Mexico, India, the Philippines and London as well as local artisans—all made from reused, repurposed and recycled materials. Recologie also serves as an art gallery for those working with recycled items like newspapers, plastic, can tabs, and candy wrappers turning debris into wearable and wall art made from 100% recycled items.  Think bike chain picture frames, can tab clutches, pillows from recycled saris and rags, telephone wire bracelets, pet collars made from seat belts, puzzle piece necklaces, and the chicest red handbag made from used fire hoses, with proceeds going to London’s firefighters.  Dutch artist Tord Boontje, whose work is found in design museums across Europe, translated more expensive lighting into laser-cut light pendants made from recycled Tyvek, which are affordable, hard to find stateside, and sold here.

recologie (2) Recologie is dedicated to cultivating an appreciation for a sustainable planet, so you can shop guilt-free thanks to a $50,000 Small Business Loan from Community Capital NY which enabled Maria and Judith to move forward. Use your purchasing power to promote social and environmental responsibility. Fair trade products that support local and global economies through ethical business practices give gifts extra gravitas, and provide an extra reason to snare a scarf or tabletop item worthy of house room.

At its heart is a café where delicious small plate menus of vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free specialties that, like the rest of their stock, defy expectations.

Just because something is good for you, and the planet, doesn’t make it any less covetable.

 

How did you get into the recycling business?

Maria: I operated Recologie on a smaller scale in Larchmont for many years, but in 440 square feet I was limited to what I could offer. I started as an artist in the 80s, preserving bridal bouquets into wedding mementos. After many years,  I opened a retail space in Larchmont highlighting global fair trade products, each with an inspirational story. I began carrying clutches and handbags made in Manila from old telephone books and comics. As they started to sell, I added more and more products made from materials found in landfills, and things made in mountain villages in third world countries to create fair trade jobs and reuse waste materials instead of creating more.

Judith: I had developed Art Space in New Rochelle, and am a ceramic artist. I got really interested in creating live/work spaces for artists and galleries, and was president of the New Rochelle Council of the Arts until 2014. I was interested in working with Maria to create a vegan/vegetarian dining space, an art gallery and a retail environment for fair trade goods. Maria convinced me to feature art by artists working with 100% recycled materials, which I love, but which is also challenging.

How did you get your business off the ground?

 Judith: We thought this would be an ideal business for a bank, independent investors or for creative venture capitalists. We wanted to be in the heart of New Rochelle, and establish an interesting cultural mixed-use shopping-dining experience for those tired of shopping malls. We wanted to provide high quality retail and fine art at price points affordable for the entire, diverse community.

How did your business evolve?

 Judith:  We established ourselves across from a busy library. So for between $5-10 library visitors and staff can hang out, have a healthy lunch, and sit back on our benches against our pillows and relax.  The gallery has a different clientele than the shop. Acquiring art is done a little differently than pulling in retail merchandise. The challenge is to find artists working entirely with recycled material on the level where a piece is both art and investment.

Maria: We found the space and it needed renovation. Banks, and investors, turned us down. We were so surprised, as we thought a mission-based retail location supporting local artists, creating fair trade jobs and women’s cooperatives, and keeping things out of landfill would be enough.

Judith: I’m 73. We thought we were going to have the deep pockets of venture capitalists and it turned out we used the mini pockets of friends and family. Community Capital NY helped us in every way. Holly (Perlowitz, Small Business Manager of CCNY) was the first to believe in us and helped us pull together our paperwork. She made it personal. I felt personally comfortable borrowing the money, a loan from CCNY, where with a bank I would have felt nervous.

Maria: The difference between Community Capital and a bank is that we felt we have Community Capital’s support. For banks we’re just a calculated risk. Holly and Simone (Obermaier, Loan Associate) got the whole concept.

Judith: We needed a loan from Community Capital to create legal egress, put toward a sprinkler system, and use $50,000 to get to code. Community Capital made so much more possible: fixtures and fittings, inventory, a refrigerator, kitchen equipment and operating expenses. We talk to Holly every week. It’s like having silent partners who really listen and help!

What do you wish you knew?

Judith: I didn’t fully appreciate how difficult it would be to get people to invest in bringing a new business to downtown New Rochelle. I  had always had generous supporters and partners in other ventures.

Maria: We learned every step of the way, and had we known that at the outset, we may never have started down a road that is very personally important to both of us.

Judith: My father used to tell me ‘Don’t think about the problem, think about the solution.’

What’s next?

Judith: Short term we are determined to complete the development of our kitchen and events space and making this a vital destination for people to shop, dine, enjoy each other’s company and feel valued as a customer and client. Long term, we are thinking of establishing secondary and third locations of Recologie. This is the flagship.

 

Recologie, 49 Lawton Street in New Rochelle, or at www.recologie.com