Thrift Store Heroes: Goodwill Provides Colorful Business Lesson For Young Customers

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It started a few years ago as a project for his kids to learn how to earn money as a result of doing something fun. Fast forward to today and Fred’s three children: Natalie (15), Dan (13) and Star (9) are leading a well-loved tie dye business that frequents neighborhood flea markets and art and craft shows and is favorited by a close network of family and friends.

About every two months, Fred and the trio visit the Springfield, Hartville and Waterloo Road Goodwill stores to hunt for white cotton shirts. These range in size from onesies up to 5X, and can be short sleeve, long sleeve or button-up. Fred says the tie dye process they use requires 100 percent natural fiber, so even bamboo or hemp shirts would work too. While they mostly tie dye shirts, the kids have also dyed pants, handkerchiefs, towels, floppy hats, socks and pillow cases. But one of the most popular items, Fred says, are large, non-fitted sheets that serve as tapestries. Customers buy those almost as soon as the kids make them.

Lessons Learned Are ‘Happy Accidents’
Over the years, Fred’s kids have learned a few lessons before nailing down the tie dyeing process. Figuring out how to tie specific patterns can often be difficult, and Fred says they often went through four or five ‘practice items’ until they learned how to achieve the desired effect. Another challenge was determining how to make dyes that don’t bleed, stain or fade. And sometimes finding space to spread out shirts for dyeing and batching (the process of getting the tie to be permanent) can be difficult.

Despite these obstacles, the kids greatly enjoy the process. They receive a lot of satisfaction mixing and putting color on the fabric. Fred compares the entire process to painting with brushes, syringes without needles, spray and squirt bottles, ice and a few other ‘weird’ tools. Watching the shirts transform from white cloth to something bright and vivid is exciting for everyone. From time to time though, the dye decides to have a mind of its own. When that happens, Fred says he and his kids enjoy imitating well-known artist Bob Ross and declare it a ‘happy accident,’ as he would often do on his painting show.

A Fun Venture For All Ages
To date, Fred’s kids have sold approximately 150 items, earning $1,800. They keep track of the cost of fabric, dyes, chemicals and detergents needed. However, after one considers the time necessary to purchase, pre-wash, tie, dye, untie and rinse, wash, dry, fold and sell the shirts, there isn’t a very big dollar-per-hour payout.

For Fred and his kids though, it’s not about the money. He enjoys meeting people who like tie-dye and share personal stories of wearing it at different places during various experiences.
Everything earned is ‘fun money’ for the kids. Natalie likes to purchase more clothes from Goodwill, Dan buys video games and Star likes to get candy and toys. Even though Fred jokes the money earned won’t pay his mortgage, he says it’s teaching his children an invaluable lesson about what it takes to run a business. And that alone has made it all worthwhile.

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