The San Francisco’s Mayor’s office posed a challenge: What can be done to utilize the more than 506,000 tons of clothes and other textiles that end up in California landfills each year? Paula Luu had a great answer.

As a part of Improve SF — an initiative aimed to create opportunities for citizens and government officials to work together to solve problems in the community — Luu came up with an idea for a business called Coming Home Goods, an organization that upcycles post-consumer textiles such as clothing, blankets, towels and more into home furnishings like handmade rugs, quilts and pillow covers. But that’s not all this business does. It also focuses on helping alleviate another issue that plagues the community: Unemployment among the formerly incarcerated.

“The idea for creating Coming Home Goods grew from the genuine need to divert textile waste from our landfills and address the high unemployment rates among the formerly incarcerated,” Luu wrote on the Goodwill San Francisco blog. “By giving those who are re-entering society the opportunity and tools to empower themselves, they become productive and positive additions to our communities, tax dollars are saved and families stay intact.”

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In California, 70 to 80 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed, and 78 percent of offenders end up back in prison within three years of their release. Not only is it difficult for these individuals to find work, but it’s almost impossible for them to build a stable career. To change this statistic, Coming Home Goods, which is set for launch later in 2014, has teamed up with Goodwill of San Francisco to not only repurpose their textile waste — items that are stained or not fit for resale — into useable, sellable items, but also to also connect with the formerly incarcerated through their Re-Entry Program Navigator, a transitional employment program.

Once Luu has a team in place, they will design and develop a number of products which can be duplicated and sold. Luu will train the formerly incarcerated individuals in how to make these products, hopefully providing them with stable jobs and income that can help them break the cycle of prison and poverty. The added bonus? Helping the environment. “My hope is that Coming Home Goods will serve as model for other businesses like this to follow,” Luu said. “A sustainable future depends on businesses finding profitable ways to lift and protect the people and places that make the Bay Area one of the best places in the world to live.”

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