Cute clothes and darling displays are only part of the business model at the Children’s Orchard in Manhattan Beach, California. Owner Cindy Kehagiaras says she’s always been aware of her environmental footprint, and she’s brought that sense of preserving the planet to her store. She’s made sure her resale business operates the same way she does in her personal life: with an eye on reducing waste, re-using gently worn clothing and merchandise, and recycling as much as possible. This kind of stewardship has won Cindy fans in the business world, as well as in environmental circles. As her sales have increased, so has her customers’ knowledge of the numbers behind her mission.

“We are bringing more awareness, letting people know we’re a business with a conscience,” Cindy says. Her Children’s Orchard resale children’s clothing store, franchised by NTY Franchise Company, has maintained its local Green Business Certificate for years. The certificate demonstrates to the community that she cares about how her company impacts the environment in and around Manhattan Beach.

While undergoing her certificate renewal this year, Cindy realized her store might be competitive for a local award honoring best environmental practices. The South Bay Business Environmental Coalition gives six SEED Awards each year. SEED is an acronym for SoCal Environmental Excellence Development. During the run-up to the awards, Cindy spent a full week perfecting her application. “I wanted them to know that this is what we do, that we should be known as an environmental business,” Cindy explained. The entire application process was a family affair: her husband (an attorney) read over all the details before submission, and her mother (who’s also her business partner) provided sales figures and other data.

Children’s Orchard apparently had the fertile ground necessary to reap this year’s award, and it paid off. Cindy’s children’s resale clothing franchise won the 2018 SEED Award in the category of “pollution prevention”, for its leadership role in keeping textiles out of landfills. She was thrilled to receive the award, and genuinely feels honored to share her vision with her customers.

Cindy’s research shows the typical person discards about 68 pounds of clothing in an average year. Her store purchases the best of those unwanted children’s items from people living nearby and re-sells them to customers looking for great clothing and gear at reduced prices. Everyone wins, including the environment. Here are some added green benefits for Children’s Orchard customers:

  • Decreased demand for new clothing helps reduce emissions from factories that would have manufactured and distributed the new items
  • Less chemical pollution from cotton processing and other textile production
  • Increased community development through investing in a locally-owned business instead of a national retail giant
  • Support of local charities who receive donations from the franchise

“We had about $350,000 in sales last year,” Cindy reports, mostly in gently used kids clothing and reusable children’s gear. Cindy and her staff provide cash on-the-spot to customers who want to sell their nearly new items. They then re-price them about 70 percent less than original retail prices. She feels empowered at the number of renewable resources her store has been able to save by repurposing pre-owned merchandise.

“It takes 700 gallons of water to produce one t-shirt,” Cindy says. “And the garment industry generates 2.2 billion pounds of waste each year.” Cindy’s business model helps reduce the amount of clothing taken to landfills in Southern California and helps preserve the natural resources needed to produce “fast fashion” — low-priced garments designed to last for just a few wearings.

Whatever items Cindy and her staff don’t buy, they donate to a local children’s charity, thus further reducing the amount of clothing headed to the landfill. “We donate to the Exceptional Children’s Foundation,” Cindy says — because what they do aligns with her values. The charity collects usable items the store doesn’t purchase and repairs, cleans and distributes them to low-income families of children who have learning, developmental or emotional disabilities.

That $350,000 in sales last year translates to about 49,000 pounds of clothing that would likely have found its way to the landfill. “Add in the estimated 10,000 pounds of clothing we donated, and you see how committed Children’s Orchard is to preventing waste and helping save the planet.”

Cindy says her shoppers — many of them millennials — are environmentally conscious. “They want to do business with non-polluters,” she says. And to that end, Cindy is making sure her clientele knows she is committed to her other green initiatives.

In order to maintain their Green Business Certification, Children’s Orchard had to make some small but significant changes to its operations. They switched out light bulbs so that they now only use LED bulbs. They also revamped the way they clean inside the store — to set a good example for customers.

“We changed out our cleaning products and now use steam and vinegar for cleaning,” Cindy says. She says she and her staff model the kind of behavior they want to see in the community by continually looking for other ways to stay green and energy efficient, including recycling virtually every item that can be recycled.

She helps educate her youngest customers by posting relevant information on her store’s social media pages. She even recruited votes for the SEED award that way! “We put it on our Facebook and Instagram pages to generate interest” during the application process. The customers also shared in the excitement once the winners were announced.

Cindy is proud of her store’s efforts to help preserve the environment, both in Manhattan Beach and in the countries where new clothes are manufactured. She has found that being green can actually help her balance sheet stay in the black. By providing employment income to staff members, she allows them to support the local economy. Her franchise has reduced its carbon footprint by using products that don’t harm the soil and water supply. And by educating the next generation of resale shoppers, her Children’s Orchard is planting the seeds for an even greener future in her community.