NEWBERRY — Right here in Newberry is a business that takes old clothing, many of which people would otherwise throw away, and re-purpose them. Palmetto Commerce International, Inc. turns those clothes into cloths, and packages them.
The various cloth types are suitable for different cleaning uses, automotive, machine shop, painting, custodial, staining, etc. Scott Bellows, president, said conceptually his business started in 2016, but he started renting his 135 Oakland Mills Drive, Newberry, location in March of 2017.
“Over the past ten years I’ve worked closely with a person who buys used clothing from charitable organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. He exports them for resale abroad. Some of what he buys, however, is not suitable for resale and, so, is cut so that it can be used as cleaning cloths,” Bellows said.
About 30 percent of the recovered textiles are cut into wiping rags or polishing cloths.Bellows said they are associated with Secondary Material and Recycled Textiles association (SMART), members of this association address about 25 percent of America’s post-consumer textile waste.
The clothing received at Palmetto Commerce comes from a supplier, and Bellows said the supplier sometimes purchases from the Greenville Goodwill. Bellows added that he is not collecting clothing for export at this time.
The clothing that arrives is pre-cut, but Bellows has two machines that can cut the material, and at some point in the future they may begin cutting the clothing.
When the clothing arrives, employees will go through them and make sure there are no zippers or buttons, items that would turn a cloth into a scrapper. After that they are taken to one of four machines, based on how many pounds are being packed, and they are packaged.
During the packaging process, various fabric types must be separated. This is because fabrics have different properties. For example, some have more lint than others, some are more absorbent and some will bleed when using solvents.
“Most users already know what they want, but in case they don’t, we can give recommendations or they can just visit our website [www.palmettocommerce.com]. Of course, price is also an important consideration. Color knits are about half the price of white knit. Trust me, I’ve gained a real appreciation for fabric types since starting this business,” Bellows said.
Employees of Palmetto Commerce International are made up of members of Newberry County Disabilities and Special Needs. Bellows was able to create this partnership via his membership with Newberry Rotary Club.
“One of the Rotary projects was to expand the picnic shelter, so I’m on the board for Rotary, part of my work was to go out and meet with the people and see what they do. During that process, I thought maybe I can use them to help here,” he said. “A lot of the tasks are straight forward, and not necessarily physically exhausting.”
About the same time, Bellows’ grandson broke his arm playing basketball, and he received an email from the coach. As it turns out, she also worked for Newberry County Disabilities and Special Needs.
“We got to talking, she explained their program, and she offered to learn how to do the job here. They teach themselves, the supervisors, how it is done, they do time studies to figure out how long it should take to do certain things, then bring in their workforce and do a lot of the training, make sure they are working safely,” Bellows said. “We’ve gotten to the point, I’d come in, they’d do the production and I wouldn’t do anything. The quality of what they are doing is as good as I could have asked for.”
Bellows added that if he expands, he will continue to use Disabilities and Special Needs for his workforce.
When it comes to picking Newberry for his business location, Bellows said it was a toss up between his current location and a warehouse in Whitmire.
“The deciding factor was that the Newberry warehouse is located in what is called a Hubzone or Historically Underutilized Business Zone. This is a federal certification that can give a company a competitive contracting advantage. Hubzones are based on census data that normally takes place every ten years and Whitmire should have, in my opinion, been a designated Hubzone, but isn’t,” he said. “One of the Hubzone requirements is that 35 percent of your employees have to live in a Hubzone so I’ve been holding off on seeking the certification until I meet that requirement.”
As it turns out, Newberry is an ideal location for his business.
“My warehouse space is part of what used to be the Oakland Mill. Misty West has gone above and beyond in terms of getting the space ready for occupancy and has even gone so far as to lend us some of the old cotton trolley carts that were left behind when the Mill was forced to close. Given that I work with textiles, it just feels right,” Bellows said.
As for the future, Bellows has a number of business extensions stemming from this venture that he hopes to initiate during the next year.
“As noted earlier, we currently have the machinery to cut our own fabric and I plan to do this on a limited basis using our Newberry County Disabilities and Special Needs workforce,” he said. “I am often asked if I want to accept used clothing. I personally think that Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other charitable organizations do a credible job at this, and I do not anticipate competing directly with them. There are certain fabric types, however, that we may purchase on a limited basis that would result in cost savings to our buyers.”
With his experience of international trade (Bellows spent 14 years living abroad, most of which was with the U.S. Agency for International Development) he would be interested in helping clients with their export sales.
“I have a good relationship with the South Carolina Department of Commerce, who are also supporting exports. Because of my experience with USAID and living abroad in places like Nicaragua, Egypt and South Africa, I have a special interest in selling to emerging market economies. One of the largest markets for my supplier is based in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. People once questioned why people would ever want to sell to poor countries like Japan and China but…times change and getting an early foothold in some countries can be highly profitable,” Bellows said.
Bellows also has experience with government programs that attract foreign investment. He believes Palmetto Commerce can, in due course, help to make this happen.
“Using our software and experience to help them develop their business ventures right here in the Midlands,” he said.