What do you do with your old clothes? If the answer is you throw them away, you’re basically throwing away money. Yet, many people do just that, and that has always bothered Richard Tuscano.
Tuscano was running a landscaping and construction business about 35 years ago, and was looking for something to do in the cold seasons. He happened to notice that a lot of people were throwing away perfectly good clothes. Why not take that waste and turn it into something useful?
Tuscano founded his business, Ameritex, with the goal of turning a wasteful practice into something that could benefit nonprofit groups and the poor at the same time. Toscano’s company partners with nonprofits, foundations, churches, and service clubs to collect clothing and raise funds for charity. Typically, Tuscano will place collection containers throughout New Jersey bearing the logo of the nonprofit he is working with. The bins are collected and brought back to a warehouse where odds and ends are removed and the clothes are compacted into wire-bound bales for shipping. He then sells the clothing to wholesalers, who re-sell it to thrift shops and secondhand stores, typically in low-income areas, where they can be purchased at low cost by people who need them. Some of the proceeds — Toscano declined to say how much — goes to the nonprofit group.
Tuscano recently opened a new warehouse on Everett Drive in West Windsor. Previously, they had been located in New Brunswick. Toscano said the company’s 10,000 square-foot warehouse will allow them to expand.
The name “Ameritex” stands for American Textile, and it incorporates two key facets of the business: they deal primarily, though not exclusively in clothes, and the clothes eventually make their way onto the backs of Americans. The donated items are not sent overseas or shredded for rags.
“Seventy pounds of good recyclable textiles are being thrown out by every American per year,” he says. “Multiply that by 340 million people. If we can help out just a little bit and get some of those reusable items back in circulation instead of turning into methane gas and filling our landfills, we feel that we’ve helped out the planet, helped out the nonprofits, and employed people at the same time.” Ameritex employs 14 people, including Tuscano’s two sons.
“We’re a family run business, and we feel great going to work in the morning,” he says. Toscano grew up on Long Island, where his father owned a dry-cleaning business and his mother was a homemaker.
“We are a business, but we have a chance to help people at the same time. It’s a win-win situation and a lot of the staff that work with the company feel the same way.”
Richard dresses sharply in new clothes (not recycled ones.) His front office is full of signs and logos from the nonprofits he has worked with. Here and there are model fighter jets — F-4 Phantom IIs, similar to the ones that Toscano helped prepare for flight when he was in the Navy between 1967 and 1972. Tuscano had a dangerous and important job working on carrier flight decks, checking each plane before launch, strapping the pilots in and pulling the pins out of their ejection seats to make them ready for use.
Tuscano’s son Richard Jr. handles the company’s IT needs as project manager, while his other son Jason is in charge of operations. Richard Jr. says he left a good job at McGraw-Hill to work for the family business. He says no one could understand why he was leaving publishing to go work at a textile company until he explained the business. “They were sad to see me go, but I’m really happy to work for my dad’s company,” he says.
Although most of the company’s business is in clothes, sometimes they are able to recycle other things. “House cleanouts” run by Ameritex sometimes collect such non-clothing items. Currently, a cache of 100 oil paintings is sitting in the warehouse, ready to be auctioned off for a nonprofit. The paintings came from the home of a deceased Mercerville resident.
The business also provides the curious pleasures of sorting through discarded items. Richard Jr. said he once found a wine stopper that he re-used as a gift to a friend (don’t tell!) Richard Sr. said he once found a pair of size 74 dungarees and size 18 shoes.
But mostly, the satisfaction for Tuscano comes from helping nonprofits do something they could never do on their own.
“They wouldn’t really know what to do with all these clothes and shoes,” he says. “We have the warehouse, we have the employees, the forklift, the baler machines, and a lot of these expensive items, and insurance, and workers’ comp, and a lot that nonprofits really can’t afford because it’s not their goal. Hopefully we’ve helped out a few nonprofits.”
Tuscano and his wife often spend weekends doing work for Eden Autism Services, participating in fundraising events and volunteering. In addition to its normal business, Ameritex outright donates some of the items it receives to nonprofits.
Tuscano recently gave a speech to the Rotary Club that touched on his lifelong love of cars. Cars are rarely discarded while they are still useful, so why are clothes?
One reason may be that most people don’t see how to take old clothes and make them useful again. After Hurricane Sandy, many people donated clothes directly to nonprofits. However, because the charities were not equipped to distribute or resell the clothes, they proved to be more of a burden than anything else. For Tuscano, clothing donation is a way of taking something few people want and turning it into something the nonprofits can always use more of: cash.
“People have an excess, and a lot of people don’t know what to do with it,” he says. “We can take something people don’t want and turn it into dollars.”
Ameritex, 39 Everett Drive, Princeton Junction 08550; 732-770-4946. www.ameritex1.com.