Thursday, September 21

Student-run business wants to reduce waste

By Maria Monteros

One man’s trash could be Hannah Thomas’ new business idea.

In a two-bedroom house in Smyrna, Tenn., Hannah, a junior social work major,
spends her downtime hunched over a sewing machine piecing fabric together to
make reusable alternatives to single-use products, from snack bags to coffee filters.

“Really just things that you use everyday that you just toss in the trash and you don’t think about is what we try to make,” she said.

Thomas Homestead opened last year featuring “local, handmade crafts in the heart of Middle Tennessee,” according to its Instagram page, where she initially sold her products before creating a website and joining craft fairs.

With the popularity of zero-waste living, making her products cheap and accessible for the average person became Thomas Homestead’s selling point, according to Hannah.

“I saw that a lot of people are interested in living that kind of lifestyle. It just can seem expensive or too far out of reach,” she said while holding up her iced coffee in a plastic cup. “I forgot my cup at Starbuck’s today. It’s not about replacing everything in your life and remembering them all the time.”

Hannah began selling shopping totes and muslin tea bags not long after she learned how to make them, she said.

Her mother-in-law taught her how to sew, which Hannah initially thought she didn’t “want to do.” Now, seeing threads scattered around their bedroom, Hannah’s husband, 21-year-old graphic designer Andrew Thomas said the scene reminds him of his childhood.

“It’s a really cool thing when the two people you love the most come together and work together,” he said.

The first item Hannah made was a “really ugly” reusable cotton pad, basically “just two squares sewn together,” she said.

But the idea of selling them didn’t occur to Hannah until she was involved in a collision, leaving her with a totaled car and a broken arm.

Andrew was at work when he learned about the incident from a paramedic at the scene.

“That’s not a call that I wanted to get at work,” he said.

The plate and three screws inserted in her right arm prevented Hannah from working and sewing for the entire summer break.

“It was really intense, but I was super lucky that it wasn’t anything worse than a broken arm,” she said.

While she couldn’t continue making products, it was during her recovery period that Hannah began posting her craft on Instagram. Her followers began sending her direct messages expressing their interest in buying them.

The company website lists the material and care instructions under each product. Hannah sources most of the supplies from familiar craft stores like Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., which, in part, is the reason she doesn’t consider Thomas Homestead “a sustainable brand,” Hannah said.

“I think where we’re at is a symbol of where a lot of people are at,” she said. “We’re not nearly as sustainable as we want to be in the future, but we’re doing what we can now to get there, and I think that’s what a lot of people are feeling.”

The price of each product varies based on the material and complexity of making them. The reusable snack bags, one of Thomas Homestead’s most popular items, according to Hannah, costs $15 for a threepiece set while their bento bags costs $25. Customers can request a different pattern of fabric if they don’t see the design they like.

“At the end of the day, materials cost money,” she said. “This is not something that we’re getting rich off of by any means.”

A majority of their sales come from craft fairs, which they pay to attend.

On their latest stint in the East Nashville Marketplace one Saturday morning, the Thomas couple arranged their booth on a 10×10 lot along with over two dozen vendors selling antiques, jerseys and pastry.

“When you compare the typical East Nashville person to the typical Smyrna mom,” Andrew said before the event. “These are people who are more ecoconscious and who are probably are more willing to spend the money to support something that has the rest of the world in mind.”

On their table, sits nine different products from their website and social media page. Over the last three weeks, Hannah stitched together 10-15 items per product.

“I’ve been working until 10 o’clock last night,” she said while rolling lint off of a reusable coffee filter. “It might be a sign of my time management skills.”

Every visitor that comes close to the booth gets a greeting from Hannah; some stay to look while others don’t. Sales on Saturday mornings are “slow,” fellow vendors told Hannah.

50 minutes after the Marketplace opened to the public, Thomas Homestead got their first customer: 63-year old Rita Scheidweiler, who claims to know her way around a needle.

“It’s always nice to run across stuff that you don’t sew,” she said.

Others, like Brandi Jack, 41, stopped by to sign her email up to receive updates from the company.

“We come out of L.A. where reusable is everything,” she said. “Just seeing a company that’s trying to make that the norm in Nashville is really exciting for us.”

Taking social work classes at Trevecca, Hannah said it helped her realize “how things affect people.”

Most of Thomas Homestead’s profit is used to fund the couple’s annual mission trip to South Dakota with their local church.

The couple plans to convert their guest bedroom into a workspace for Hannah to operate on her business.

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