‘Reuse ecosystem’ to open near campus

Located near the Westgate light rail station, the building will serve as a workspace for a variety of local businesses and artists and house an online shop.

Courtesy of Jean Kearns.

Courtesy of Jean Kearns.

Becca Most

Inside a vine-heavy brick building off of University Avenue, an effort to promote sustainable business practices is underway. 

Centered on the reusing of goods like office supplies, papers and crafts materials, Julie Kearns wants to build a “reuse ecosystem” for sustainable commerce. The building will house the warehouse for Junket, Kearns’ online shop, and will be a workspace for a variety of local businesses and artists.

“My goal is [a] sharing economy to create an opportunity for people to immediately reduce their carbon footprint,” she said. 

By showing that changing consumption habits is doable and profitable, Kearns said she hopes to foster local economy and make an environmental impact.

Although the ecosystem was supposed to launch in the former University of Minnesota building next week, the COVID-19 outbreak has put a wrench in her plans. Kearns, however, has already been finding other ways to support reusable ecosystems in her community. 

In a collaboration with volunteers and nonprofits, she is working to make masks from repurposed fabric and materials for healthcare workers and those performing essential jobs.

“It’s actually been an opportunity to demonstrate the sort of network-building and community organizing and impact we can have without going out and buying a bunch of new stuff,” she said.

Kearns said that especially in a time when there is a shortage of goods and materials, it’s important that people utilize the resources they already have.

“As supply chains have dried up … it gives us an opportunity to talk about how we value things that we have [and] how prepared are we for disruption,” she said.  

The masks project highlights the usefulness of using goods already in the market, Kearns said. Some people don’t realize how much material they have in their closets and how it can be used in many different ways.

“One of the one of the issues that the reuse economy has is the sort of stigma around second-hand goods,” said Grant Henry, a University alumni who plans to run his marketing firm out of the building. “It’s either seen as vintage and quirky, or second-rate. The challenges are around breaking down that stigma, and making it not just an acceptable, but an admirable lifestyle.”

Located half a block from the Westgate light rail station, Kearns said she wants the building to be a space that will host zero-waste events and classes.

People will also be able to rent out the space they need, whether it be a shelf or storage rack, or a smaller communal work space.

Many small businesses or artists often pay a lot for a large studio space they never fully utilize, Kearns said. This rent system seeks to make workspaces more affordable, and uses space more efficiently, which is better for the environment.

This rent system can also make space accessible for students, too.

“Students, especially in performing arts or studio arts, have studio space [as] upperclassmen,” Peter Hoh said, adding that he hopes to teach craft classes in the space. “All of a sudden you graduate and you lose that studio space. We want to be that space for you after you graduate.”