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Old Mannequins Find New Life at Major Retailers Thanks to This Eco-Conscious Company

Someone else’s trash became the treasure that is Mannequin Madness.

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Old Mannequins Find New Life at Major Retailers Thanks to This Eco-Conscious Company
Judi Henderson
A search for concert tickets led this Bay Area businesswoman to start Mannequin Madness – “We work with stiffs and dummies” – rescuing used mannequins from the dustbin.

I’m told your whole business started because of Tina Turner.

[Laughs.] That’s right. In 1999, I was on Craigslist, looking to buy Tina Turner concert tickets, and I saw an ad for a mannequin for sale. I decided to buy one for an art project, but I found out the seller, who operated the only mannequin rental company in town, was leaving the state. I decided to buy his entire inventory of 50 mannequins and start my own mannequin rental company.

What gave you the impetus to get into that business?

A book I’d read, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad,’ that encourages entrepreneurship, developing alternative financial resources and not being afraid of risks. It cost me $2500 for his mannequins and dress forms.

The entrepreneur in you took over?

I’d never considered myself an entrepreneur because none of them had ever looked like me. In the Bay Area, an entrepreneur is a white male with a technology product venture capital funding.

What did you discover about the business?

That there were a ton of used mannequins sitting in retailers’ attics and storerooms. Every time they re-merchandised or remodeled, they were bringing in new mannequins to replace the old, increasingly replacing realistics with abstracts. And it wasn’t just full mannequins, it was head forms, leg forms, maternity mannequins, swimwear mannequins and all kinds of props, as well. Retailers would throw these items in the trash until I started offering to recycle these items for free. This saved them money on waste removal fees and was an eco-friendly option.

Old Mannequins Find New Life at Major Retailers Thanks to This Eco-Conscious Company
A Heroine of Recycling

This has an environmental aspect to it, doesn’t it?

My heart and soul is mannequin recycling even though I also sell new mannequins. Mannequins … don’t belong in landfills. Since landfills are often near African American neighborhoods, I have a personal mission for reducing retail environmental waste. Even people who don’t buy a used mannequin from me benefit indirectly from my recycling efforts.

Have you measured the impact you’re making?

In 2005, we won an Environmental Protection Agency award for recycling over 100,000 pounds of mannequins in one year. Today, I do that amount almost every other month because we recycle on a national, versus regional, basis now. Retailers have really gotten on board the recycling bandwagon. Our clients are Macy’s, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren, The Gap, H&M and more.

Where did you find your resale market?

Small independent retailers, pop-up shops, Etsy sellers, trade show exhibitors, museums, fashion students, artists, people doing Halloween displays. They appreciate the cost savings and we don’t have a minimum quantity requirement. Also, there’s a big market among private collectors for certain brands of mannequins.

You’ve attributed your success to “Black girl magic.” Please explain.

It’s like a flower that blooms from a crack in concrete. Sheer determination and creativity to overcome obstacles and a lack resources. ‘Black girl magic’ is hustling and scrapping, finding a ‘way out of no way,’ pulling ourselves up by the bootstrap when we don’t even have the boot.

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)
📷: Courtesy of Judi Henderson

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As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20-plus years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.

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