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Former Account Exec Starts a Business Recycling Old Mannequins

career change entrepreneurship valerie vaz Apr 15, 2009

by Valerie Vaz

image by Markus Spiske

A search for a mannequin for an art project propelled Judi Henderson-Townsend into a new career recycling old mannequins.

I stumbled upon my new career while searching for a used mannequin for an art project for my garden. Instead of buying just one mannequin, I ended up buying 50 of them on impulse when I found someone on Craig's List who was closing his mannequin rental business.

Although I had never touched a mannequin or worked in a retail environment before—having spent my professional career as an account executive in the health care and travel industries—I thought renting mannequins would be a fun part-time business. Little did I know that this move would quickly lead to a full-time venture for my husband, who is 61, and me (I am 51.)

Shortly after I purchased the mannequins, I discovered that retailers routinely throw mannequins in the landfill when they are old or broken or if the store is closing or going out of business. Since mannequins are large, bulky objects made of materials that do not biodegrade, they should not be sent to landfills. So I convinced major retailers such as Nordstrom, Macy's, Nike, Kohl's, Ralph Lauren and Bloomingdale's to let us recycle their unwanted mannequins.

Our company, Mannequin Madness, recycles over 100,000 pounds of mannequins a year, and we have received a special achievement award from the Environmental Protection Agency. We sell and rent these recycled mannequins to businesses and individuals all over the United States and Canada.

Surprisingly, many of our customers are not in the retail industry but are event planners, trade-show vendors, museums, artists and even lawyers who need mannequins for a courtroom demonstration.

We have received numerous business awards and have been featured on CNN. I was recently featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, as a result of being accepted in a leadership training program that Oprah sponsored with an organization called the White House Project. I never knew that working with a bunch of stiffs could lead to such opportunities!


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