By Matthew Rodriguez

Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor

While Robin Cox was digging through her East Pasadena garage, she saw it was filled to the brim with her excess supplies. Not wanting to waste any material by simply throwing it in the trash, Cox hoarded her leftover art supplies.

“My garage became kind of crazy filled with art supplies, sewing supplies and extra sewing machines,” Cox said.

Searching for a way to repurpose her old supplies, she visited Scrap, a thrift shop in a San Francisco warehouse specializing in art materials.

“I looked at it and thought, ‘Wow this looks like my garage, only a thousand times bigger,” Cox recalled. “There’s no place like this that I know of in Southern California — so maybe I could do this.”

Like many great businesses, Cox’s Remainders Creative Reuse, a thrift shop for arts and crafts supplies, began with a dream and a garage.

While it did not grow to become a giant tech company like Apple or Amazon, Remainders has cemented itself as an affordable and sustainable alternative to traditional arts and crafts stores.

With her dream of creating Remainders, and after researching how to create a nonprofit and attempting to raise money to apply for that status, Cox chipped away at the clutter by having garage sales. She placed her supplies on her driveway and advertised on Craigslist. She raised enough money to earn nonprofit status in 2016 and moved into a storefront in 2018.

Cox prices everything in the building to sell quickly and often gives away materials for free.

“I had already had businesses in my life,” Cox said. “I didn’t want to be a businessperson. I wanted Remainders to be more altruistic.”

Cox sold the materials at such low prices because of the donations from companies and especially from individuals, contributing to 80% of the inventory in Remainders. According to Cox, she can weekly fill a 26-foot semi-truck with donations.

“I’m amazed at how much there is out there,” Cox said. “But when people started donating, I didn’t realize how much stuff people have.”

But the overflow of donations eventually caught up with Remainders, making the 1,200-square-foot store just as cluttered as Cox’s garage.

“It was like being in a closet,” Cox said.

The staff at Remainders had to play a game of real-life Tetris to make space for the 15-person classes.

“It was super tiny,” said Toban Nichols, director of education. “You had to move everything off the tables. You had to move everything around it. You had to put it sometimes outside so that people could sit.”

In need of a larger space, in 2020 Cox moved Remainders to its current location, a nearly 6,000-square-foot warehouse split evenly to host the thrift store and create space in different areas.

“Our creative space is amazing,” Nichols said. “There’s all this space that we just didn’t have before.”

Education has always been important to her.

“The materials really wouldn’t have any importance if there was no education attached to them,” Cox said. “People would just be on their own, fending for themselves, trying to figure out how to do stuff.”

Cox, a teacher in the late 1990s and early 2000s, noticed that arts programs were being cut as the focus — and money — turned to math and sciences. Many schools in the early 2000s — especially after the Great Recession in 2008 — were forced to cut their budgets. Oftentimes, the arts were an expendable program.

“I feel like there are generations who have lost out because of that lack of programming in the arts,” she said. “I just felt like I was trying to make up for it in my small way.”

To help the community rediscover the excitement behind the art, Remainders hosts classes and workshops for children and adults.

“I think part of the idea of helping the community and using the materials we have in a creative way leads directly to the way we see education,” Nichols said. “It’s something that both children and adults can do. … It’s not overly analytical. It’s very simple and easy to do.”

The workshops use materials that are on hand to alleviate the stress of finding and potentially ruining fabric that artists purchased. The idea came from Cox’s days as a teacher when she saw her students too terrified to cut into the fabric their parents purchased for $70.

“They were terrified to cut into it,” Cox said. “There was so much riding on it and so much pressure because their parents had spent so much money that they were kind of paralyzed by that pressure to be perfect.”

In addition to the workshops held in its 2,700-square-foot creative space and research library, Remainders helps schools by helping teachers find low-cost materials — or in many cases free — for their classrooms. Twice a year, Remainders hosts a teacher and student giveaway, where they can get items like paper, pencils and markers. Teachers can also get a 15% discount on other general classroom items.

“If they have a specific project or need and we have an abundance of it, we’re happy to give it away,” Cox said.

To date, Cox has given away items to more than 200 teachers who visited the stores. Remainders has also donated to many public schools and nonprofits in Pasadena and the Los Angeles area.

This has always been a vision for Cox, as she hopes to one day make enough money to where she could just give away all the materials to the customers who walk in.

“If the grant money were so much that we could pay our staff a fair wage, all our expenses, rent and utilities, I would be happy to give materials as much as possible,” Cox said.