Petaluma’s NooNoo gives fresh life to used clothes
The Watershed – a century-old, remodeled grain warehouse between First Street and the river – houses an eclectic mix of artists, artisans, makers and distinctive small businesses. One of these businesses is the delightfully named NooNoo, which offers a large selection of recycled children’s clothing.
Co-owned by Laura Whalen and Robin Semmelhack, NooNoo opened in May of this year.
The business partners had several things in mind. They are both firm believers in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” concept. They want to give back to their community, especially the schools. And, they are eager to help build community, “a neighborhood place,” Whalen said, “where you can get together.”
The bottom line,“ Whalen emphasized, is that they want to create “a sustainable boutique for the next generation.” Additionally, she and her husband Andrew are interested in supporting the local economy, and The Watershed location was what they wanted, a “beautiful space” and one that has itself been reinvented.
Wondering about the distinctive name? Whalen laughed as she explained it. While NooNoo means different things in different languages – for example, it’s a South African term of endearment and means “baby” in Arabic – the closer-to-home version is a term coined by one of Semmelhack’s children. When you’ve taken off all your clothes and are ready for a bath, you are “NooNoo.”
“It’s so funny,” Whalen said, “to have the name be what your naked kid calls himself.”
NooNoo is a large, bright, open airy space, warm, inviting and plant-filled, with books and games for children and a comfortable area with couches and a coffee table, encouraging patrons to sit, chat and enjoy a good cup of coffee.
“Coffee?” you’re asking. “But, I thought this was a place to buy kids’ clothes.”
That’s right. But it also houses a coffee bar run by Kjeld Clark, who owns Súper Coffee Roasters, also in the building. Clark is warm and welcoming, inviting visitors to enjoy a caffeinated beverage “and toss jokes around.”
Whalen explained that Semmelhack’s husband, Matt, is the CEO of Boox, which is working toward reducing the amount of cardboard consumers use, by manufacturing reusable, waterproof, durable shipping containers and boxes.
“We partnered with them,” she said, “to do clothing drives in town. We reached out to parents at local public schools, asking for donations of clothing their children had outgrown. And we donated a dollar per item back to the school for the clothing we collected.”
After that, they went to work sorting and curating. Clothes that didn’t make the cut weren’t discarded but donated to other organizations.
Another reason for starting the business, Whalen said, was to offer parents a local alternative to shopping for pre-owned clothing.
“A lot of our friends were buying secondhand clothing online,” she said.
NooNoo offers its patrons the chance to extend the life of children’s clothing, and to do it in an environmentally responsible way. By selling local gently used clothes, consumers can avoid shipping costs, cardboard packaging and the environmental cost of delivery by truck.
“We wanted a boutique vibe,” she continued, “and to make it as inviting as possible– a place and opportunity to come together and spend time. It’s not only about the clothing, it’s about creating that community feeling.
The Semmelhacks and the Whalens have three children each, ranging in age from 1 to 10. Whalen spoke of how hard it can be for new mothers, saying while parenthood is wonderful, it can be lonely.
The store is a place where new moms can connect, and also browse the tables for clothes. Prices are intentionally reasonable, with a set amount for tops and bottoms. They also offer baby gear, women’s denim and house plants.
“We’re conscious of things people will be putting on their bodies, and their children’s bodies and trying to give all these clothes a second life,” Whalen said. “Moving forward, we’ll continue clothing drives, with people getting store credit for bringing in clothing.”
She becomes serious when she talks about the clothing industry, how so much more clothing is manufactured than can be sold.
“There’s no capacity to buy all the clothes that have been made,” she said, describing the mountains of discarded clothes in Southeast Asia. One clothing mountain in Chile is so large it can be seen from outer space.
According to naturejournal.com, more than 50 billion garments are discarded within a year of being made. Consequently, Semmelhack and Whalen want to ensure they aren’t adding to this problem and work to responsibly pass on or discard anything they can’t use.
Whalen said, “As parents who care about the world our children inhabit, it’s important to help teach them about preloved and secondhand clothes. We want to make that opportunity possible for more people.”
They’re interested in hosting mothers’ groups and educational events as well. And, Whalen said, The Watershed “feels like the right place to be right now. It’s the new happening space, and so special to be surrounded by talented artists, makers and creative thinkers. Petaluma can feel sleepy and quiet, but here people are making things that are mind-blowing.”
Clark, for his part, is happy to be a part of what’s happening at NooNoo.
“Laura and Robin are amazing at curating this, and I think people are comfortable coming here,” he said. “There are lots of beautiful people here who want to support local business, and also do good.”
The Watershed – generally stylize as WTRSHD on signage throughout the building – is increasingly becoming central to Petaluma’s Warehouse District, with Aqus Cafe and Petaluma Coffee Company the two end posts of an increasingly vibrant stretch of town.
“This whole area is coming alive right now,’ Whalen said. “Being part of this neighborhood is wonderful, and our neighbors – in Foundry Wharf and those in this building – have so much enthusiasm for this.”