On Christmas Eve 2010, Cristy Bullock received a call from AT&T informing her that she'd been laid off, and yes, she'd already bought presents.
Bullock's next move would come to her in a rare whimsical moment in the following months, as she fruitlessly applied for jobs and survived on unemployment benefits. "I got this idea from watching my girlfriend plant flowers in a blue Mason jar," Bullock says. "The sun was reflecting through it, and I thought, how pretty. I wonder how else I could reuse glass."
Bullock dove head first into teaching herself skills that ranged from glass cutting to candle making to marketing. After about six months of broken bottles and cut fingers, she had glass working down to a science. Bullock posted an ad on Craigslist asking local restaurants to donate their recyclable bottles—by then, she could craft wine bottles into drinking glasses and beer bottles into holders for scented candles—and her business, Green City Bottles, was born.
A stinky male roommate and some divine intervention inspired Bullock's best-selling product, Mandles. "It's a men's cologne scent in a beer or liquor bottle, because how manly is that?" she says. "God bless 'em, men have a scent that's all their own when they come home from a gym. We do men's cologne, or cedar wood or something teakwoody, something girls like but that guys can be proud to have as well."
Bullock and Jessie Clendenin make candles with locally sourced wax in their Fuquay kitchen every evening after Bullock comes home from her new job at a motorcycle company. They cut glass in a 15-by-15-foot storage unit in Knightdale and sell to retailers in Raleigh and across the state. Recently, Bullock has been approached by sellers in Chicago and New York City.
Though her business is profitable, Bullock says that everything she makes right now is reinvested. She hopes to see Green City Bottles grow to where she can move operations to a warehouse and employ local people in need of work, as she once was.
"That sense of community that I found from being almost penniless was so encouraging," Bullock says. "Everyone I approached gave me more fuel to inspire me and keep me going. If it wasn't for local businesses and the City of Raleigh, I don't know where I'd be right now. I love this city and I'm ultimately indebted to it."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Creative recyclers turn going green into thriving business models."