Photo by Anthony Caciopo
Worth resident Brenda Castillo looks over one of her flower creations that was made from recycled materials. She and her daughter, Sam Castillo, now have their own business, Castillo’s Craftycles.
By Sam Malone
The average person has the opportunity to recycle 25,000 cans in their lifetime, according to Recycle Across America, and Worth residents Brenda and Sam Castillo are doing more than their part to help the environment and chase their dreams.
Brenda and her daughter Sam have exhausted numerous business ideas together from selling jams to jewelry, but neither could predict the importance of their latest business, Castillo’s Craftycles. The business, which sells home décor made from recycled materials, operates with Brenda making crafts and Sam operating business aspects, something she recently graduated from St. Xavier University to do.
“We’ve tried different things before, but nothing really worked until one day I came across people recycling bottles, and I wanted to challenge myself,” Brenda said. “My first flower came out horrible. It was scary and I was like ‘nope, this is not for me,’ but I liked the fact that everything was recycled so from that moment I wanted to do it because in my mind, if I say I’m going to do it, I have to do it.”
Born and adopted in Mexico, Brenda had a tough childhood, coming to Illinois at age 18. Because of several health issues, Brenda found it hard to keep a job, but longed to provide for her two children, Sam and her 12-year-old brother, Carlos.
When Sam got older and began helping with family finances by working day jobs, she quickly decided she wanted to be her own boss as soon as possible. After facing discrimination in the workplace because of her gender, Sam decided to attend school for business.
“I always wanted to be my own business owner because I’ve had so many bosses in the past that have mistreated me,” Sam said. “My first boss discriminated against me because I was a female and he told me only the boys were allowed to have fun at work. After seeing all those bad examples, I just wanted to be a better boss and business owner and hopefully one day [Castillo’s Craftycles] will be the business that takes us there.”
Castillo’s Craftycles began as a hobby for Brenda, who was simply looking for a way to fill her time. While Brenda says her first flower came out horrible, Sam says her mother has always been ambitious and determined, so one failed attempt was not enough to stop her.
Inspired by the challenge and the idea of helping the environment, Brenda practiced and assessed her strengths and weaknesses, showing her projects to friends for critiques. Once people began showing an interest in Brenda’s work, the mother and daughter duo saw one last opportunity to fulfill their dream of operating a business together.
“This is our truth [and] it’s more than a passion, it’s one of our last shots,” Sam said. “It became a passion because we, as a family, never really got the top end of the stick and [Castillo’s Craftycles] caught our eyes differently and gave us hope. There were a lot of people that told us this was dumb, and we wanted to prove them wrong; [but] it’s like a dream come true even though we still have room to grow.”
After gaining some traction, the Castillo women began asking friends and family to bring them recycled materials including cans, newspapers and paper towel rolls. Sam joked that her boyfriend drank so many Monsters and Dr. Peppers at the time that he could practically supply their material needs on his own.
Getting recycled materials from friends wasn’t enough to satisfy their desire to help the ocean, and the women began picking up bottles and cans they found in the community. Continuing this practice today, Sam claimed to be the bigger “tree hugger” of the two, but Brenda matched her daughter’s enthusiasm for helping the planet.
“We are the ones that are putting plastic in the ocean, so we should be the ones that need to take that stuff out,” Brenda said. “If I can help a little bit by making a couple flowers with two or three cans then it’s not going to be killing animals somewhere and hopefully one day people will be more interested in that.”
The women are always looking for new crafts and ways to use new materials, even going so far as to save and recycle the scraps they can’t use for products. Brenda said it’s also important to them to keep their products affordable because they understand the economy and want to meet everyone’s needs.
Sam spoke with passion explaining that her family has struggled financially on multiple occasions and that Castillo’s Craftycles has become more than a pipe dream to her and her mother. After overcoming the doubts of many people, Sam crediting much of the business’ success to her mother’s driven personality, which provided an example for Sam to never give up.
“My mom is my superhero,” Sam said, making her mother emotional. “Against all odds, she has been the strongest image for me to never give up, to always have hope [and] to keep looking forward because no matter what our situation is, she’s always trying to be the rock. She just never stops and that’s something I will always look up to her for.”
Choked up, Brenda echoed sentiments of her daughter saying the two are best friends even though they often bump heads. She said Sam often sees things in a different way than she does and that she loves learning from her daughter.
Sam laughed at the mention of bumping heads and said working with her mother could be quite the experience sometimes, but both women decided they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Sam is my best friend, so we always bump heads, but we always end up complimenting each other,” Brenda said. “I always ask her and my son questions about what they think and working with them, having their opinions, to me it’s the best thing [because] my kids are my best treasure. I do everything for them and one day if this business takes off, it will be for them.”
While Castillo’s Craftycles can be found at numerous craft shows throughout the year, those interested can also visit their Facebook page to see samples and make orders. For the holiday season, Brenda is excited to be making poinsettia baskets, which will sell for about $15 and feature recycled cans and newspapers as well as some natural elements like pinecones.
Still awestruck by the small successes of their business, the Castillo women dream of one day opening a storefront complete with employees. For now, Sam and Brenda are overwhelmed with the joy of knowing they can bring smiles to their customers and help the environment, all while doing something they love.
“My mom is the hardest critic for herself [and] she doesn’t see the full beauty of the crafts she makes,” Sam said. “It’s all handmade and she doesn’t see how beautiful it is so to hear other people say ‘wow, your stuff is amazing,’ and for people to reach out to us because we’re different, it’s amazing.”