Tiny Thrift Store created in Colonial basement to help curb “fast fashion”

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Tiny Thrift Store created in Colonial basement to help curb “fast fashion”

A student walks by the Tiny Thrift Store in the basement of Colonial residence hall. Photo credit: Montse Landeros

A student walks by the Tiny Thrift Store in the basement of Colonial residence hall. Photo credit: Montse Landeros

A student walks by the Tiny Thrift Store in the basement of Colonial residence hall. Photo credit: Montse Landeros

A student walks by the Tiny Thrift Store in the basement of Colonial residence hall. Photo credit: Montse Landeros

By Taina Millsap, Living Arts Editor

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After years of being surrounded by nature as a Boy Scout and accidentally stumbling upon the environmental studies minor, junior Ben French decided to create a small thrift store on campus to help students avoid shopping at big chains that support fast fashion.

French’s project, called the Tiny Thrift Store, consists of a cabinet in the Colonial basement next to the building’s laundry room. There, he said students can donate and pick up clothes and shoes for free to avoid supporting fast fashion and help steer Emerson toward a more environmentally conscious campus.

“What you literally do is go down to the Colonial basement and take whatever clothes and shoes you have and just put them in the cabinet, and you’re welcome to look around at any time of day,” French said in an interview. “If you find anything you like you’re welcome to take it. You don’t even necessarily have to donate clothes to take anything.”

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In fall 2018, French started brainstorming the idea with his advisor, Campus Sustainability Manager Cathy Liebowitz. French said they set up the Tiny Thrift Store around two months later.

As an eco-representative at Emerson, French’s job is to create sustainable projects that improve campus life. French met his advisor, Liebowitz, while working as an eco-rep and decided to make the project a reality.

“Working with campus services as an [eco-rep], we’re looking for a way to go from administrative things and overall college practices to a way to get the students excited and involved in sustainability and make it as accessible and fun in a directly beneficial way as possible,” French said.

French is in the process of promoting his project by placing posters around campus to ensure students take advantage of the thrift store.

As a co-president of the Emerson Green Collective, an organization composed of small environmental groups on campus, French described the Tiny Thrift Store as a “sister initiative” to the Emerson food cam. French said he will post photos of the cabinet whenever new clothes come in, similar to what the Emerson food cam does with food, so students know what to look for.

“Sustainability in general has been important to me my whole life, one of the first classes I took here was the Eco-Warriors class,” French said. “It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to underline because it’s kind of incredibly unrelated to my major in a lot of ways. I’m majoring in sound design but I think that as you get all these technical skills, it’s also important to have something that you care about a lot so you have something to use those skills to stand for.”

Liebowitz helped French find a space and a cabinet to store the clothes while offering additional guidance during the process of setting up the Tiny Thrift Store.

“I had [French] put together a proposal with a budget, marketing, the basics,” Liebowitz said in an interview. “He talked to campus stakeholders, [and] reached out to [Associate Director for Housing Operations] Kendra Stokes.”

Liebowitz said all the clothes in the cabinet are reusable. Liebowitz said she encourages students with old clothes that can’t be reused to dispose of them at Allen’s Alley, located behind Little Building, in a white bin designated for textile recycling.

“There’s a lot of clothes with the tags still on it going into the Tiny Thrift Store, so being able to take that usable clothing and just giving it to someone else in the community is really helpful,” Liebowitz said.

For students who are not familiar with thrifting or recycling clothes, Liebowitz said the project provides a simple alternative to going off campus.

“It’s a very easy access point for a lot of students who maybe aren’t thinking about sustainability,” Liebowitz said.

Jon Honea, an assistant professor focused on environmental change, said French’s project helps reduce the purchase of cheap clothing items, which consumers often have to replace quickly.

“Ben’s project is a huge contribution because it gives people a mechanism to reuse clothing and have their own clothing reused,” Honea said in an interview. “He’s a former student of mine so I was really proud of him when I heard that he had done this.”

Honea said the project also contributes to the minimization of each student’s individual carbon footprint and waste production.

“It’s really straight forward, it’s like reducing meat in your diet,” Honea said. “It’s a concrete thing that individuals can do to reduce their materials and energy footprint.”

Liebowitz and French have no plans for the Tiny Thrift Store to expand more than its current size but are open to future conversations about growth if it becomes necessary.

“If we collaborate with anybody, it’ll probably be at the swap and shop at the end of each year, which is essentially just a huge version of the Tiny Thrift Store,” French said.

French hopes more students use the Tiny Thrift Store and become more conscious of their purchases.

“I want it to be a staple that all Emerson students know about and can go to if they need to,” French said. “I don’t think it necessarily needs to expand, at least not at the moment. It’s more about making more people aware of it.”