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How the UNC community is combatting fast fashion and promoting thrifting

Soirée Style in Chapel Hill allows customers to check prices of consignment items by scanning QR codes with their app.

Alleviating the effects of fast fashion, sharing styled looks and providing a platform for women at UNC to rent clothing. Sophomore Kendall Harrow brought these goals to fruition with the Facebook page UNC Style Switch.  

“My inspiration for this account was realizing the repetition within everyone’s closets because most of us at UNC shop the same brands and go to events with the same themes,” Harrow said.

Harrow created the page on Oct. 18 as a way for people to post clothes to rent and for students to facilitate their own transactions. As of Nov. 11, there were 776 followers.  

“With social media, there is pressure to not re-wear outfits, especially when posting pictures, so this leads people to buy even more clothes, which leads to more waste because people are not re-wearing things,” Harrow said.

The economic convenience of fast fashion and a constant supply of new looks are draws for buying new clothes, which in turn leads to further harming the environment, Harrow said.

“Realistically, we have to think that people aren’t going to completely stop shopping at these fast fashion brands, so instead, if everyone starts thrifting more, or sharing their clothes, that would mitigate the waste and less people would have to buy from fast fashion brands,” Harrow said. “It is not about stopping (fast fashion) altogether, but about doing what we can right now and being realistic about it.”

Harrow said she wanted to bring the concept of Rent the Runway to a smaller, more accessible scale for college students. She said she would like to expand the page to other college campuses and hopes the UNC page will reach 2,000 followers by the end of the academic year.

She has been reaching out in class and community Facebook pages and through word of mouth, especially to her sorority sisters in Pi Beta Phi. Harrow said the sorority community is using the page a lot to rent dresses for events.

Women in sororities also make up much of the customer base at Soirée Style. Located in the bottom of Shortbread Lofts, Soirée is a thrift boutique that recently opened. 

Shaun Pack, president of Soirée, created a space with racks of clothes and changing rooms, but there is no cash register. Instead interactions occur directly between sellers and buyers through the Soirée Style app. Sellers post items on the app and bring them into the store where buyers scan a barcode attached to the item in order to purchase it.

“We really feel like we are powered by Chapel Hill,” Pack said.

To give back to the community, Pack is donating all operating profits from September and October to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in light of events of sexual assault in Chapel Hill and specifically at Shortbread Lofts. Pack estimated a donation of $2,000-$3,000.

Pack said pricing has been a challenge. Encouraging sellers to price items based on what buyers are willing to pay is different than some re-sale businesses. The average price range is less than $20 at Soirée and Pack said as the market understands the value of their clothes, the price average should skew upwards of $50.

Overall, Pack said he has received positive responses, and he said he hopes future locations will also represent their communities.

“We have the opportunity to take a marketplace that has been environmentally ignorant, but also is ignorant to culture and body positivity and shift that in a way that better reflects the market place we operate it,” Pack said.

Growing up rummaging through thrift stores and garage sales, sophomore Helen Johnston said she loves to see community reflected in used clothes. The accumulations of work wear, artsy goods and an array of apparel can create statements of affluence or of specific cultures that are tied to people in the area.

Johnston is a self-claimed avid thrift shopper and supporter.

In a global studies class called social change in times of crisis, Johnston researched the power of thrifting. She spoke with representatives for the PTA Thrift Shop and spoke with several students on the topic.

Johnston said her findings were consistent — thrift stores can be representative of their communities. International clothes and objects are testimonies to the large immigrant population in Durham, for example.

In Chapel Hill, Johnston said there are several ways to get used clothing. Johnston said sharing amongst friends, taking advantage of stores like the PTA and joining pages like “Girls Selling Shit” on Facebook are all ways that make reusing accessible in the area.

International brands like Patagonia, REI, Urban Outfitters and Macy’s are jumping on board the reusing bandwagon. Patagonia and REI both have resale sites, Worn Wear and Used Gear Beta, respectively.

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URBN, a corporation that owns Urban Outfitters, Free People, Anthropologie and three other stores, has created a new business called Nuuly to rent clothes from the aforementioned stores.   People can rent six items from Nuuly for $88 a month.

In August 2019, Macy’s began reselling clothes from ThredUp at 40 locations in hopes of reaching new audiences.

The second-hand apparel market was valued at US $28 billion in May 2019, up from $11 billion in 2012. This number is predicted to be $51 billion in four years according to a Statista report.

A rise in social media, open mindedness and the want for distinguishing uniqueness are sources Johnston said may be related to a growth in thrifting and reusing clothes. While Johnston said she wished environmental consciousness was the primary reason behind thrifting, she believes the popularity of thrifting is derived from desire to stand out.

Still, Johnston predicts conscious consumerism will only grow in popularity.

“Just like people are thoughtful about what they put in their bodies, people will be more thoughtful about what we put on their bodies,” Johnston said.