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Thrifting and reselling provides campus with avenues for sustainable life

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First-year Naomi Major and sophomore Redding Thomas pose for a portrait at the Pit on Oct. 26, 2022. Thrift Flippedd is a new thrift store on campus aiming to teach and practice sustainable fashion.

Ellie Maltzahn, a junior at UNC, has worked in the resale and consignment industry for nearly five years — but last year, she realized that she could take her passion for reselling clothing beyond the workplace. 

At her job, Maltzahn found herself drawn to items that her company turned away. She realized she needed another outlet where she could sell items that she thought were valuable. 

“I started just collecting things because I love thrifting and I love the Goodwill bins — I think it's just really fun,” Maltzahn said.

On her Depop store, smelliethrifts, she resells both items from her own closet and clothing that she’s thrifted specifically to resell. 

For her, Depop is not a full-time job, but a hobby she picks up during the summer or throughout the school year when time allows. Maltzahn said she always tries to make a small profit — typically between $10 and $20 — but ultimately prices pieces depending on what condition they’re in. 

Junior Cynthia Tran also has experience reselling pre-loved and thrifted clothing. In 2022, she founded Tarheel Thrifts, a philanthropy-based clothing thrift store whose profits are donated to charities.

“It grew into an organization where I would collect donations from the campus community or even people in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle area,” Tran said. “They would donate their clothes and I would sell them and then donate [all of the profit] into charity.” 

Tran said she is currently on a hiatus, but during her active period, she earned and donated over $1,200 to organizations including the Carolina Abortion Fund, Save the Children Afghanistan and United Way Ukraine. 

Like Maltzahn, Tran said that her pricing depended on the condition and trendiness of the pieces she had to sell. For her, keeping the pricing fair and affordable was important.

“I was very aware consciously of the ethics behind that,” she said. “And I know if I were to run into a thrifted piece for a very cheap value, I would feel really sad selling it for so high.”

Carolina Thrift is a student-run nonprofit at UNC that aims to encourage socially responsible consumerism in the area.

Lacy McKee, the organization's senior adviser, said because there aren’t many thrift stores within walking distance of campus, Carolina Thrift has become a way for students to get involved with thrifting.

“It’s about being a resource for students on campus and off campus,” she said. “To be able to contribute to our initiative and kind of keep the items that students donate within the system at school instead of taking it to Goodwill or another thrift store that’s inaccessible for a lot of students.” 

Like Maltzahn’s Depop store and Tarheel Thrifts, Carolina Thrift resells some of their items for profit. A majority of their proceeds go toward their sustainability fund, which is donated to students and student-run organizations who are interested in hosting a sustainable project.

The Carolina Thrift Sustainability Fund has supported projects such as UNC Environmental Honors Fraternity Epsilon Eta’s plogging initiative, which brings students together to collect litter while jogging through campus. The funding allowed the initiative to grow their social media presence and to access sustainable disposal sites.

McKee said that outside of Carolina Thrift, she has experience reselling clothing for profit. 

“Because I thrift almost all of my clothes, over time, if I don’t like something anymore or I never really wore it, I’ll sell it then,” she said. “So it’s not really because I see something and I’m going ‘cha-ching.’” 

Although she’s resold clothing for profit in the past, McKee said she takes issue with resellers who price items with extreme markups. 

“I think sometimes the upselling can get really ridiculous, in my opinion,” she said. “I see things that just — it doesn’t make sense why it’s being priced so high. Especially shirts that will have a stain on them, but will be like ‘No, it’s Y2K.'” 

Across their various experiences, Maltzahn, Tran and McKee all have one goal in common: promoting ethical consumerism.

To Tran, an ethical consumer is someone who is aware of where their clothing comes from, and who considers the socio-economic and moral contexts of their purchases. 

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Maltzahn said that as a college student, she understands the convenience of fast fashion but sees resale as an opportunity to start a movement of more circularity — or, reusing rather than wasting —  in the textile industry. 

"People have a hard time thinking about the long-term impacts of what they do," McKee said. "Because it is kind of daunting to think about and a lot of people feel like they don't have a lot of control." 

Reselling clothing, she said, can be a way to develop a sense of control over her role as a consumer and follow through with the ethical intentions she has set for herself. 

“I think that ethical consumerism is different for everyone,” McKee said. “It’s going to be dependent on what your personal situation is, but I think for people who have the means to shop sustainably, in my opinion, they should do so.” 

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@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com