The Sustainability Office announced the opening of a free store on campus in an Instagram post on Friday, July 15. The store—named WesThrift after the Facebook page of the same title, where students sell used clothing and items—is located in the basement of the College of the Environment (COE) at 284 High St. After its grand opening on Friday, Sept. 9 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., the store’s regular hours of operation will be 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Eco Facilitators and WesThrift co-founders Annie Volker ’24 and Debbra Goh ’24 were inspired to begin this project after noticing the limitations of WasteNot, the University’s student-run tag sale. Though WasteNot is an effective way to reduce waste and provide affordable goods, it is only held once per year and cannot accept clothing donations. Volker and Goh sought to create a solution to these problems by ensuring that WesThrift is recurring, institutional, and able to take in what is rejected from WasteNot.
“A big part of what is being thrown out at the end of every academic year is clothes,” Goh said. “There were no mechanisms in place to capture that beyond informal student groups…like Facebook groups for thrift shopping amongst the student body. We also noticed that…shopping is a very big part of student culture, and it’s something that students were actively going off campus to do. So we thought that if we could bring that onto campus, [we would] be able to capture [more of] the waste generated by students.”
Volker noted that an on-campus store also reduces waste emitted from transporting used clothing off campus for sale.
“Another great thing about having a free store on campus is that our waste stream stays on campus,” Volker said. “Everything that people are getting rid of…doesn’t require transportation to all these different Goodwills [and] distribution centers…. It’s a zero-carbon footprint model, which is pretty cool to say.”
WesThrift is able to run because of donations from students. Anyone interested in donating can either drop by during store hours and give items to the Eco Facilitator on duty or place donations in the bin outside the store entrance. WesThrift is looking for gently used clothing, shoes, accessories, and small dorm essentials. It does not accept undergarments, socks, furniture, or appliances. Additionally, the Sustainability Office asks that students wash their items before donating and wear masks when inside the store.
“Our whole model of our store is going to be ‘take what you need, leave what you can,’” Volker said.
Alongside the environmentally conscious reasons for starting WesThrift, Volker and Goh also sought to increase the accessibility and equity of sustainability. Its location on campus ensures WesThrift is accessible for all students, regardless of whether or not they have a car. Additionally, Goh noted that making sure everything in the store is free is the only way to ensure everyone has equal access to the items.
“I strongly believe that environmental justice and sustainability are fundamentally intertwined,” Goh said. “You cannot ever be a truly sustainable community if you don’t ensure that all members of the community have equal access to resources and have the support and services that they need.”
While on one hand, WesThrift caters to the current popularity of thrifting for eco-friendly fashion, Volker and Goh keep equity at the heart of their project.
“At the root of our foundation, [first-generation/low-income (FGLI) students are] who we want to serve,” Volker said. “We wanna make sure that everyone has access to clothing… This whole kind of thrifting experience that a lot of people have… claimed as part of their identity… should be a space where everyone can gain access to clothing… and just feel good about themselves.”
This value inspired them to host a preview of WesThrift’s wares for FGLI students on Sunday, Sept. 5. Students in attendance remarked that the event was an opportunity to obtain winter clothes before the weather got colder.
“The vibes are good,” one student who asked to remain anonymous commented. “People here are really considerate. I’m so grateful for [the Sustainability Office] to have had this because I really needed a winter coat. Even coming from New York, Connecticut is a lot more unbearable. So I’m grateful for [WesThrift].”
One of the most important steps in WesThrift’s opening was finding the initial clothing to stock the shelves with, so WesThrift partnered with the Resource Center (RC). Volker explained that the RC used to hold clothing swaps, but, as these grew difficult to sustain, the RC was happy to help WesThrift take over this work.
“The Resource Center actually has been hosting clothing swaps for the past couple of years as a way to get the community involved and kind of [promote] sustainability,” Volker said. “They previously had a storage room dedicated for clothing that they could no longer use…. They gave us all this clothing…so everything [in WesThrift]…was brought together by the Resource Center.”
As WesThrift continues to grow as an institution, Volker and Goh hope to develop a partnership with the Gordon Career Center to organize a drive for formal and business-casual clothing that students can wear to internships and interviews. WesThrift also hopes to partner with Open House—the queer program house on campus—in hosting gender-affirming clothing swaps. Furthermore, once the free store has stabilized its footing on campus, Volker and Goh hope to open its doors to the greater Middletown community.
“In the future, we do look to work with Middletown and maybe have special events, because I think this is another great way to redistribute Wesleyan’s wealth to our Middletown community,” Volker said. “I think Wesleyan has a lot of resources that we can share with our community, and this is just another way to make that happen.”
Kat Struhar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org