If you’ve been following along with the Thrift 2 Fight Instagram, you’ll notice there’s an exciting project in the works. If you don’t follow the T2F Instagram yet, stop reading this article for a couple seconds and go check it out!
Over the past few weeks, the members of the team have undertaken a massive effort to create a physical store as a more permanent home for Thrift 2 Fight, with help from friends and community members. Selecting paint colors, painting, removing bookshelves, repairing the walls, filling in cracks, and breathing new life into a building which sits nestled in the heart of Tivoli, the T2F team has been in a whirlwind of activity. This project entails plenty of physical labor, but there’s so much more than that at stake.
With my curiosity piqued by the content I’ve been seeing, I sat down for a Zoom call with Jillian, one of the Thrift 2 Fight co-founders, on a brisk Tuesday evening. From the comfort of her home in Tivoli, she sat perched on her couch, a lacy window curtain fluttering behind her. Her adorable pup appeared on camera a few times, seemingly eager to participate in the conversation. After exchanging pleasantries, we shared an informal interview and conversation. I am so excited to bring you some of the ideas and information which we discussed.
Before digging into any minutiae, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate the journey which this project has already taken. Only 18 months ago, Jillian, Masha, and other like minded friends were selling clothes from their own closets on porches in informal sales in Tivoli and around the Hudson Valley. These grassroots efforts enabled them to contribute financially to the Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund in June of 2020. “In June 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was finally getting the attention which it deserved and urgently needed from more people than ever before. We wanted to contribute to the movement,” explained Jillian.
Last summer, there were two primary methods of engagement and contribution to the movement: monetary support and marching in the streets. Jillian and her friends lacked the financial means to make contributions, and, living outside of a city during a pandemic created accessibility challenges to attending some protests.
“We created these sales as a means of generating funds with the secondhand clothes that were already in our closets and our friends’ closets. Once we realized that this was a real funding mechanism, which could be harnessed, with so many clothes that are already in peoples’ closets all over the Hudson Valley and so many people who are excited to thrift shop, we decided to do more sales.”
After little over a year in existence, Thrift 2 Fight has completed 28 sales, raising and donating over $42,000 to grassroots organizations which advanced racial justice, queer liberation, and disability rights. Time has proven the efficacy and power of the pop-up model which T2F has employed during this time. However, “we wanted to create something more permanent because we’ve had trash bags of clothes in our cars for this whole year and a half.” Jillian laughed uneasily, but I’ve seen the photo evidence of just how much merchandise is cruising around the Hudson Valley on any given day with her.
Thrift 2 Fight has existed as a somewhat transient organization. People have loaned space for clothing storage and pop-up sales, but this creates a certain instability as T2F searches for a space in which the organization can really grow. With this in mind, the team started the hunt for the perfect retail and community gathering location. Originally, they imagined opening in Kingston. They scoured the listings in town and spent hours investigating their options. Then, serendipitously enough, Jillian caught wind of a listing in Tivoli.
“We called the property management company the day that the listing opened. We were so desperate to find a space that would work for us”. Jillian’s voice rose with excitement as she recounted the enthusiasm with which she offered to rush to a showing as soon as the agent could meet her. The leasing agent, however, assured her that the property would last a few days at least. Jillian, Masha, and Collin viewed the space a few days later, and the rest is history. “This space will offer us so much room to do so many things that we want to do with Thrift 2 Fight. Selling clothes online and in person, doing screen printing, and hosting so many different events.”
This building offers more than a beautiful space for Thrift 2 Fight to grow. Nestled in the heart of Tivoli, the new store has, at various points in the town’s history, served as the town hall, the town library, and a bookstore. “It’s always been such an important spot in this town,” and T2F will be breathing new life and purpose into the space.
I then asked a question which I would not broach with most interview subjects. Most people have such an aversion to speaking about money, but Thrift 2 Fight is built on radical transparency, so I dove into the financial details. From the start, they have been “scrappy,” in Jillian’s words. The founders received micro-grants from the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard to supplement their living expenses while volunteering full-time for T2F – instead, they invested this money into the early business expenses of T2F, allowing them to streamline their pop-up sales and expand their inventory through essentials like clothing racks and price tags. This funding also enabled T2F to incorporate as a public benefit corporation. (If you aren’t familiar, click here for a quick definition.)
Since then, in addition to small donations from customers throughout the year, Thrift 2 Fight has secured five investors, four of whom are local to the Hudson Valley. These investors provide an invaluable resource as they are “personally invested in what T2F can be for this community. Our work will really be enabled by investment from people who really get what we are doing and the vast potential of the donations that we are going to be able to make, the source of affordable clothing, and all the other things we are going to be able to create.”
Now that I understood how they found and financed the space, I steered Jillian toward the topic which has been most featured on the Thrift 2 Fight Instagram feed of late: the improvements to the space. This storefront, previously a purveyor of books, needed a little renovation. Historic bookshelves encircled the main room, the largest of the three which comprise the new home of T2F. While a few will stay as storage space, they could not use all of them.
As I work for a construction company, I can attest that usually renovations involve a “demo day” in which the old is broken into manageable pieces and removed. This process, though efficient, is not sustainable or respectful of the history, beauty, or utility of that which is being cast aside as waste. Rather than smash these bookshelves to smithereens and discard them, Thrift 2 Fight worked with the help of volunteers to carefully repair and remove the bookshelves. They have been safely rehomed at various departments at Bard College as well as in one of the Bard Prison Initiative locations. Though a slower process, this enabled T2F to contribute valuable items which did not fit their needs to organizations to whom they would be useful. “If opening the store were our only objective, we could have just hacked them off the wall and thrown them in a dumpster,” Jillian remarked. She credits Paul Marianthal, director of the Bard Trustee Leader Scholar program, who volunteered his time to breathe fresh purpose into these “special and beautiful shelves.”
With the bookshelves gone, the team faced the task of repairing the walls and floors, patching, filling in cracks, and painting. Up next, the team will be turning their attention to preparing the dressing rooms, as well as one of their greatest challenges with the space – creating an accessible entrance. “Because this is such an old building, we are not required to comply with ADA accessibility. But we aren’t trying to be accessible just to fulfill some legal criteria. It’s our priority to be inclusive.” In planning this space, the team is choosing to invest the time, capital, and energy in ensuring that the space will allow all customers to visit comfortably. This is still a work in progress, and “…it’s been an exercise in advocacy and persistence, as well as really having to prioritize and allocate funding,” in part due to legal and civic codes which have hindered what should be a basic necessity.
I invite Jillian to look ahead, past the work which must be done before the opening, and she shares the many exciting activities which she and the T2F team have in mind for this space. “There will be a large and rotating selection of clothes. People will always be able to come in and find something in a wide variety of sizes and styles.” In addition, keep your eyes out for a fashion show, collaborative upcycling events, discussions on local social justice issues, and so much more.
One of the great features in the new store is a bar space, outfitted with gorgeous thrifted barstools and room for additional lounge furniture. This space could become a pop up smoothie, tea, or coffee bar. T2F might host evening events with signature cocktails. It might become a gathering place for a book discussion or poetry slam. “The community surrounding us will tell us what they want that space to be for, and I am really looking forward to seeing how that shapes up as we continue to sell clothes and donate to great organizations.”
Above all else, Jillian hopes that the new Thrift 2 Fight store will be “fun.” From the second you see the bright pink door, you know you’re going to have a good time inside. This will be a place where people can come to hang out and shop. This will be a place where “shopping doesn’t have to fill us with existential dread,” remarked Jillian with a laugh. Though the mood of the conversation is light and casual, I caught exactly what she meant. This store will offer a wide array of clothing styles and sizes. This store will offer environmentally friendly clothing options at affordable prices. This store will be a space to spread the news about causes, to gather, and to have fun. This store will be a safe space to interface with our perceptions of self, to try new styles, and to discover new ways of expressing and understanding ourselves through clothes. This store will invite shoppers to engage with their community, to learn, and to make change happen. This store will be, in many ways, the opposite of the experience which fast fashion retailers have so carefully cultivated over decades.
Inside this space, shoppers will find two dressing rooms withs great lighting and a selfie corner. For those who want to provide support to friends who are shopping but don’t want to shop themselves, comfortable seating near the dressing room will provide a place to relax and hangout. “Clothing is such an integral part of how we present ourselves to the world,” remarked Jillian. This store will be a safe place to explore a new way of interacting with self perception and the act of being a consumer. Shoppers will be able to act with their dollars, as 10% of all purchases made in the store will be donated to local grassroots organizations working at the intersections of racial and disability justice, and queer liberation.
Jillian describes “Centering those values along with being affordable, sustainable, and inclusive while taking up space in the middle of a town in the Hudson Valley is an important thing.” Shoppers at Thrift 2 Fight will also have the opportunity to learn about the organizations with which T2F works and perhaps get involved at a level which makes sense for their lives.
Though a popular narrative casts brick and mortar stores as a thing of the past, anachronistic in the era of online shopping, Jillian reminds me that research has shown that Gen Z shoppers prefer shopping in person. Moving away from the pop-up model will also make shopping in person at T2F more convenient for people whose work schedules did not mesh with the weekend pop-up sales. This new space will allow shoppers to come and browse the collection of clothes at times which will work for their work schedules. Jillian takes care to note that the store will be open on Mondays which will allow those in the service industry the opportunity to shop.
If you, like me, are wondering when the doors of this store will open, ready to welcome shoppers, activists, and members of the community, look no further. At this time, T2F is planning to open its doors on December 16th. This will allow the storefront to be ready for people who are looking to do some holiday shopping as well as to catch Bard students before they might leave campus for the holidays. Keep your eyes peeled on the newsletter and Instagram for more announcements as the opening date grows closer.
A huge thank you to Jillian for taking time to answer my questions and share the exciting plan in the works for this space.
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.