How UC Davis students are continuing to promote second-hand shopping in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis
The California Aggie spoke to Cowtown Closet, a clothing donation and upcycling store, as part of our Shop Sustainably series which highlights a green business local to Davis each month.
Since the start of the pandemic, people have turned to online shopping more than ever for essentials, normal seasonal shopping and even quarantine boredom-induced splurges. Because of this uptick in online consumption, sustainability and upcycling initiative groups have had to find new ways to get people to look for more sustainable shopping practices. Inspired by the Aggie Trading Post, a club on campus that promotes sustainable fashion, a group of UC Davis students have created Cowtown Closet to continue the reselling, upcycling and swapping of clothes in a world where physical interaction has been diminished.
Frankie Veverka, a third-year human development major and sustainability minor, and the financial chair of Cowtown Closet, explained that, when the pandemic hit, she wanted to continue what the Aggie Trading Post had been doing with its quarterly clothing swaps.
“Cowtown Closet [is] an organization that some of us who were involved in Aggie Trading Post brought up so we can still promote sustainable fashion in the times of COVID without any physical interaction,” Veverka said.
The club members came together when classes went online to brainstorm ideas so that they could continue to cycle clothes in and out of students’ closets. Zoe Slipper, a third-year international relations major and the president of Cowtown Closet, said that the format of the organization was inspired by a trading post at UC Santa Barbara.
“The Isla Vista trading post in Santa Barbara […] actually started a trading post before us, and that was a huge influence on us for doing something virtually,” Slipper said. “Basically we just took their idea. It’s something that a couple different campuses are doing right now.”
Cowtown Closet, which publicly launched this Fall Quarter, shares the same mission as the original Aggie Trading Post clothing swaps last year, Slipper explained.
“Cowtown Closet [is designed for] upcycling clothing and giving people the opportunity to trade out clothing that they don’t use, in order to promote a healthier alternative to engaging in fast fashion,” Slipper said.
The closet operates by selling clothing in incremental posts on Instagram. They post a handful of items bi-weekly at generally $2-5 a piece, and their products are sold on a first come, first serve basis. Followers of their Instagram account can directly message the account to request a piece. Once the transaction goes through, customers are given a pickup location and time, where their item will be sitting on a table outside, labeled, so that no face-to-face interaction occurs.
According to Fran Neill, a third-year plant sciences major, the pandemic has forced them to adjust their practices in ways that have made it a more time-consuming process. She also said that, because they are continuing their clothing swaps virtually, they have had to rely a lot more on social media to get people involved, which has been difficult.
“It’s a lot more work in certain ways,” Neill said. “Also, just because we are starting something new with the closet, we have very few followers. We had more people attending the in-person things and that’s going to come with time, but we can’t sell stuff if people aren’t following the page. That’s our biggest obstacle at this point which I’m sure everyone who’s starting [a business] faces.”
Slipper agreed with Neill, sharing that it has been harder to get as many people involved with the virtual swaps. She said, however, that one way they have changed their practices—transitioning from a clothing trade to a clothing purchase—has actually been helpful to the community.
“We changed it up a little bit so that we were able to make donations,” Slipper said. “Last year it was all free, which I totally support because I like it when there’s no money involved and we can just do things to help our environment and community, but we realized it is going to help our community even more if we get contributions.”
The closet is committed to donating 100% of proceeds from the clothing to a local charity, currently Empower Yolo, which “provides services for individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking and child abuse.” They plan on changing their organizations throughout the year.
Veverka said that, at the end of the day, they want to continue their clothing swaps to help the community and promote sustainable fashion in Davis, making the extra work worthwhile.
“When we were first sorting clothes we had so many and I just wanted to donate these to Goodwill and get in new stuff but the whole point of this is that we want to give people on campus a place where they can get clothes from other people on campus so it’s more of a college scene,” Veverka said. “Going into Goodwill there’s a huge array of clothes and it’s very overwhelming versus walking into Cowtown Closet. There’ll generally be clothes that are closer to your size and the trends.”
Slipper reiterated this point, emphasizing that the goal of the closet is just to make sustainable shopping more accessible and appealing to college students. She shared that the mission of the closet, at its core, is to help teach people how to shop in more sustainable ways.
“We try to fight fast fashion, and our mission is to be sustainable for the health of our environment, which is something that takes time,” Slipper said. “We aren’t just selling something to get money, we’re doing this to make a change. We want our community to understand that what they’re doing by buying from us and donating to us is making a bigger difference.”
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org