Honors students promote fashion sustainability with creation of pop-up thrift shop
“Our group was brought together by a global issue interest of environmental sustainability,” said Tia Shum, marketing major and honors student. “As we brainstormed for future pitches, we noticed that ECU did not have anything on campus that was a donation clothing store or thrift store. When we thought of that unique idea, the ‘Pirate Swap’ was born.”
As part of their first year Honors colloquia class, students were tasked with seeking solutions to social and cultural problems on a smaller scale. While Pirate Swap originally started as a group of six — Blair Beaulieu, Macie Burcham, Lauren Garcia, Lawrence Newkirk, Shum and Anna Thomas — they quickly decided to partner with others interested in sustainability efforts.
“Since I was little, I’ve been going thrifting with my mom, and then it was something I bonded over with friends once I came to college, as something I enjoyed doing,” said Brielle Herlein, current Pirate Swap president and theatre arts major. “When I heard there was a group trying to get a thrift store on campus, I was like ‘Me, me me! I want to join!’ It’s a really accessible way for people to get involved with sustainability.”
Pirate Swap found a mentor and advisor in Chad Carwein, the university’s sustainability manager. The group started working with him from the very beginning, especially to learn more about how fast fashion is damaging the environment.
“I think their original goal was to try and combat fast fashion and how the fashion industry, especially over the last 20 to 25 years, has really gone to seasonal wardrobes,” Carwein said. “I showed them an example that I learned about at a recent conference that I attended at Coastal Carolina down in Myrtle Beach of a really successful pop-up thrift store model.”
The group held its third pop-up event during the university’s Earth Day festival on April 21. Prior to the event, they set up new donation bins across main campus, health sciences and a local apartment complex, The Jolly Roger. Part of the proceeds from previous sales went toward purchasing the branded donation bins. The profits not only helped with organizational needs, but also support the creation of new sustainability groups.
“Chad told us that whatever funding we contribute, he would put toward other up-and-coming clubs,” Herlein said. “We’re hoping that other new sustainability organizations will find it easier to get started because of this money that we’re putting into the fund.”
The group credits Carwein for helping them along the path of success.
“He’s such a champion of the Honors College groups,” Herlein said. “He’s a great mentor to all of these students who have all these ideas and are kind of scattered. He’s really great at getting a team to focus up and do what they need to do to move forward with their mission.”
With the idea of sustainability in mind, the group has begun the process to ensure that Pirate Swap continues even after they graduate. Recently, they became an official club and will begin outreach throughout the summer in preparation for meetings and growing the organization in the fall semester.
Pirate Swap’s effect on campus hasn’t gone unnoticed by the larger ECU community. During this year’s Student Engagement Awards ceremony, the organization took home the Outstanding New Organization of the Year award.
“It seems as if students are very passionate about thrifting, and professors are interested in helping sustainability on campus,” Shum said. “The amazing thing about this small project that started with just an idea is that it brings the ECU community together. It brings new styles to students, saving clothing waste, and most importantly, making a positive impact toward environmental sustainability as a college.”