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Live for the thrift of it all

A Goodwill employee surveils her aisle.
A Goodwill employee surveils her aisle.

Every college student eventually faces that moment when, standing in front of their dismal closet, they give up searching for the perfect outfit and brace their wallets for a redesign.

But college students can easily afford quality and even popular name-brand items at thrift shops just outside their own campus — franchises like Plato’s Closet and Goodwill style the community while also helping customers in need.

Ruth Cole, the store manager of Goodwill in Oxford, Ohio, mostly encounters college students and elderly people at her location. They usually shop for things like purses, houseware and clothes to suit the season.

Best of all, a whole 75% of her clothing selection is donated by good Samaritans in Oxford. Every day, Cole or one of her attendants greets them at the doors of the Donation Center, then sorts their bins or bags into categories in the backroom and has the producer canvas and price it all within two to four days.

“We have some freedom, so we put a lot of Miami [University] stuff out because that’s one of our top sellers,” Cole said. “We utilize everything that we can.”

Photo by Jessica Monahan | The Miami Student
There are always sales at Goodwill.

Whatever fails the floor test, Cole sends back to the main office of the Tri-County Goodwill plant. If a week passes without the product selling there, it gets recycled once more into bulk supply for stuffed animals or merchandise overseas.

Students like first-year psychology and art therapy double major Avery Smith, however, hope to never let a good look go. She visits smaller thrift shops in her hometown but especially bets on Goodwill because of its quantity of choices. 

Smith makes the trip once or twice a week with a friend and spends the whole day out, averaging two hours in each store and approximately a $40 high on apparel and accessories. This way, she covers more area by perusing every single aisle, especially the stuffed animal one.

“Treasure hunting for clothes is so fun,” Smith said. “You never know what you’re gonna miss.” 

Photo by Evan Stefanik | The Miami Student
Goodwill sells plenty of donated clothes.

She first started experimenting with thrifting four years ago when she locked eyes with a few crewneck sweatshirts. In the meantime, she runs a Depop, creates style boards on Pinterest and stays up to date on trends. 

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Despite gearing toward a goth aesthetic in her own thrift experiences now, in 2022 she found a great prom dress for her friend at much cheaper than its $500 retail markup. Smith prefers thrifting rather than department stores, partly because her shoes still hold up so well for their low cost, as well as its appealing process.

“I’m not a fan of fast fashion. Thrifting is more sustainable,” Smith said. “I’ve never had a problem with the clothes I’ve thrifted.”

When not in the buying mood, Smith donates or sells things from her closet once they fall out of her interest or after a year. So does junior inclusive special education major Sydney Reynolds, who sifts through her wardrobe every time she returns home.

Photo by Evan Stefanik | The Miami Student
A few customers check out at the Goodwill counter.

Reynolds always offers a pick to her 16-year-old cousin as a hand-me-down before she drops it all off for its new life. Afterward, she heads to Plato’s Closet to earn back half of what it purchases from her and leaves the remainder to Goodwill.

“I just grab some stuff together that looks like someone else would wear it,” Reynolds said.

One of her best sales earned her $115. She tends to fold the undamaged shirts and Air Forces, Converse and Vans shoes she hardly wears anymore into two to three big baskets, but also brings out numbers from storage during fall and winter breaks.

“I feel safe about the fact that I know they’re going to someone who needs it and will be happy,” Reynolds said.

Sometimes, Reynolds drives down to the Boys & Girls Clubs in Cincinnati to donate clothes. More locally, students like Reynolds might explore donating to or collecting from the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion’s Open Door Clothes Closet and Miami student body president Nyah Smith’s developing career-clothing resource.

Thrifting thrives in all forms – so Miami students should seize the chance to dress themselves up at their neighborhood Goodwill, before someone else snatches the most unforgettable item.

Photo by Jessica Monahan | The Miami Student
The check-out counter is busy most hours of the day.