CORAL GABLES, Fla. — For these college students, there’s one word that can really draw a crowd: free.
“It's a lot of give and take all day,” said student Anna Coon. “It's all free clothing for anyone who comes. It can be students, staff, or anyone who is just visiting.”
Coon is also president of UThrift, student organization at the University of Miami, a city is known for trendy fashion.
“I think Miami definitely has a lot of fashion in it,” she said.
With fashion, though, and specifically, cheaper “fast fashion,” which is often sold in malls and shopping centers, there can be a lot of waste.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water on the planet. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce just one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans.
Of all the microplastics in the ocean, 35% of them come from washing synthetic clothing, like polyester. The fashion industry is also responsible for about 10% of all carbon emissions on Earth.
“I know that the fashion industry has like a very heavy toll on our environment,” said Sofia Mesa, a student at UM and sustainability director of UThrift. “And, you know, we're kind of getting all of this like advertising constantly that we need new things that needs to be trendy and needs to be cool and needs to be hip.”
The average piece of fast fashion clothing is worn only seven times before it’s thrown away.
So, a couple of years ago, students at University of Miami decided to try and extend the life-cycle of clothing by forming UThrift. They collect clothing donations from the university community and give them away for free at a weekly open air market on campus.
“We have like an overfilled amount of stuff, even just like what's out there isn't all the stuff we have,” Coon said. “Just this semester, we've gotten over 3,000 donations and we get about like a hundred people coming to the stand.”
For students, it’s a win-win: they get a wardrobe refresh for free and help the environment in the process.
“My shirt and my shorts right now are both thrifted from here,” said Emma Miller, a student and UThrift member. “Personally, I didn't know much about sustainability and fast fashion previously, until I talked to somebody here and I realized it was something that I wanted to be a part of.”
Students say it can be rewarding to see their work in action.
“You kind of get to see like maybe you dropped off something the other week and then you have a friend that's wearing it around campus the next week, and you can kind of see it repurposed in its own way,” Mesa said.
It’s a concept they hope students at other universities around the country can feel empowered to try and do, too.
“It pretty much started just from one girl being like, ‘Hey, I want to do this’ and asking a bunch of her friends to donate a couple of things and just yelling out 'Free clothes!' like in the middle of campus,” Coon said. “It's fun and it's easy and it's free and our school pretty much loves it.”
Several other universities around the country have adopted similar thrifting programs on campus, though most charge a small fee for the clothing they offer.