When large-scale protests against police brutality broke out in the summer of 2020, the idea for Thrift 2 fight originated from a conversation between friends in the Hudson Valley. What followed was a series of pop-up clothing sales to raise money for social justice organizations, which merged into a model of supporting grassroots social change through the ethos of thrift, with a brand new thrift store in Tivoli, NY.
“We wanted to support local people in different ways,” says co-founder Masha Zabara, a Belarusian expat and bard dropout. “We all struggled to get to the protests for one reason or another. And neither of us had a lot of money in the bank. But we thought, ‘We’ve got to do some kind of sale.’ So we went into our closets, got a few things, threw them on my porch, and cost them very cheaply.” A bake sale, but make it fashion.
On a rainy day in June, Zabara and her friends Sarah Goldberg and Anna Siftar were expecting three or four people to show up for what they were going to call “Thrift 2 Fight Fascism.” But dozens stopped by to browse the clothing items on the porch in downtown Red Hook, and in one afternoon they raised $680 for protesters and black organizers in New York City. “Every single person who came to buy clothes was like, ‘Okay, when are you going to do that next?'” recalls Zabara. So they contacted a church in Red Hook and held the next sale on their lawn. The following was in a grocery store parking lot in Woodstock.
“Everyone who has come to our sales has expressed to us that it is very important to feel that they are contributing to some kind of change coupled with their lack of desire for new clothes or their disappointment with Goodwill and the Salvation Army,” says Zabara. “They wanted a fun way to get clothes without feeling bad about it. And not just buying another piece of disposable stuff.”
The team grew and included a host of friends and neighbors including Kristoff Lalicki, Collin Lewis, Jillian Reed, Elle Ricciardi and Danielle Luisa del Rosario. In all, the crew ran 15 more pop-up sales across the Hudson Valley, raising over $15,000 for organizations and activists across the country at the intersection of racial justice, queer liberation and disability rights. Towards the end of the summer, Zabara got the idea for a brick-and-mortar thrift store as they planned to put companies like Goodwill out of business.
In the fall, they reviewed a course in Bard’s sustainability MBA program taught by entrepreneur Alejandro Crafword. “I took it as an exercise to figure out if I would ever start a business and understand what that would involve, and it turned into thinking through a really, really complex business plan with pitch decks and a whole financial spreadsheet,” says Zabara . They estimate three years of work in one semester.
At the end of the course, the team entered a pitch competition for a Davis Project for Peace grant. “We had the opportunity to find out and predict setbacks. We were ready to start looking for investors,” they say. “That’s how we came up with the idea of not just creating a store, but potentially a chain of Thrift 2 Fight stores.”
They won scholarship to a fundraising tour that allowed Thrift 2 Fight to take its show to the streets in 2021, appearing in nine cities across New York including Albany, Syracuse, Ithaca, Buffalo, White Plains, New York City and Kingston. “We rented a truck. We took all the clothes that people had donated to us and went on a fundraiser tour,” says Zabara.
Reinforce and finance
The genius of Thrift 2 Fight is that it doesn’t try to step in and offer a solution, but rather to provide the local people and organizations already doing the work with more resources to bolster their efforts. “We raised money for their local community fridges and organizations,” says Zabara of the tour. “Not only did we raise money for them, but we showed them a model of how to use their community power in this way, where they can take the money they have in the community and use it as a funding mechanism for groups that may not have any have access to large grants that involve a lot of bureaucracy, or groups that are unincorporated or too radical for an organization like the Ford Foundation.”
Thrift 2 Fight has embraced the Chapter model and is constantly looking for new ways to work together and expand the reach of the movement. Anyone interested in selling is invited to contact us through the website. They discuss pop-up sales and deals with people in Rochester and Boulder, Colorado. And this spring, Thrift 2 Fight is partnering with the Buffalo State College fashion department to host a fashion show and pop-up sale. “This will be a reason for us to see if a Thrift 2 Fight store would be viable and necessary in this community,” says Zabara. “The last thing we want to do is pick a point on a map without having those connections and not having the understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
Tivoli thrift store
Back on the home front, things are going well at the Thrift 2 Fight flagship store in Tivoli, which opened in mid-January. “I’m surprised people are leaving their homes and shopping in this city where most other retail outlets and even restaurants are closed,” said Jillian Reed, who oversees partnerships and communications for Thrift 2 Fight and also oversees the store. “People are really coming out. We have sold so many jackets, so many hats, pajamas and sweaters, which is just funny and very much reflects the weather.”
The 1,600-square-foot storefront features large, street-facing windows for lots of natural light, hardwood floors, and off-white walls. The store’s extensive inventory consists almost entirely of clothing donations from individuals, with some pieces also coming from partnerships with local consignment, vintage, and thrift shops that have excess inventory.
“It’s so complicated being a consumer,” says Reed, who is a life-saving frugal herself. “Once you are aware of the climate crisis we are in, the human rights abuses along the entire supply chain in apparel manufacturing, and the huge environmental impact including microplastics in polyester clothing, clothing reuse is the most affordable, accessible, no-brainer way to choose what we put on our bodies.”
The store is split by garment type and themed collections rather than gender, with items ranging from designer labels to $5 picks to high-end vintage. There are thermos and shoes, sweaters and trousers, shorts, scarves and accessories. Thrift 2 Fight also recently launched its lending library of social justice books with donations from the local bookstore Oblong books. Zabara and Reed hope to open an adjacent space in the building for events in the coming months. They are considering the launch of the Thrift 2 Fight storefront in January as a soft opening and are planning a grand opening, COVID permitting, later this spring with music, food, drinks and a fashion show.
Since launching in 2020, Thrift 2 Fight has made over 40 sales and raised nearly $43,000. At the Tivoli Thrift store, 10 percent of every in-store sale goes to local activist groups, while sales from the online store go to grassroots initiatives across the country. 25 percent will be donated for items sold in other stores as part of Rack Residencies. “We calculated how much we can donate immediately,” says Zabara. The goal is to increase this by five percent annually and to reach 25 percent donations in about four years.
“It’s a challenging time figuring out how to be part of a movement for equality and justice with so much guilt and blame,” says Zabara. “Right from the start, it was important to us to support the activists who have been doing this work for a long time. Groups composed of people living in the communities they serve, people from the Black and Indigenous communities. We are not reinventing activism. We hope to fund and amplify the voices of the people who should be supported. And we hope that mindset can spread to other communities to fuel the activists trying to make this country better.”
Thrift 2 Fight’s Tivoli store is open Thursday through Monday from 11am to 6pm.