By Luciana Perez Uribe
Entrepreneurial-minded and socially conscious students did not slow down when the Maryland Food Collective shut its doors for good May 31 after almost 45 years in business. Instead, they founded a cooperatively-owned pop-up thrift store, called Alternative Exchange. Their motto: “Clothes for people, not for profit.”
The pop-up held Oct. 10 at McKeldin Mall was manned by four of the group’s founders and a volunteer. Clothing of diverse colors and designs was displayed on racks and in bins. A red blazer with gold buttons, purchased by journalism master’s student Victoria Daniels, was priced at $10 dollars. The original store price was $150.
Alternative Exchange started in the face of what worker-owner Emily Fox said was the “fast fashion” industry’s wasteful business model. Clothing companies, said Fox, a philosophy, politics and economics major, respond to rapidly changing consumer trends by producing en masse and as cheaply as possible. Clothing requires a lot of resources to produce, which affects the environment, she said.
UN News on March 25, 2019, reported “It takes around 7,500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans, equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of seven years.” Fashion production contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and cumulatively produces about 20% of global waste water, a September 2018 UN News report said.
“The result of all these cheaply made clothes is that a lot of the ‘fast fashion’ companies export their labor to other countries where they’re not properly reconditioned and people are not treated as they should be,” said Fox.
Fox also said maintaining a co-op business on campus allows students to learn alternative business models.
Despite this business model failing the food co-op, members felt that it was not a result of the co-op model but instead of other factors, such as the increased availability of vegan and vegetarian options on campus.
As for competition, co-op members find Value Village and Uptown Cheapskate to be too expensive.
“One of our friends took like three bags of like really cool things. They didn’t accept any of it, because it was all more than two years old, said Conor James, a senior English major, about Uptown Cheapskate.
Alternative Exchange is worker owned, and all decisions are made democratically. They run on community involvement. They accept clothing donations and in turn provide in-house credits. Clothing can also be bought via Venmo or cash. In the future, members envision being a community hub, with coffee available and books for sale.
Featured Photo Credit: Luciana Perez Uribe/Bloc Reporter.
Luciana Perez Uribe is a master’s multiplatform journalism student and can be reached at Lperezu@umd.edu.