Only a few hours after Celine Cuadra ’22 and James N. Garavito ’22 launched their Instagram-based thrifting business venture @they.them.their.closet, they were darting across campus to meet new customers in dining halls, study spaces, and even their suite in Mather House. By the end of the night, they’d sold more than $100 of thrifted clothing.
Cuadra and Garavito created @they.them.their.closet in late February. “We’re looking to make a few bucks thru selling our thrifted finds,” the caption of their first Instagram post reads. “Our goal is to become a means with which low-income QTPOC in the Cambridge/Boston area can fashion n dress themselves, all while staying baller on a budget.”
“We started They.Them.Their Closet purely based on the fact that we have great friends who were gassing us up on our outfits, so we bonded over both of our senses of fashion and thrift shopping,” Cuadra says. “Our friendship has derived from that shared love of fashion and identity as low-income, first-gen students. We’re also very into thrift culture, and I thought that it was a shared skill that we could turn into a profitable, locally-sourced business.”
They.Them.Their Closet gives Cuadra and Garavito an additional source of income, while simultaneously promoting accessibility and inclusion.. The costs of all items are up for negotiation, but prices on the page typically range from $5 to $20, with nothing exceeding $50. Cuadra and Garavito also try to subtract gender from the way they sell clothing, showcasing thrifted finds in a wide variety of sizes and styles, from size extra small bodycon dresses to large coats and jackets.
“I can remember going to a store when I was younger and seeing the men’s sections and looking over at the women’s section and saying, ‘I want to wear something on that side of the store,’” Garavito says. “I think we wanted to take away the gender from the clothing and present it as just clothing.”
Cuadra recalled similar experiences with exploring both gendered sections while thrift shopping. They note how their mission of accessibility, as well as their personal identities, influenced the closet’s name and their selling methods.
They hoped to use their personal style and fashion influences “so that people could find space in our closet where they could just look at clothing as clothing,” Cuadra says. “As nonbinary people, we felt like They.Them.Their Closet was a fitting name, just because it captured the intersection of our identities and our mission pretty succinctly.”
Though they toyed with the idea of opening a shop on Depop, a social shopping app where users individually price and sell their items, Cuadra and Garavito ultimately decided that Instagram would be the easiest and most direct way to reach their intended audience of low-income, LGBTQ+ students. By thrifting their items locally and targeting their college-aged peers, Cuadra and Garavito hope to create a personalized shopping experience for their customers.
“When we were creating They.Them.Their, we thought about how busy Harvard is and how busy college is in general, especially for first generation, low-income students and queer students. Not everyone has the time to go out of their way to buy an outfit for the weekend,” Garavito says. “I always found myself saying, ‘I don’t have time to go out and buy something for myself. I wish I had something like a thrift store that was closer to me that I could purchase clothing at.’”
Thrifting’s rising popularity among wealthier people has raised questions about who ought to be prioritized in such spaces. Some have argued that this trend conflicts with the mission of many thrift stores like Goodwill, which explicitly seek to prioritize those less well off. While Cuadra and Garavito emphasize that their primary aim with They.Them.Their Closet is to sell clothes to low-income LGBTQ+ students, they recognized that members of those communities wouldn’t necessarily be their only customers.
“While we were trying to make our prices reflect what we think FGLI students can afford, we were ultimately okay with the fact that other people were shopping from us,” Cuadra says.
They explain that they were glad that many people could enjoy their Instagram-based shop.
The venture was ultimately cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic — Cuadra and Garavito express concerns about working on the closet remotely and the potential barriers of shipping costs. They remain excited by the prospect of continuing and expanding their projecte upon returning to campus, and they recall the fulfillment that they derived from bonding with a variety of Harvard students who they would not have met otherwise, shopping for the closet at the Davis Square Goodwill, and presenting fashion in a gender-inclusive and economically accessible way.
“We aren’t pretending to be some sort of charity or community service organization that’s meant to empower and specifically serve first generation low-income people,” Cuadra says. Both Cuadra and Garavito are involved in other campus organizations that focus on those communities, and they don’t see the closet as a direct service. “We’re just trying to be an accessible and easy way for our friends within these communities to connect with us and shop.”
— Magazine writer Josie F. Abugov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.