Business and Sustainability Combine with the Brother to Brother Thrift Shop
Every year when exams end and commencement concludes, families make the journey to Avon Old Farms to help their students move out of their dormitories. Every year some students choose to leave things behind, ranging from mini-fridges and box fans to clothing and bedding.
What happens to this stuff when it doesn’t get taken home?
For years these items would either get donated to a local Goodwill, or simply thrown out. After a few years of sorting through items left behind in dorms, Avon Old Farms School’s Sustainability Coordinator Kathryn Perry decided it was time for a change.
“The last few years, with dorm cleanout, there wasn’t really any system,” Perry said. “So I saw an opportunity.”
Perry’s solution came in the form of a course for 2022 intersession, in which 13 students worked together to create and operate a thrift store, where collected and donated clothing items could be resold to current and future students.
The students were tasked with collecting items, designing the store layout, deciding on pricing, marketing the store, and everything else involved with running a successful business. This included coming up with the name of the store—Brother to Brother Thrift Shop—which was meant to symbolize the passing down items to the next generation of Brothers.
“I love the name the kids came up with,” Perry said.
The intersession course, which was co-taught by Perry and English teacher Kate Doemland, began with a few field trips to local thrift stores, so the students could analyze various business models to help guide the decisions for their own store. After that, it was all about sorting through donated or collected clothing items to decide what to put on display.
Some clothing items were collected by students who had outgrown their attire, while some was leftover from past dorm cleanouts. Items range from blazers and dress shirts to shoes and casual clothing.
By the end of March, the store was ready to open.
“When it first opened there was a big rush of kids,” Perry said.
She said that so far, the store has brought in $1300, and all of the money goes directly back into running the self-sustaining, non-profit business.
“It pays for things like dry-cleaning any new items that come in,” Perry explained.
Common customers include students that have outgrown the clothing they arrived in the fall with, as well as students who might not have brought enough clothes with them.
Since formal attire can be expensive, this thrift store offers a much cheaper alternative.
Other customers include students who browse the collections with the hope they might find something really nice.
“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Perry said.
Any items that don’t get sold are picked up by Gifts of Love, a local non-profit organization that works to provide basic living needs for struggling families.
“So that’s a nice local partnership that we’ve built,” Perry said.
Other items are given to the student-run club Helping Hands, who collect and donate items around the holidays.
Students who participated in this intersession course described it as a tremendous opportunity.
“It was a good experience,” sophomore Jake Puchalski said.
He said he learned a lot about sustainability, business, and the practice of thrifting itself, which is something that appealed to him.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to get into, but there aren’t many thrift stores around me,” Puchalski said.
He said his favorite part of the course was the trips to local thrift stores, like Gifts of Love.
Fellow sophomore Joseph Siana said the trips to these stores taught him a lot about business aspects like pricing, organization, and how to grab a customer’s attention.
“I definitely know a little bit more now,” Siana said.
He added that creating a business that can offer lower prices on high-quality items is a great way to give back, and was a rewarding experience for him personally.
“It’s really nice to give back to the community in a way,” Siana said.
For Perry, the course proved to be the perfect way to combine lessons about sustainability and business. She explained that more and more companies are starting to realize that overarching themes of sustainability align with a good business model.
“Sustainability is good business,” Perry said. “The idea is long-term success.”
Part of her lesson emphasized that “people, planet, and profit” all need to be kept in mind in order for a business to be successful.
For now, the thrift store is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays as a pop-up shop on the Adams Theater stage. Perry said in the future she hopes to be able to operate the shop in a more permanent place on campus.
She also said she is considering a similar type of system, but for textbooks, so that students can turn theirs in at the end of the year for students taking that particular class next year.