The clothing culture in Santa Cruz has become infamous for reuse and thrift. Community members and students alike are often innovative and creative with pieces they already have. The hard economic times and rising student fees have inspired some new fashion-savvy trends and ways to do it yourself (DIY). The resources for an environmentally conscious wardrobe makeover are bountiful downtown and right here on campus.
While “shopping your closet” may be a novel concept for shopaholics, it has been the quintessential article written about the fashion industry for 2009. It’s also the anti-consumerist approach to fashion, combining and reusing thrift and vintage pieces from local destinations to recreate individualized versions of today’s popular trends.
Goodwill: Goodway to Wear
For students whose closets are less-than-overflowing with treasures, Santa Cruz is a great source for vintage apparel, thrift shops and craft supplies. Pacific Avenue is a hub for alternative shop-portunities, where UC Santa Cruz students and the community can find essentials for less.
The Goodwill Industries International store on Union Street and the Salvation Army store on Pacific Avenue are two examples of international thrift stores that have become popular on local levels. Both locations sell a variety of goods, from home furnishings to active wear, offering inexpensive necessities for people on a budget.
Evelyn Matthew, the store manager of Santa Cruz Goodwill, said she sees UCSC students at the store all the time.
“We’re always aware of students because they’re a real market for understanding our message,” Matthew said. “It’s a real treasure hunt.”
Matthew said the chain’s mission statement expresses its commitment to ameliorating the lives of the most needy people in the community.
New shipments arrive every day at the local Goodwill location, and the store offers a 10 percent discount on purchases made by students with a university ID every Saturday.
The Salvation Army also sees many UCSC students in its downtown store, according to Scott Peterson, assistant manager of the branch. The store offers a treasure trove of discounted items and on the last Friday of every month, all merchandise is 50 percent off.
“Mommy and Daddy can’t pay for everything,” Peterson said with a laugh.
Peterson said that the quality of the merchandise available is better now than before these recent hard times. The number one item students look for? “Clothes,” Peterson said.
“This is Santa Cruz, people come from all over to have fun,” Peterson continued. “Santa Cruz is an expensive town and we sell inexpensive stuff. We’re all about helping people.”
Selling the Goods
Many drop off their donations at the Salvation Army’s downtown location after trying their luck at Crossroads Trading Co. across the street. Crossroads is a popular destination for UCSC students to sell their no-longer-wanted clothes and pick up inexpensive new finds — or cash — in return. Crossroads helps shoppers free some much-needed space in student-sized closets while making exchanged clothes available for others who want to wear them.
Michele Costa, store manager at the Pacific Avenue store, said that the store collects all brands ranging from Target attire to designer duds. Every day Crossroads sees a bevy of shoppers browsing the color-coded racks and a steady stream of sellers who can sit and thumb through magazines while they wait to find out the worth of their turned-in goods.
Like many UCSC students, Mia Renauld, a first-year anthropology major, has sold some of her clothes to retailers like Crossroads.
“It is nice to bring old clothes in, get [a] percent of what they would sell it for in credit, or get even less money [back] in cash,” Renauld said.
Vintage for Less
Crossroads and Goodwill have more modern finds, but Santa Cruz offers many locations for those looking for clothes from a specific decade. While the stores do not buy clothes back from students, Moon Zoom and Retro Paradise on Pacific Avenue retail unique pieces from the ’70s and ’80s that some students are eager to add to their closets.
Leopoleo Santos, owner and buyer for Retro Paradise, said he finds most of the store’s content at flea markets and antique shows.
“We ended up buying more [clothes] last year, and sold less,” Santos said. “We bought more inventory and variety, but we didn’t have a huge sale. They were the same as previous years.”
As is the case at many vintage shops, 95 percent of the pieces lining the Retro Paradise rack are processed and cleaned before they are brought in, “and that costs money,” Santos said.
Minding students’ budgets, Santos tries to keep inexpensive costumes in stock for students and people in the community.
“Students go for party stuff, and theme stuff,” Santos said. “They’re not necessarily looking for vintage pieces. Only tourists go for those ’50s or ’60s garments.”
Terry Rayburn, the owner of Moon Zoom, also offers discounts on the store’s ’70s-era clothing. A room toward the back of the store holds items for 50 percent off, and a rack with items for $5 welcomes people to the store.
“We have a fair number of people coming in for party clothing and people who like to wear it as everyday wear,” Rayburn said.
In light of the economy, Moon Zoom does not discourage shoppers from its unique and reasonably priced findings.
“We had a lot of people over the spring [season], but we definitely aren’t doing as bad as some other stores,” Rayburn said.
Kurios on Pacific Avenue proves to remain a popular destination for modern trendy clothing, having a wide selection of both frivolous buys and classic wardrobe staples for students.
Amy Price, the store manager, has noticed a shift in what customers are buying recently.
“Usually people [are] going full-force into spring, buying summer dresses and trendier stuff,” Price said. “But we can’t keep our basics in stock. Our prices are pretty reasonable, so most people come to us for basics.”
DIY Crash Course
UCSC students know that the school offers many unique classes to expand their minds. To expand their closets, the theater arts department offers the course “Costume Construction.” The course allows students to turn their sketches into actual wearable items.
Renauld took the course in winter 2009, which was taught by Christine Duncan, a UCSC lecturer focusing on fabric and costume construction development for theater.
“Christine Duncan makes costumes for most of the school productions,” Renauld said. “It was a great experience to work with people who had never sewn before as well as experienced people.”
Renauld said she learned to sew from her mother, who in turn learned from her mother. She remembers spending her summers doing projects with her mother, mostly putting together dresses.
“I would wear dresses every day if the climate was up to it,” Renauld said.
The theater arts department initially intended to offer the class more frequently throughout the year, but budget cuts have limited the offering to every other year and forced the class size to huddle at a modest 10 to 15 students because of space constraints and the number of sewing machines available.
“We’re trying to offer [the course] as a part of the comprehensive theater major curriculum,” Duncan said. “Those interested in costume design can learn to create what they draw.”
Duncan said that the majority of students she sees in her class are theater majors, art majors or students who are just interested in learning how to sew.
Whether students want to spruce up what they already have or buy something new, Duncan finds that she gets the most enjoyment from things she makes herself.
“I like making clothes and I like teaching people how to make clothes,” Duncan said. “It’s becoming a lost art. I like making something and making it fit well.”
Duncan said that people during the ’30s and ’40s had to make their own clothes, while most modern consumers prefer to just pick up new items at the store.
“There’s a difference in the quality between something you make yourself and the quality of something you buy off the rack,” Duncan said. “The difference is in the fit and the style. It’s a big part of sewing: making it your own.”
Old clothes get new beginnings at clothes-swapping events held on campus. Last Tuesday, Students Together Opposing Poverty (STOP) hosted the Conscious Consumers clothes-swap for the second year in a row. STOP is an on-campus club that meets every Tuesday night at Merrill College for weekly teachings on poverty-related issues such as worldwide hunger and the genocide in Darfur. This year the event was held at Merrill’s Baobab Lounge.
The purpose of the annual event is to learn about what it means to be a conscious consumer, said fourth-year Nathan Ellstrand, a history and politics double major.
The event consisted of a lecture from STOP members and UCSC students Cecily Wild and Robyn Perry on conscious consumerism and sustainability during the first hour, and the second hour was the clothing-swap.
“The clothing-swap goes well with [Merrill’s] theme, ‘Cultural Identity and Global Consciousness,’” Ellstrand said. “People typically bring in whatever they have left over or whatever they want to get rid of.”
Students unable to make it to the swap can still make a difference by visiting the Sweat-Free Communities Web site, where they can learn about several progressive clothing companies making a difference for workers’ rights worldwide.