This Month’s Featured Article

Thrift 2 Fight Champions Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice

By Published On: March 27th, 2024

Thrift 2 Fight founders Jillian Reed (she/her) and Masha Zabara (they/them) were at very different points in their lives when they first started organizing pop-up thrift sales in 2020.

Jillian was still a student at Bard College, where she was in the dual-degree program studying flute in the conservatory and human rights in the college. Masha had just lost their job due to the pandemic and found themselves learning a lot about social justice in the United States. 

Masha, who grew up in Belarus, moved to the United States and was in the dual-degree program at Bard College, studying cello and film. While Masha was no stranger to activism in their own country, they were less familiar with the history of the United States and the protests that were taking place en masse in 2020.

“In Belarus, I knew what they were fighting for, but here, I didn’t really know,” Masha said. “I was going through a time of opening up my world and my knowledge base. There was a month of really intense learning for me when we first started our pop-up sales because I got the chance to talk to so many different people about what was going on. I learned a lot from them.” 

Studying human rights, Jillian was also no stranger to activism. However, she found herself struggling to translate the theory that she was learning in her classes to the community around her. 

“I wasn’t alone in experiencing living in a small community like the one at Bard and knowing all of these things intellectually, but not knowing how to translate them to daily life,” she said. “I didn’t know about organizations in this area that have been fighting for various causes for a long time. Being a student and having one perspective and area of insight, and then starting these Thrift 2 Fight pop-up sales, my whole world just opened up.” 

After hosting a variety of pop-up sales around the Hudson Valley, Masha and Jillian began to consider what it would look like if they opened a storefront. “We had been relying on the generosity of others who were letting us use their space,” Masha said. “We came to realize how important it is to have a place where people could come together and talk, donate clothes, connect, and gather.” 

Fast forward to January 2022, and Thrift 2 Fight officially opened its doors in the village of Tivoli, NY. 

Overconsumption and overabundance

Part of the creation of Thrift 2 Fight stemmed from Jillian and Masha realizing that they had far too many clothes in their closets. “I never used lots of fast-fashion websites like Shein, but I still had so many clothes in my closet,” Masha said. “It was interesting for us to discover that it wasn’t just us who had an overabundance of clothing, but it was everyone else, too.”

Jillian noted that they’re not selling the “forgotten items of the Hudson Valley” at Thrift 2 Fight, but more often they receive clothing that is in excellent shape and just simply doesn’t fit someone’s style or identity anymore. 

“It’s so funny because people will come in and gingerly put a shirt on the counter and tell us a story about this shirt that they wore maybe twice, but once was for a special occasion or event, so it has meaning for them,” Masha said. “That tells us that they’re thinking about the lifespan of the item of clothing, both before it came to them and after it’s out of their hands and into ours.” 

Jillian said that the rate of consumption in today’s day and age doesn’t often lend itself to taking time to reflect on the lifespan of an item. “It’s tunnel vision in the moment of purchase, not thinking about, ‘will I wear this at least a dozen times?’ and ‘where will it go after that?’” 

Additionally, Masha and Jillian have worked to create a warm, welcoming space at Thrift 2 Fight to erase the stigma of shopping at a second hand store. “People aren’t just looking for affordable clothing, but they also want to feel respected and be in a nice space,” Masha said. “A lot of second-hand stores make an emphasis on the ‘charity’ aspect, making customers feel undignified when they’re shopping for clothes. We wanted to create something different; our customer would be empowering good change in the community by shopping at a fun, bright, well-organized – and yet affordable – place. It feels like this niche hasn’t been filled.” 

Financially within reach

Speaking of affordability, Masha and Jillian work hard to keep the items at Thrift 2 Fight within reach of everyone. “We’re a store in a 1,000-person village. Everyone in the village and the neighboring areas can afford to get clothes here,” Jillian said. “That feels like such an important continuation of what we’ve been doing since 2020. It’s never been about relying on wealthy customers from out of town, or waiting for a rich savior to come in and fund us. It’s about figuring out how to engage with as many local people as possible.” 

“We exist because the people in our village can afford to shop here,” Masha added. “Our neighbors can come in 100% of the time and get something within their budget.” 

Thrift 2 Fight also has a free bin that is refilled daily, an $8 room where everything is $8 or below, and a Mitzvah Wall, where people can create anonymous gifts for other Thrift 2 Fight visitors. Some examples of the gifts on the Thrift 2 Fight wall include, “$5 for a queer kid,“ “$1 for a hockey goalie mom,” “$8 for a BIPOC student,” and “$3 for someone who’s accidentally over-caffeinated.” 

Social justice funding

Thrift 2 Fight funds social justice organizations that work at the intersection of racial, disability, and queer justice. It donates 10% of its total revenue, and the rest pays for rent, bills, and employees’ time. To date, Thrift 2 Fight has raised and donated more than $80,000 to various organizations. 

Through its sales and donations, Thrift 2 Fight has been exposed to powerhouse organizations and individuals that work in the Hudson Valley area including Release Aging People in Prisons, the Ulster Immigration Defense Network, the Trans Closet, and numerous free food fridges. 

“We wanted to be able to support local grassroots organizations and basically say, ‘we see and appreciate what you’re doing in our community, and we trust you to keep working towards this shared goal that we all have,’” Jillian said. 

They also said that many community members come into the shop to ask about local organizations that they can support and fund. For many, it’s been a valuable way to get information about local initiatives. 

“It’s also important to mention that we don’t start and stop with non profits,” Masha said. “Some people and groups have been doing smaller initiatives and local aid without bothering to certify.” 

Masha also said that a lot of folks – from a very wide income range – come in to donate items that are incredibly valuable. “They could go somewhere else to get the tax-deductible receipt, but for them, the worth is in the work that we’re doing, so they donate their items to us. It reminds me that business and money are’t the only things that are driving people to do good.” 

So how does an organization receive funds from Thrift 2 Fight?

The general criteria is that the organization has to be working at the intersections of queer, disability, and racial justice, and Jillian and Masha prefer if the organization is on the smaller, more scrappy and grassroots side. 

“We started Thrift 2 Fight with very little money,” Jillian said. “We quickly learned how far $1,000 can go when you’re doing a grassroots initiative, so we like donating to organizations that are working on that level because we know that money is going to go really far.”

Donations to local organizations have created a web of connection for Jillian and Masha. Many of the organizations work closely together, so they’ve been able to know more activists and organization leaders in the area through word of mouth. “People tell us about their initiatives, and it’s just been a perpetual web of information to tap into,” Masha said. 

“The beauty of being so accountable to our community is that people can not only share who they think we should be funding, but they also feel a sense of place and ownership in the process of Thrift 2 Fight,” Jillian added.

In February, Thrift 2 Fight funded Millions of Butterflies, an organization that has recently established a free food fridge in the Valley Hall in New Paltz to provide free food to the surrounding area. 

In March, April, and May Thrift 2 Fight is funding the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network. “It’s especially relevant to mention that many of the refugee families they help have immigrated here due to famine and poverty linked to climate change,” Masha said. “Since 2022, the number of families they serve has increased by 24%. They need to expand their food budget by $15,000 to be able to feed hundreds of families every week.” 

Balancing the thrifting with the fighting

Jillian and Masha sustain a constant balance between the daily maintenance of running a thrift store where they’re getting donations regularly and making sure that people are getting what they need, while also staying grounded in why they started the store in the first place. 

“It’s hard to balance the thrifting and the fighting,” Masha said. “We go through times where the fighting is more important and we’re constantly worrying about things like, ‘How can we support this? How can we make sure this protest is well-attended? How can we help our community have more conversations?’ and then we come into the store and there’s donations that need sorting. That’s the reality check for us.” 

But even the repetitive physical work can be helpful. 

“There’s an upside to always having something to do!” Jillian adds. “The space meets you where you are. Sometimes, I don’t have the brain power to focus on the heavier parts of our organization, so I go into the sorting room and fold and sort a bag of clothes.” 

Masha also said that they’re reminded of how important it is for Thrift 2 Fight to contribute to community awareness in small ways. “Maybe someone comes in for a pair of Levi’s, but they leave with a card of information about the organization that we’re funding that month. They get engaged in our space, and that’s really important and exciting.”

Education partnerships

In addition to all of the other work it does, Thrift 2 Fight also partners with schools, colleges, and other organizations to organize workshops on fundraising and sustainable fashion, among other topics. It partnered with Bard College for a variety of pop-up sales and with Buffalo State University to organize a Thrift 2 Fight chapter sale and their runway show. 

On a weekly basis, it also partners with Ramapo for Children, which is an organization based in Rhinebeck that works with young adults who are on the spectrum, neurodivergent, or disabled. Per the Ramapo website, it offers a “year-round, residential transition-to-independence program that helps young adults develop social, vocation, and life skills, preparing them for next steps including college and employment.”

“A group of people from Ramapo help out in the store every week with a range of important tasks: making tags, sorting clothing donations, and tagging items. These are mutually beneficial relationships, we learn a lot from each other. And as a bonus, we’ve also recently learned a lot about Power Rangers!”

Thrift 2 Fight also recently partnered with the Red Hook Community Center, which has a program where the community center pays teens to work at local businesses to gain life skills and learn how to be employees.

Additionally, if Thrift 2 Fight has an overabundance of one item, jeans for example, it donate them to the Red Hook Community Center. In the event that it gets items that are ripped, stained, or otherwise unusable, it brings that item to a fabric-recycling HELPSY bin. “We don’t throw anything away. With big thrifting chains, a lot of clothing goes to waste or isn’t even looked into because those stores have an overabundance or they don’t have the staff to deal with it,” Masha said. 

Looking ahead

In the medium term, Jillian and Masha hope to help other people create their own pop-up and Thrift 2 Fight chapter sales. “People know where money is needed in their communities. After three years of trial and error, we know how to facilitate a clothing drive and organize a sale. So if someone else loves thrifting and knows of a cause they want to support in their own community, we can give them the tools to throw a successful fundraiser,” Jillian said. 

Gillian and Masha would particularly like to see Thrift 2 Fight chapters on college campuses, where there is often an overabundance of clothing. 

In the future, they are also open to opening more Thrift 2 Fight locations, but they stress that any growth would come from the need of that particular community and not from their desire to expand “willy-nilly.”

“With these different chapters and community connections that we have right now, we’re getting a clearer sense of where other Thrift 2 Fight locations may be needed,” Masha said. 

“Expansion for expansion’s sake is not our goal,” Jillian added. “But there’s definitely a need for more funding for initiatives beyond the Hudson Valley.”

For Jillian and Masha, it’s been an “enormous honor and a sad reminder” to see how many people come into their store to feel safe because they don’t feel safe in other places in their communities. “We need to continue to create places that feel safe for everyone,” Jillian said. 

Masha agreed. “Here at Thrift 2 Fight, we’re not trying to reinvent activism. We’re trying to support organizations that have been doing this for years. We’re harnessing excess resources and amplifying the voices around us.” •

Thrift 2 Fight is open every day except Tuesdays at 48 Broadway, Tivoli, NY. To learn more about Thrift 2 Fight, visit their website