When you walk into your French 140 class and stop for a latte at WilCaf, you probably don't expect to stumble upon a thrift store. But—surprise!—nestled right next to WilCaf is Penn Closet, a student–run secondhand store.
Penn Closet has several racks of colorful clothing, a small stack of books, and a whiteboard outlining some of the most affordable prices you could find around campus. Prices are still subject to change, but as of now, most items cost from $5 to $15, and the most expensive item costs around $25. The store is full of fashionable finds, and some of them—labeled “boutique”—still have tags on them or are from an upscale brand.
Zoë Weissberg (C ‘18) and Damien Koussis (CW ‘20), co–founders of Penn Closet, met as members of a student club called Kinetic that focuses on the issues of sustainability, food insecurity, and homelessness.
After reading The Story of Stuff, Zoë realized she had to do something. At first, she and Damien wanted to focus on the staggering amount of waste left behind at the end of the school year, but PennMoves was already collecting them and donating usable items. That’s when they started looking into creating a space for students to share secondhand items year round.
They soon drew up a business plan for Penn Closet and pitched it to Penn Student Agencies, which Zoë said was a huge help. PSA helped them secure the space next to WilCaf for the next year and a half. They were also supported by the Penn Green Campus Partnership (Zoë and Damien recommend that any interested students apply for the Green Fund grant; it's very accessible and applications are reviewed on a rolling basis). Organizers of similar projects, including the Clark Community Thrift Store, gave them advice as well.
Penn Closet has seen enthusiastic student response. When it finally opened its doors on March 12, the store was full with items donated from just two days of drives. It continues to accept donations through a box in the store, which is kept outside after hours.
Although Penn Closet is a great place to get clothes for an affordable price, Zoë and Damien hope that it could also be a place where students can learn about sustainability. The textile industry is the second most polluting, right after fossil fuels. Creating a pound of fabric pollutes 200 pounds of water. If you’d like to learn more about what you can do as a consumer, you can visit Penn Closet for their education events and screenings of documentaries.
Another mission of Penn Closet is to break down stereotypes about environmentalists. “You don’t have to be a hippie to be an environmentalist. You can be an environmentalist and also be a Whartonite who dresses really sharply,” Zoë says.
So whether you’d like to find some affordable clothing, donate some shirts, or just learn more about sustainability, visit Penn Closet in Williams Hall; it’s open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and it accepts every form of payment except Venmo.