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SmiTHrift press release   Date: 11/3/08

Fashionable Living, Gracious Giving: SmiTHrift is Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy in Action

By Su Fu ’10, president, SmiTHrift

What’s a thrift sale? If you are picturing scratched vinyl recordings of The House Martins, tacky Hawaiian shirts, or little plastic doodads whose function no one remembers, then you haven’t been to one of our events. At SmiTHrift sales, you can surely find hip clothing items to add that extra oomph to your outfits, or unique decorative accessories that will jazz up your room -- all offered at bargain prices, all supporting a good cause.

SmiTHrift patrons shop for goods at a recent sale in the Campus Center.

SmiTHrift is creating a fashionable retail thrift business at Smith College. Our mission is two-fold: teach students how to run a business and challenge the assumption that only wealthy individuals can be philanthropists. Four years in, with a long-term plan to open a permanent store, SmiTHrift has made substantial progress toward its goals. Three successful sales in the 2007-08 academic year, tripling the previous year’s activities, generated a substantial fund that enabled us to give money to two locals charities: Safe Passage and Grace House. Our grand end-of-the- year “Go Green” donation drive, made possible by the assistance of the Facilities Management Residential Operations staff, ensured our renewed inventory of sellable items.

On October 2, our first sale of the 2008-09 academic year was preceded by a ceremony celebrating SmiTHrift’s first charitable donations to the two local nonprofits. Professor of Economics Mahnaz Mahdavi, director of the Women & Financial Independence (WFI) program -- which has supported SmiTHrift since 2004 -- kicked off the event. “Smith students have long been interested in fashion and giving back to the community,” she told the crowd. “In SmiTHrift we’ve seen these passions combine successfully.”

On hand to mark the occasion were Elizabeth Crowell ’93, who helped us brainstorm a new marketing direction last year -- “Think Fashion, Think Green”, which emphasized the connection between buying gently used clothes and being green -- and Susan Smith, the fundraising coordinator for Safe Passage, as well as 15 student volunteers who set up, coordinated, and cleaned up after the sale.

The dual business and philanthropic goals of SmiTHrift make the organization unique. Through SmiTHrift, students, representing a broad spectrum of academic majors, are able to explore their passions, hone their skills, and build on their strengths.  Zehui Chen ’10, a mathematics major, uses her financial accounting acumen to keep the organization’s budget and track revenue. Danielle Santos ’11, an anthropology major, drew upon reference materials on philanthropy from the WFI Resource Center that proved invaluable during our site visits to candidate charities. Likewise, Sarah Carroux ’09, an economics major passionate about fashion retail, designs our friendly and visually appealing “store” environment to enhance our customers’ shopping experiences.

This year, we are working to create a “unified brand image” that distinguishes us from local competitors. Along with sales, we are organizing clothing drives that call for donations from professors as well as Smithies. Our future events -- “Young Designer’s Market” and a fashion show featuring “DIY” clothes and SmiTHrift collections -- are under way. Meanwhile, our volunteers continue to work together to create a viable business plan to open a permanent retail front on campus.

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