Mia Nelsen-Cheyne, a junior at Beacon High School, is a member of the Students for Gender Equality Club, which in March opened a thrift store at the school.
How did the idea for a thrift store come about?
I was at a party for my aunt’s birthday and I was talking to her friends about clothes they had from their kids stored in their attics or basements. We talked about how it would be nice, especially for the formal wear, if those clothes got a second life. I went home, did some research and I found other schools that had put together thrift stores. I put together a slideshow, presented it to Mr. Dwyer [Corey Dwyer, the principal] and he was very interested. This summer, he and I are going to work on finding a permanent spot for the store, because now we share space with another school project and it’s the size of a closet.
What do you carry?
We have clothes that are both masculine- and feminine-presenting; shoes, ranging from sneakers to heels, flats, boots; flannels and T-shirts; leggings and pants. I’m trying to get more formal dresses for next year. Everything is free. We also have a big stock of toiletries such as feminine products, deodorants, those sorts of things.
What is the connection between thrift items and gender equality?
I want to make sure that all kids have access to everything they need, because they don’t just deserve to have essentials like toiletries and food, they also deserve the right to feel beautiful, especially at times like prom and formal events. Everybody deserves the chance to feel comfortable in their own skin. If I’m able to give kids clothes that they might not be comfortable asking their families for, or just helping them express who they really are, that plays a big part in gender equality by helping kids be themselves.
Were you worried that students would feel self-conscious shopping there?
That was a concern when I was first starting. I didn’t want kids to feel that, because they were coming here to get clothes, it was something to be embarrassed about. I try to make it open to everyone; it’s an opportunity that everybody in the school has. It’s also beneficial to the world around you because you’re shopping sustainably, you’re supporting your school system and you’re supporting another one of your students. If I tried to make it more private, it would make people feel like it’s something that needs to be private. I want it to feel like you have the right to get these clothes, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of for that.
What motivates young people to be socially aware?
It comes from a sense of watching history repeat itself and listening to the people around you. With access to social media, you’re able to see more of the impact. We see so many people online talking about what the future holds with climate change or our political system. It does encourage kids my age to get more involved with our communities because, as much as you want to help your community, you also want to ensure a future for yourself. I am a big believer in sustainable fashion and I’m a believer in helping people around me. We were able to do a big donation for the migrants who came here recently. I worked with some of the custodians and we put together seven bags of clothes and shoes. So it’s not only benefiting people at school, it’s benefiting people around us.