A dimly lit closet, gold and red fairy lights and slow saxophone music. A baggy sweatshirt with the word “Pastafarianism” and a squid with pasta for legs printed onto its front.
This is the ambiance of the College of William and Mary’s Free Market, open Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Campus Center. Located within the Student Environmental Action Coalition office, the Free Market is a space where students can donate used clothes, accessories, school supplies and more, as well as take showcased items for themselves at no cost.
Daniel Morgan ’20 joined SEAC as a freshman and is part of SEAC’s Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee that is responsible for running the Free Market. He feels that the market yields benefits to both those donating and receiving new clothing.
“It’s the purpose of a thrift shop with a little bit of an emphasis on environmentalism,” Morgan said. “Instead of throwing away your old stuff, you can just give it to the Free Market, and then other people who look at it and like it can take it. And it’s free, which makes everything better.”
The Free Market first opened on campus March 31, 2012, and the SEAC Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee — formerly the Recycling committee — has been managing it since then. However, according to Morgan, the market was closed to College students for much of the fall 2017 semester and all of the spring 2018 semester due to construction within the SEAC office and a potential floor collapse. The closure of the SEAC office made continuation of the Free Market impossible, which was disappointing for members of the Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee.
“They kept telling us it was going to get fixed [but it didn’t],” Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee member Andrea Mares ’20 said. “We were sad, because [Free Market] was one of our biggest projects and we weren’t able to do it.”
The subcommittee continued meeting during the 2017-18 school year despite the temporary shutdown of Free Market, coming up with alternate ways to benefit the college community while waiting for the market’s reopening.
“Last year, there were four or five of us,” Mares said. “We would get meals together and plan other [initiatives] along with our branch.”
The SEAC office opened its doors again in time for the 2018-19 school year, but the Free Market faced a couple more obstacles before it could begin letting students back in. The Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee returned to the SEAC office to find Free Market slightly different from how they remembered it.
“Once we got back and settled [into the SEAC office] there was just all this stuff in the Free Market that we had to clean out; just bags of things,” Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee member Shannon Redifer ’20 said.
Now that the market is once again open to the public, the subcommittee is attempting to spread awareness to the College community in the wake of the market’s one-year hiatus.
“We have to re-found ourselves; new freshmen came in last year and didn’t know about [Free Market], so it’s a new thing to a lot of people,” Redifer said. “Also, [spreading the word] is hard because we’re in Campus Center, which isn’t the most central place.”
To introduce more students to the market, the Eliminate the Footprint subcommittee posts in the “william and mary ppl selling their clothing” Facebook group, encouraging students to turn to a free option for clothes as opposed to a more costly one. The subcommittee is trying to steer away from printing physical flyers due to their negative environmental impact. Redifer feels that if the group must print flyers, it should print them on recycled paper.
Redifer has multiple finds from the Free Market in her own closet, including a scarf she acquired her freshman year which she has used every winter since. She has also picked up several pieces of a more unusual type of clothing.
“I like to use bandanas for washing dishes in my room, and they’re just very handy to have,” Redifer said. “Honestly, the bandanas are the best things I’ve gotten from [the Free Market].”
Redifer has also found articles of clothing in the Free Market that are suited for more fancy occasions, including a gray skirt for the summertime and a shiny, silver dress originally from Charlotte Russe.
“I wore [the dress] to my friend’s formal last spring, so that was a good find,” Redifer said. “I still have it now, and if I don’t wear it to something else, I’ll probably bring it back to the Free Market.”
Mares feels the Free Market addresses the key issue of fast fashion in the retail industry: clothes that are trendy for a year or two before being thrown away in favor of the next new style.
“Not only is [fast fashion] not sustainable, but in a humanitarian aspect, it’s really bad because workers are treated really poorly and they don’t get free wages,” Mares said. “I think Free Market’s really great because not only is it promoting a sustainable environment, but at the same time we feel we’re raising some awareness on these issues. It’s a great space for people to come.”
Students can bring clothes to the Free Market for donation Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., as well as look for finds of their own.
“Even if you’re sick of a shirt, you can still bring it in here and someone else will find it and be way more interested than you were,” Redifer said. “We’re just trying to reinforce the idea that you don’t need to produce new things and get new things. Thex stuff that is around you already is perfectly good.”
In addition to sharing styles with other members of the College, donating clothes to the Free Market allows for reuse and student contribution to a healthier environment.
“[Free Market] allows students to get rid of old stuff without feeling like they’re just throwing it away and contributing to a landfill,” Morgan said.
Redifer feels that the idea of reusing materials is critically important as it often doesn’t get the same emphasis in discussions of sustainability compared to recycling.
“There’s a lot of focus on recycling, but we don’t think as much about things that you can just reuse,” Redifer said. “You can throw away clothes, you can throw away pieces from your dorm, but you don’t necessarily have to throw that away; we’re trying to exemplify that and extend from the recycling part, because it’s more applicable to things outside of just waste and physical trash.”