The Nitty Gritty on Treasure City

One man’s trash is not just another man’s Treasure City Thrift store find. It’s also a means of improving the economy and the environment, both in Austin and abroad.  Cory Skuldt gave a presentation Sunday about how this overflowing second-hand store in East Austin is doing its part to clothe the community, not the landfills.
Skuldt talked about the importance of buying second-hand clothing as part of a new discussion series spotlighting active groups in Austin. The meeting was hosted by MonkeyWrench Books among stacks of homemade zines. A modest audience occupied the metal folding chairs. Skuldt’s infant son crawled about and played with the store’s only toy: a wooden block with the word “RIOT!” written on it.
“We’re more than just a retail store,” said Skuldt, who can often be found working the register at Treasure City, “We exist to support other nonprofits in a variety of ways.”
These efforts include donating items to charitable organizations in need and providing a meeting space for groups without their own buildings. Another goal is to keep the east-side community, which has been challenged by crime and drugs, connected through events such as fashion shows and movie screenings.
A clip was shown from “China Blue,” a documentary about blue jean manufacturing sweat shops where girls earn 12 cents per hour sewing the wardrobe staple. A separate report from CNN said that China produces 200 million pairs of jeans yearly, but that at least twice that amount is sold each year in the U.S. alone. It’s incentive to buy a lotta vintage or American Apparel, a horizontally-produced brand that pays immigrant workers fairly, yet gets deportation-raided by our government all the same.  Growl.
Anyway, Skuldt explained that the easiest way for individuals to help is to buy used merchandise. Treasure City Thrift is an even better option than some other resale shops because 100 percent of the money spent there will stay in the local economy. Treasure City also abstains from the common practice of shipping its unsold merchandise overseas, where it can stunt the growth of foreign economies that become dependent on what Skuldt calls an “influx of cheap.”
“U.S. controlled manufacturers pay people really poor wages to make the clothes in the first place, and then U.S. resellers sell them back at a mark-up,” she explained.
Instead, Treasure City gives away leftover items to Austinites on the last Sunday of each month at the Really, Really Free Market. This is an opportunity for all people who have something to give, share, or trade to meet at Chestnut Community Park and help each other out. There are no price tags allowed. So it’s kind of like Burning Man, with only slightly fewer hippies…
“We try to get everything back in the hands of someone local,” Skuldt said.
This re-donating is a major part of the example the store is setting by striving for a zero waste policy. They have a single, household trashcan and don’t throw away anything that can possibly be reused, regardless of whether there is a profit to be made.
Another unique feature of Treasure City is that it’s run by volunteers and has no hierarchy of management. They welcome anyone interested in their cause to stop by the store at 2943 E. 12th St. to help sort incoming donations. Off-site help such as increasing the organization’s web presence and putting up fliers is also appreciated.
“It sounds like a different kind of volunteer work,” said Erica Ochoa, a 19-year-old St. Edward’s student who attended the lecture. She said that she would like to support and volunteer at Treasure City since it is hyper local, whereas places like Goodwill can seem impersonal.
It’s a painless way to help our neighbors who are struggling to afford clothing and household items, especially for those who love vintage finds as much as Paul Baker, who works at the store regularly.
“There’s just too much production in general,” he said. “So, it’s kind of a celebration of the stuff that we have already.”
Now, the stuff I have already includes a Vena Cava shirt (buy one, get one top with kimono-cut sleeves free!). It only set me back $2 that’s sure to go forth and be virtuous. There’s no reason not to shop for throw-back trends new instead of at thrift stores. Skuldt recommends boxy vintage blazers layered onto newer looks for fall as the “80s phenomenon” still exerts its influence on fashion. I recommend taking it into the future territory of the past with some 90s grunge looks and rich fabrics like velvet and leather, too.   

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