Planet-saving Superstar: Rain Chen

Michael talks with Rain Chen, Founder of Get Thrifty about starting the first thrift store at the University of British Columbia.

Speaker 1 (00:01):
Well I'm in over my head. No one told me trying to keep my footprint mall was harder than I thought it could be. I'm in over my head. What do I really need? Trying to save the planet over someone, please save me, trying to save the planet over someone. Please save me.
Speaker 2 (00:24):
Welcome to In Over my head. I'm Michael Bartz. This is normally the part where I introduce the guest, but this segment's gonna be a little different and less formal part of me feeling in over my head when it comes to saving the planet, is that yes, I'm drastically altering my lifestyle living in an off grid, tiny house, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only one. However, that's not the case at all. And I wanna share stories of everyday people like me who are doing amazing things when it comes to environmentalism to inspire you dear listener, to take action. So I'm calling this segment planet saving superstars. Our first superstar is Rain Chen. Let's meet her. Welcome over my head. Rain.
Speaker 3 (01:03):
Thank you for having me happy to be here.
Speaker 2 (01:06):
So you are how old again?
Speaker 3 (01:08):
I'm 26 years old. I graduated from university of British Columbia last year.
Speaker 2 (01:13):
And you did something that was unique at your university. Tell me about get thrifty.
Speaker 3 (01:18):
Yeah, so get thrifty is UBC's first and only a campus thrift store. It was built for students by students and is largely funded through a referendum. We ran in 2019, which attained us roughly $50,000 of annual funding to build, establish and run the thrift store for years to come.
Speaker 2 (01:39):
Yeah, that that's really, really cool. And, and what got you onto wanting start a thrift store at your, at your university?
Speaker 3 (01:46):
At the time I was working the sustainability sector as a zero waste coordinator. And me and many of my peers saw the need for a physical establishment that would help facilitate secondhand site recycling. So primarily we focus on clothes, but we have had books and other household items in the past as well.
Speaker 2 (02:07):
Yeah. And, and what what was the process in, in creating the, the get thrifty store?
Speaker 3 (02:12):
So what we started with was we went around on campus and did these monthly popups where we kind of just collected clothes and items from friends and family. It was a hit people, really liked passing by getting things for super cheap. We strive to always keep our prices really low, nothing ever exceeded $20. And with our increasing popularity, we've decided to capitalize on it and get a permanent home in the student union building. And that's kind of how we started. We just decided to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. I just went ahead and build what we wanted.
Speaker 2 (02:45):
No, that's, I think that's really, really great. And, and you had mentioned previously when I was talking to you that other students were involved in this project as far as even getting the website up and other parts of, of get thrifty. So tell me a bit more about that.
Speaker 3 (02:58):
Yeah, so originally we were just a small team of four. At the end of it, I actually ended up running it alone, but I'm, I asked a team of volunteers that were really interested in contributing in a variety of ways. Some were more interested in the design aspect of it. So maybe they wanted experience as a graphic designer, videographer, a photographer or web designer. Others were more interested from a solely or a waste sustainable lens. So it was kind of a really interesting marriage of just like saying, Hey, we need help. And people just came along and said, let me apply my skills. And the team has now grown to roughly 60 people, large. Most of it kind of runs like a well oiled machine. We have a board of directors, each director manages their own team, everything from design and media, to HR, to brand ambassadors and to the store operations itself.
Speaker 2 (03:51):
Yeah. That's so wonderful. You were able to grow this thing from an idea and a concept to 60 people on your team. That's fantastic. And they were able to use their unique skills. Cause some people might say that, well, I don't know how to say the planet, cause I can't do this or I can't do that. But if you're a web designer, if you're a photographer, you can do your part as well. So I think that's really inspiring. And as far as sustainability goes, how do you see get thrifty fit, fitting into, into that environment?
Speaker 3 (04:16):
Well, it kind of addresses it from a very grassroots for so some, one of the big reasons I started yet thrifty and the first place was working in the sustainability sector at UBC. I felt like there were always town halls being hosted, but not much being done at least from a very tangible level. So this was a way for us to be able to see a very quick turnaround of results by, by putting in tangible efforts and having like a tangible output which I know is typically a lot harder when you work on a larger scale across the university. I think this also serves as a very visual reminder for students that, oh, I have clothes. I would've otherwise just gotten rid of them, but now I can make a little bit of money off of it, thanks to our consignment or, or I can just donate it and get some store credit.
Speaker 3 (05:03):
And that store credit can in turn, help me buy other people's secondhand clothes. So it just encourages a sustainable lifestyle without really shoving it in your face. And people just end up, I don't know, people just really gravitated to get thrifty because we also strive from the beginning to not make it inaccessible in the sense that because we are a largely made up of designers, we make it very comfortable to be in the store. It's very clean. It's very curated. We have, we have a huge team of curators that curate all of the consignment and donations we get. So I think the general ambiance of the store, the branding, all of the work that we do has really attracted a variety of people because it doesn't carry at cluttered or dare I say, dingy feel of typical of stores.
Speaker 2 (05:46):
Yeah, absolutely. And the more that you can get students into there and using that service and that's wonderful for reducing textile waste. And so if you were to have someone approach you and say, Hey, I wanna start my own, get thrifty type thrift shop at, at my post-secondary. What, what advice would you give them?
Speaker 3 (06:03):
So this isn't actually hypothetical cuz I have been reached out to, by the student execs from U of T and UIC. So university of Toronto and university of Victoria with the director of finance of the student society at university of Victoria, they already had a lot of support to start at their store. So all they really needed was kind of to figure out how we got the logistics of it going, like what kind of system did we use for students? Did we pay them? Did we get volunteers, all of that. And thankfully I had written all of that into this one big expansive proposal slash business plan slash finance financial plan. It spans like around 50 to 60 pages and it covers absolutely everything from our architectural plans to our operational structure, to how we financed our referendum fund, everything that's also published online. So this would be really easily shared to anyone who wants to start their store on their own campus.
Speaker 2 (06:56):
Okay. So they can, they can check. That's really helpful. I think, cuz it probably feels like it would be such a big project and, and you having done that, that work and sharing that with others. That sounds, that sounds great. And so you're, you're continuing with, with get thrifty then.
Speaker 3 (07:09):
Yes I am. Though I graduated, I never stopped helping out with get thrifty and in a great turn of events, I ended up getting hired and contracted back to work for get dokey for the upcoming retail expansion. We were recently approved to finally use the fund that we've been saving up for so long to fund a retail expansion that would involve us doubling the retail space, building out a staff lounge, a photo studio and a storage room in what is essentially a, an abandoned back cavity at the back of the thrift store that has never been developed. So we have the funding we're working with the student society to get that going construction is projected to complete after summer this year. And I will be personally building out the space with a couple of my board directors and part partners.
Speaker 2 (08:00):
Oh like that. That's so great. And, and I love that it's made by students for students as this grassroots initiative. It's got that environmental side. You're trying to save the planet as I say. So I really kudos to you for taking on such an amazing project.
Speaker 3 (08:12):
Thank you. It's been really rewarding for not only myself, but everyone who's been involved, it would never have been possible without just the pure, this sheer enthusiasm of everyone that just took even remote interest in the project itself.
Speaker 2 (08:23):
Absolutely great. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Speaker 3 (08:27):
Thank you. It was great being here.
Speaker 2 (08:30):
All right. That was my chat with Rain. I find her so inspiring, especially considering she'd create a get thrifty well in full-time studies at university, clearly you can accomplish so much if you're determined and you put enough energy into something, we need more of that. If we're gonna solve the climate crisis. If you know of another superstar that could be featured on the show, email info at, you know, my head We'd love to hear from you. Well, that's all for me. I'm Michael Bartz. Here's the feeling a little less in over our head when it comes to saving the planet. We'll see you again soon. In over my head was produced and hosted by Michael Bartz original theme song by Gabriel Thaine. If you would like to get in touch with us, please email info at, in over my head Special thanks to telus story hive for making this show possible.
Speaker 1 (09:15):
I'm trying to save the planet or will someone please.

Planet-saving Superstar: Rain Chen
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