Thrifty geek ‘rescues’ clothing for good cause

If you’re into clothes at all, you’ve probably heard of the sustainable fashion trend. Perhaps you’ve even thought about how you might change your shopping habits in a way that benefits the global environment, laborers, and our overstuffed landfills.

Stylist and thrift store treasure hunter extraordinaire Lizzie Twachtman isn’t just thinking about ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry. She’s doing something about the issues and indulging her love of shopping at the same time.

Lizzie devotes a considerable portion of her time to combing through Florida thrift stores in search of geeky clothing that, from her resourceful and imaginative point of view, simply needs rescuing. She has a knack for finding gently loved apparel reflecting a variety of fandoms, including Disney (her proximity to Disney World makes these items something of a specialty), Star Wars, Harry Potter, DC, Lord of the Rings, Looney Tunes, and more.

She then “upcycles” these items into her online shop, The Thrifty Duckling, where comic book fans, Potter-philes, Disney lovers and bounders, and other geeks can purchase them at bargain prices, thus keeping them out of landfills and giving them a vibrant second life.

An aspiring fashion designer who eventually became disillusioned with the industry, Lizzie created The Thrifty Duckling after changing her own fashion buying practices upon reading Elizabeth Cline’s eye-opening Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

Not only does Lizzie save consumers the trouble of sifting through thrift store racks. She aims to do good by supporting thrift shops that benefit charities, like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. She also hopes to start a #ThriftItForward movement through her shop by donating proceeds from certain collections to charitable causes.

When she’s not hitting her local thrift stores or dreaming up new Disneybounds and outfits fit for Batuu, Lizzie is a fangirl herself with a lifelong love of Disney and Star Wars and a passion for creating through blogging, podcasting, and making web series. Read on to learn more about her unique business and pick up some excellent thrifting tips along the way. 

You’re a thriftstore stylist who “rescues” used Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter and other clothing from the racks and makes them available to customers through your shop, The Thrifty Duckling. What inspired you to open your shop?

I read a book called Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline many, many years ago. And it set me down a path towards shopping a different way, and thinking of fashion in a different way. I became so deeply aware of the harm our global fashion industries are causing people and our planet and it really inspired me to return to thrifting.

And since I live in Florida, I was finding all kinds of fun Disney stuff and people were always a little jealous at how easy it was for me to find those kinds of items in my thrift shops. So I thought I should expand my searches for sizes beyond my own and open a little shop.

It’s such a great idea — you do the meticulous hunting that thrift store shopping requires so other people don’t have to. What’s the response been like so far?

The response has been so overwhelmingly positive! Followers and friends I have known for years were excited as well as new people on Insta. Thrift, recycling, reusing, etc., is having this beautiful resurgence. So the timing became right to add my voice to the mix.

Why did you decide to focus mainly on geek apparel, specifically Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars?

Mainly because I’m such a geek/ nerdy girl myself. I grew up watching, loving and memorizing all things Star Wars. It’s my first love fandom. Disney was a no brainer since I’m an Annual Passholder and I live in Florida. And Marvel is something that in the past 10 years has really taken over a lot of my heart. (My personal Captain America t-shirt collection is ever growing!)

You’ve obviously been a geek for quite a while. You once had a blog called Nerd in the City and performed a trilogy of Star Wars-themed Christmas song parodies on YouTube. What’s your geek origin story?

I love that you found those! They are my heart project!

My parents are geeks. My brother is a geek. Even my extended family has geek running strongly through their veins! You could say O was born into it. But I also found community and connection in fandoms. Friendships I still have to this day. Deep connective tissue over art and shippers and fan theories and all that comes with the nerd territory. I don’t know any other way of life, really.

I understand when you were a kid, your family shopped at thrift stores out of necessity. (I had a similar experience.) At one point did you return to thrifting and what do you most enjoy about it?

I really returned to it after reading Overdressed and feeling like there were no companies I could trust. No fast fashion brands or department stores I could turn to and know were doing right by their employees, by warehouse workers overseas, by environmental standards, etc., and I became so frustrated that I returned to thrifting.

I knew it wasn’t going to contribute to the problems I saw in the industry. And I also did some research, especially into Goodwill, so I could feel good about shopping there.

My favorite part is the hunt! Going in with a mission and walking out with a creative way to express an idea that’s been brewing in my head.

I read that you at one time planned to be a fashion designer. Though that didn’t work out the way you expected, you definitely did end up in the fashion business. How did your plans change and what’s it like to be doing what you wanted to do after all?

After seeing Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, I knew I wanted to be a designer. I used to sketch my own versions of Padme’s dresses and robes and costumes. So I went to Florida State University and have a degree in Apparel Design and Technology.

I moved to NYC after college and did an internship with the women who now run Ace & Jig. But I found the industry cold and calculating. People climbing to the top and not really caring about each other. That wasn’t for me.

But it wasn’t till much later that I almost lost my love for the industry all together. I believe I found my way back BECAUSE of thrifting!

Tell me more about how Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed changed the way you thought about fashion and your approach to fashion.

She really brought attention to things I never knew about an industry I loved. Things like the trafficking epidemic and how the fashion industry definitely plays a part in perpetuating slavery in certain parts of our world. Mind blown!

Also the crisis of mass production and how we’ve become a society of micro seasons and one-use garments.

I had to question the way I thought about clothing and shopping. And shortly after, I really started making an effort not to buy new clothes. With very rare exceptions, that is how I shop now for myself as well as the shop. Thrift, vintage, consignment, resale, clothing swaps, etc. That’s it for me. And I haven’t looked back!

In what way does The Thrifty Duckling contribute to sustainable fashion and recycling efforts?

By choosing to only add secondhand, donated or thrifted items to the shop, I know that no new pieces are being made. It’s a closed circle. And the money for the clothes is not going back into the hands of the makers. It’s going to companies with big goals like Goodwill, Salvation Army, Boys & Girl’s Clubs, Teen Challenge and more.

On top of that, I use a compostable mailer instead of plastic and though I am not 100% sustainable yet, I’d like to be one day.

The other reason I love thrifting is because I believe in my heart that there are so many clothes out there waiting for a second life. Clothes with a history and a story to tell. Clothes that will end up in a landfill or being burned. And if we can do better about using things up properly, it can really make a difference.

The shop also features #ThriftItForward, a monthly collection dedicated to a specific cause and a percentage of the proceeds go to charity. Why did you decide to do that?

It’s hard for me not to get passionate. Once I become aware, I have to follow that rabbit hole. And there are a lot of causes, beyond ethical/sustainable fashion, that I believe so strongly in. I just figured I might be able to do more with my shop.

This is my attempt to add a layer to it. By pairing a collection with a cause, a person gets a fun shirt and we can donate money, even small amounts, to things we both believe in. It links me to my customers on this beautiful level. Or, at least, I hope it does or will one day.

You mentioned that when customers buy from you, they’re supporting organizations that benefit from thrift stores, like The Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Goodwill. 

I love shopping stores with a cause. Most of the thrift stores have causes, like homeless veterans, at-risk youth, etc. Though not all of them do. Some of the stores are for profit.

Aside from Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel items, The Thrifty Duckling features clothing from DC, Lord of the Rings, Looney Tunes, and other fandoms. Is it hard to find all this good stuff you’ve got stocked in your shop?

I haven’t found it hard. But I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long that spotting what I want is almost second nature to me. I love finding a hidden treasure. It just makes me so happy! And then to turn around and find a home for that treasure? Well, it feels like I’m running a little clothing orphanage. I want to find homes for all the pieces and see them happy with their new families.

Walk me through your process when you go thrifting. What’s a typical haul look like for you or does it vary depending on the day?

It absolutely depends. But my favorite days include a wide circle of shops, including a Salvation Army, four different Goodwills, a shop called OMG Thrift, and then maybe a couple other places as well. I like to give myself small budgets at each one, like maybe a flexible $20, and then I just grab everything in the store that strikes my fancy.

Things for me, things for the shop, future collections, anything. Before I hit the register, I get practical and pare it down to the very best items. And then I buy! Sometimes I have an eye for specifics, other times I’m just looking to be inspired by each shop.

Do you ever have a day when you just don’t find anything?

Those days have been rare. But yes. Sometimes the prices aren’t what I’m looking for. Or the pieces are just not hitting my mark. But luckily that has been pretty rare.

How can you tell an item is perfect for The Thrifty Duckling? What sort of criteria do you use to decide?

A piece has to be in good quality or at least something I can mend, upcycle or artcycle. I look for all the sizes because I want to be as inclusive as I can. And I like to fill my shop with classics and surprises. I love finding a character I’ve never had in the shop before. But I also love grabbing classic Minnie and Mickey pieces, too.

The shopping part sounds fun. What’s some of the less glamorous behind-the-scenes work that goes into running your shop?

There’s sorting, laundering, sometimes mending or removing piling. There’s packaging and shipping, though that is another unexpected fun part for me.

I’m not great with money, so keeping a budget and making sure to do the financials is a part that does not come naturally to me. But is important.

Not all the apparel your shop carries is simply straightforward t-shirts and tops. You also stock a lot of items customers can use to create their own Disneybounds, cosplays, or costumes. Does that take a lot of imagination on your part?

I started just doing this for myself. I love a good Disneybound or cosplay!! And I would get amazing compliments followed by people’s absolute shock at discovering my looks were all thrifted. I just figured I HAD to make special pieces I found available to others, too!

It does take imagination and creativity, two things that are never in short supply in my brain. Sometimes I find myself scouring for a specific color or shape and sometimes pieces pop out at me and beg to be taken home.

You’ve currently got a Citizens of Batuu section on your website for those who are gearing up to visit the fictional planet of Batuu at Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge. What kind of looks are you featuring there?

For Batuu, i really want to focus on classic Star Wars looks like Leia, Han, Luke, Stormtroopers, etc., as well as adding new pieces that may feel like they belong in this unique land that Disney has built for us. I have some pieces that could be used to bound as an Ewok and then some basics that allow the customer’s creativity to imprint on the piece.

The complexity of the Star Wars universe has always deeply inspired me and that was my main goal in creating the collection.

I know you’ve been to Batuu. What do you think of it and what did you wear?

Oh man, oh man! I’ve been four times. And I cannot get enough. My first time, I actually wore a piece I bought at Disney. I got a gift card for Christmas and used it to buy this Star Wars shirt. It felt a little like a betrayal to my shop. But I love that shirt so much … I had to wear it.

But I also did a thrifted Stormtrooper bound and a sort of pilot jumpsuit look. I have big ideas for more trips to Batuu. But I am in love with it … on a deep, molecular level!

What was your introduction to Star Wars? Why has this fandom stuck with you?

I actually couldn’t tell you the first time I ever saw Star Wars. I always knew Vader was Luke’s father. I always knew Luke and Leia were brother and sister. Because I grew up watching it, there were no surprises. It just always felt like home. Something I had memorized in my heart. And something my brother and I were both really passionate about.

I think it stuck so deeply with me because it’s tied up in family. Not only the story being told, but my relationship to it as well.

What about Disney? That seems to be your main personal fandom. What do you love about it?

Disney is pure imagination. And I went for the first time when I was 2 and have no recollection of it. My parents told me about it. It has always been a big part of my life! The characters, going to the parks, the movies. But I never thought I’d get to enjoy it this way, as an adult. Meeting new friends through the Disney Insta community. Getting to take my niece and nephew there and teach them to love it too. It has been a gift!

What are some of your other favorite fandoms?

Definitely Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all things Jane Austen, lots of sci-fi books, like the work of Orson Scott Card. I love DC, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and on and on and on. I recently got hooked on Outlander and Lucifer.

Lost is one of my all-time favorite shows. Firefly, anything Joss Whedon. Just lots and lots of fandom love over here!

You’re also a podcaster and you’ve done a web series, as well. How did you get into those forms of media? What do you enjoy about them?

My web series was inspired by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on You Tube. I felt it was the right medium to share dating stories I had stored up.

And podcasting sort of happened by accident on my part. My friend and Random Chatter Network co-host, Tim, was really a champion for me. He really believed in me and encouraged me to try podcasting. And now I’m working on launching my own podcast network. Something I never thought I’d do.

I love working in all kinds of spaces. Each one brings a new challenge and opportunity to tell stories. And at my heart, that’s what I feel I’m always trying to do. Connect through storytelling.

What changes would you still like to see in the fashion industry and, specifically, the geek fashion industry when it comes to ethical practices and sustainability? 

I’d like to see people turn to what’s in their closet first and foremost. I’d like there to be less monogramming, personalizing and dating of clothing. Especially since I see so many pieces with “2009” or “Amanda,” etc., on them in the thrift stores. These pieces have less opportunity for longevity, though I’m working ideas!

I’d like to bring awareness into people’s lives but never shame. It’s a personal choice and to remove ignorance about something is to maybe accept some responsibility. And that can be hard when you’re balancing daily life. But I think it can be done! I want to champion people to want to care. And then support them once they reach the point of caring.

I feel like there’s so much talk about sustainable and ethical fashion right now, but not necessarily a lot of action. What are some simple steps geeks can take toward being a part of this movement?

I’d say that you can start by asking questions of the companies you love most. It would be ideal to see change in the highest echelons. And that is driven by consumers. When a company gets asked a question often enough, like “Who made my clothes?” and there is monetary backlash for them, they have to start caring.

So love who you love! But ask the hard questions, too. And also, turn to thrift or clothes swapping. There are so many nerdy t-shirts out there waiting for another chance to be worn to a con or opening day of a movie. We just have to hunt a little.

What are some of your favorite thrifted items that are in your own closet right now?

I am so in love with the Disney Bound Boutique pieces I find. I secretly just want them all for myself.

How about some pro tips before we wrap up? It seems like a lot of the “good stuff” is always really picked over at my local thrift stores. Am I doing it wrong? How do I find the best places to shop?

Look in sections like the Men’s, Plus Size, sizes that maybe you don’t look in. And expand your ideas about your own size. Always try things on.

Consider the possibilities, not the limitations of a garment. And always check the floor for pieces that have fallen off the racks. No. 1, it helps the employees and is kind and No. 2, you might find a lost treasure!

What other tips do you have for would-be thrift store treasure hunters?

Google every store in a 10-mile radius and try them all. You might find a new haunt. And also, check every rack in the store! All of them. No piece left unlooked at! And finally … use your imagination.

What’s the most surprising and/or valuable thing you ever found at a thrift store?

I found this leather bomber jacket. It is so yummy, but smelled horribly of smoke when I got it home. Many would have written it off. But I’ve been working on the leather. To get the smell out and make it a piece ready for resale. It’s taking some time but our clothes deserve our care. And I’m proud of that little bomber jacket! I’m so excited to list it and find it a great home!

What’s the one item you dream of finding at a thrift store?

Ooo, good question. I heard a story of someone finding real NASA space suits at a Goodwill. They obviously should never have been donated, but how amazing to realize when you’ve found! Maybe an equivalent of that. My version of authentic NASA space suits. Whatever that might be!


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