While most transplants groan about the optics of houselessness over $7 lattes, Sylvia Yang decided to use her thrifting superpowers to help make a difference. Yang moved to Seattle three years ago as an idealistic 22-year-old and quickly realized she wanted to support people experiencing housing instability, but she wasn’t sure how. In college, her Christian faith inspired her to volunteer at organizations working with houseless youth. Today, she’s cleaning out her closet to support folks living outside.
The Same Cloth (@thesamecloth), a clothing pop-up in Seattle, slings trendy vintage digs and donates 100% of the profits to organizations that serve people experiencing houselessness. Before COVID-19 hit, The Same Cloth was a frequent seller at Fremont Flea Market and local farmer’s markets, but then pivoted to sell on Depop during lockdown. You can find them at South Lake Union Market this Saturday, September 4th and at the Fremont Market this Sunday, September 5th.
“My love for fashion allows me to express myself through my clothes, and I realized I was obsessing over material items I wanted while people outside didn’t have that choice — they were just trying to survive and stay warm. Being exposed to both those realities in a city with so much wealth like Seattle made me want to give back to bridge the gap between the housed and the unhoused and spread awareness,” Yang said.
In a state that simultaneously has one of the highest homeless populations in the country and one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the world, the economic gap often feels impossibly daunting to close, especially as the wealth of those aforementioned billionaires has grown by $5 trillion in the past year. But Yang is determined to build empathy, connection, and awareness through providing educational opportunities about root causes of houselessness to the general public. She works full time as a UX designer, and views providing clothing for and running The Same Cloth as a way to give back and educate those around her.
“There is so much stigma around homelessness, and I had to do a lot of my own learning around root causes and debunking common myths I had heard, like that people flock to Seattle for free services. I think it’s easier for the general public to stereotype homeless people than to get to know their story and figure out how to help, and I want to change that.”
Along with the clothing pop-ups, The Same Cloth plans to host community clothing swaps with an educational element; while some may not seek out resources about why people become houseless, they may be more open to learning if the event is cloaked in vintage threads.
Yang also hopes to partner with local nonprofits for storytelling events or advocacy opportunities for the general public. Previously, Yang has supported local nonprofits such as Mary’s Place and Union Gospel Mission on a seasonal basis, but she is interested in supporting mutual aid work in the future. Down the line, The Same Cloth hopes to curate collections of vintage clothing for folks living outside based on the individual’s style and needs.
“I’d describe my style as minimal, timeless, and inspired by Asian fashion. I curate the clothes to match that aesthetic, but hope to style clothes for the individual’s needs at future events. The clothes we wear can have such a big impact on how we feel, and everyone deserves to feel good about themselves and express themselves,” Yang said.
They also have partnerships in the works with local nonprofits to host clothing pop-ups at local homeless shelters for residents to pick out clothing themselves. Due to COVID-19, most clothing banks have had to close their doors or limit their hours and services. Many shelters have halted clothing donations due to fears about COVID-19 spreading through donated goods. The rising cost of clothing at thrift stores paired with Seattle prosecutors' obsession with locking up folks for stealing clothes from thrift stores leaves folks living outside or in shelters with little to no options.
Americans throw away about 81 pounds of clothes per year, which is the average weight of an 11-year-old child.
“Once I learned about how much clothing is wasted due to fast fashion, it made me want to repurpose clothes even more," Yang said. "I love the idea of finding a gem in another person’s trash, of never knowing where second-hand clothing came from or what stories they hold. That’s where we came up with the name — regardless of our story or where we come from, we’re all cut from the same cloth."