A universally accessible free thrift shop operated by John Oliver Secondary School in South Vancouver creates a resource for economically challenged youth to obtain clothing and other resources without feeling marginalized or labelled. J&O Upcycling provides families with clothing, promotes environmental sustainability, and helps youth develop a healthy body image while building a stronger school and community culture.
J&O’s mission is as follows: “To bring you stylish, up-cycled and repurposed products you can feel good about, through a sustainable business model that diverts waste, provides work experience/volunteer hours and supports our community in multiple ways.”
Clothing is donated by people in the community and then washed by Busy Bee Cleaners on Fraser Street. The program initially started at Sir Charles Secondary under the name Charlie’s Closet but was moved to John Oliver in 2018 so that more families could take advantage of this program.
J&O Upcycling is funded through donations by Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School, Coast Capital Savings and the Vancouver School Board’s Sustainability Program. The funding goes towards washing and organizing the clothing, hosting open houses, buying new socks and underwear and giving honorariums to the volunteers.
Countless hours have gone into organizing the clothing through purchasing clothing racks and mannequins so that it looks like an actual store, erasing the perceived stigma around wearing secondhand clothing. The Business Education Department is working on developing a logo to sew onto some of the clothing in order to create a unique brand which represents the diversity of our community.
The store not only promotes sustainability and financial prudence, but also provides an opportunity to open conversations around body image, peer pressure, and bullying. J&O Upcycling had a Pink Shirt Day event, which included a Pink Fashion Show and photoshoot as well as a workshop delivered by “Out in Schools” about homophobia. One of the Grade 8 participants in the fashion show had this to say after going down the catwalk, “I felt so good when everyone was cheering my name. It didn’t matter what I was wearing or if it was in fashion, people were just celebrating me. It took a lot of courage for me to do this, I feel like I can do anything!”
Not only is J&O Upcycling building a strong connection between the community and John Oliver, it is giving work experience opportunities to youth. At least 50 students have worked at J&O Upcycling this past year and are developing their customer service, marketing and organizational skills. A few senior students have been able to land summer jobs at local retail stores because of their experience at J&O Upcycling. “I think it’s kind of fun. I like organizing things and meeting the families when we have open houses,” says a Grade 10 volunteer at J&O Upcycling.
The youth at John Oliver were astounded to know that second to oil, the clothing and textile industry is the largest polluter in the world. The students suggested re-purposing old t-shirts into bags in order to further reduce our ecological footprint. “We spend so much money on bags trying to impress people. We don’t really think about how making all these bags hurts the environment. We can save that money and use it to help our families while protecting the environment!”
Check out our Instagram page (j.and.o.upcycling) for more details on J&O Upcycling competitions and community events!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alisha Parashar is a Business Education teacher in Vancouver, BC. She completed her Bachelor’s
in International Relations and Master’s in Educational Administration and Leadership from the
University of British Columbia
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.