the story behind RLA

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Told by Minh

Preface: Hi! This is a story I don't often explain to people when I talk about Refine LA, however, I hope through writing this, I can inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and pursue things they care about. So "Where did this business idea come from?"

Well first, I'll tell you a bit about me.

Growing up, my family was part of the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. With 8 kids to care for and only one parent working a minimum wage job, funds were super tight within my family. Hand me downs, discount stores, and a mutual understanding of "Share and save everything" colored my childhood. By the time I became a middle schooler, clothes and fashion became something I started to enjoy and pay attention to. Consequently, thrifting and revamping clothes became a huge huge part of my teenage years. I distinctly remember when the skinny jeans trend popped up in 6th grade, and I took a needle and thread and converted my regular flare jeans into skinny ones. That probably took me around ~5 hours. Similarly, making shorts, cropping shirts, ripping jeans, taking my dad's green army jacket, and even putting together my prom dress senior year were things that I'd say defined my childhood and sense of fashion.

Interestingly enough though, these thrifting and DIY-ing hobbies were something I was extremely embarrassed to talk about or even mention to most of my closest friends. Especially when I would hear statements such as "I would never buy something someone else has worn before," my idea of thrifting and second hand became something I felt ashamed about. Even in high school, I secretly ran my own Instagram shop called "ocsfresh" in which I bought clothing from other girls and sold clothes I no longer wanted. (This was my way of getting all that "cool" name brand shit by the way.) As I reflect back on it now, it makes me feel regretful that I couldn't talk or share these things about myself. It's crazy that I felt genuinely worried I would be looked down upon. By the time I was a senior in high school however (Probably concurrent with the time thrifting was becoming more popular), my embarrassment was starting to chip away, and I became more confident about this side of me!

Fast forward to now: I don't go to thrift stores or flea markets as much as I used to, but the values of resourcefulness have definitely carried over with me into college. That, paired with a new want for becoming more minimalistic with the goods I own, it pretty much explains why I thought of Refine LA in the first place. (Fun fact: The first RLA shop was held with 80% of the clothes I wanted to get rid of!) I wanted to create a place that not only promotes thrifting and resourcefulness, but I want it to be a place where it can provoke thought, and the members involved can constantly implement their own ideas and passions. It's become a tribute to my younger self who felt like she had to hide these things about herself, and It's the main chunk of why RLA is so meaningful to me.

In addition, another contributing factor that has created the essence of Refine LA was after I watched the "The True Cost" documentary on Netflix. A documentary that sought to uncover the human and environmental costs of the clothing industry, this film was what really pushed me to start this instead of letting it be a fun idea floating around in my head. When I saw the mothers of China and Bangladesh working feverishly in a sweatshop only to make about $3 a day, I was not only deeply sympathetic but also felt personally accountable as I thought how easily these people could be my own parents or relatives. It inspired me to start questioning my own clothing purchases and to start brainstorming ways I could combat these practices. There's still a long way to go for sure, but I'm hoping Refine LA will be a great first step towards getting there.

To end off, I want to add that I know Refine LA is NOT an alternative to the unethical and unsustainable clothing production practices. We are a thrift shop that wants to aid in the movement towards more sustainable and ethical clothing practices. It's very very likely that Refine LA will never grow more than a thrift shop with a vision at UCLA, however, on behalf of the team at Refine LA: Although there is only so much we can do, there are definitely a lot of places where we can start.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns, please feel free to hit me up!

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