This online nonprofit offers free clothes to trans and LGBTQ youth, and it might make all the difference
Teens navigate a confusing, difficult world of puberty, school stress, and identity crises. And transgender and gender-nonconforming youth walk through life with the added fear and stress of institutional discrimination, leading to higher rates of depression and self-harm. But, according to community members and experts alike, simple, gender-affirming resources can make a huge difference.
Enter nonprofits like Change of Clothes Inc., which provides needed, potentially life-saving, gender-affirming clothing to LGBTQ youth. For free.
The new nonprofit was started by married couple Amie and Matt earlier this year (they’ve chosen to keep their last name private to respect the privacy of their child). Amie, an English professor, and Matt, a graphic effects artist, combined a desire to make their house a bit more sustainable with one of their other passions: supporting the LGBTQ community. “We’ve been doing a lot of thinking, especially after the 2016 election, about how to get our kid involved in productive activism,” she explained. Amie says the nonprofit was the result of a spur-of-the-moment thought process as she cleaned out her family’s old clothes.
“There’s lots of clothes to be donated, we could keep clothes out of the landfill, we could hook them up to kids who are looking to change their wardrobe,” Amie said. “Not only do all kids grow so fast, but there are kids who are discovering their identities, and looking for clothing to affirm their identity. That’s such a big deal when you’re a tween — your clothes and making your identity. Also, how cost prohibitive all that can be, and how maybe, psychologically, that could hurt.”
They first took the idea to their child’s school to see if there was any interest from students and teachers. “Making sure we hit [there] first was important. That’s an age where you don’t feel good, no matter who you are! If we can alleviate just one tiny pain from that time of your life… You’re welcome here,” the couple said. The response from staff, including the assistant principal and onsite social worker, was a resounding yes. After passing around flyers through their school and the district at large, they took the idea to their local Pride chapter, and it was met with overwhelmingly positive responses.
With this feedback, and an inventory supplied from their own clothing and local thrift finds, they launched the official website on Jan. 23.
The simple website offers an anonymous online shopping experience. LGBTQ youth go through a picture catalog of various clothes — pants and shorts, shirts, dresses, and skirts — and mark down which items they’d like. Supply an email and a shipping address in the message box below the clothing items, and Amie and Matt will send along the clothes in discreet, simple packaging. Right now, the inventory is really small, just what the family can keep up with in their home, and made up of donations and thrift finds. The biggest hurdle of late was a brief battle with a broken washing machine — a problem since Amie and Matt personally wash all the clothing items.
There was also an immediate online response to their January launch, one that extended outside their expected local community, and had them starting right away with a few out-of-state orders. If anything, the comments proved there was a demand already in place, and probably even more need for a free, charity clothes closet that catered more to the online youth of today and was safe to order from.
All young people deserve to feel affirmed in their identity.
Replicating the secondhand clothing and thrifting experience online isn’t necessarily new — Etsy accounts have long sold vintage markups, while secondhand sites like the extremely popular Depop, which lets users start their own “fashion marketplaces,” are some of the first places young people go to shop. And eBay is, of course, the wise grandparent of all these projects. But to use this web-only format for free gender-affirming clothing donations seems to be more of a rare initiative. Many clothing closets operate out of local LGBTQ organizations or nonprofits, relying on in-person pickups and browsing experiences. Others around the country have tried to combine pop-up style shops with online ordering options; many of these are based out of universities and colleges.
The model of Change of Clothes Inc. is like a LGBTQ charity Depop for those disconnected from a local or university service, and it lets young people have a bit more control as they peruse gender-affirming clothes. “Online shopping is familiar to people. You know, you throw it in your cart, and hopefully, a week later, it’s yours. I think it’s that accessibility that makes it a little less scary, or normalizes in some way,” Matt reflected.
Amie and Matt are still hesitant to say how much their nonprofit can handle right now, emphasizing that it’s in its infancy. “I think we’d be happy to scale if it’s something we can handle. But we’re just trying to get through this first month,” Matt explained. “We don’t have any grand designs on changing the world, but if we can help one kid here and there… I just hope [the site] is a safe place.” Amie says that there’s a possible future where Change of Clothes Inc. partners with brands, like binder companies, or organizations, like hospitals, to send packages of clothing home with post-op trans people. Right now, the website will function off a mutual trust that it’s serving those actually in need.
Even if the nonprofit stays relatively small, it can still act as an effective model for others and provide inspiration for larger nonprofits, and it could make a potentially life-saving difference. Dr. Jonah DeChants, research scientist at The Trevor Project, told Mashable over email that these initiatives are essential for fostering a sense of safety and identity for those who turn to them. “All young people deserve to feel affirmed in their identity. Whether that affirmation comes from wearing gender-affirming clothes, or using gender-affirming personal care products, we know that youth who feel affirmed in their identities have better mental health outcomes,” DeChants explained.
The Trevor Project’s recent National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Heath found this to be true among the trans and nonbinary youth surveyed. “Transgender and nonbinary young people with access to binders, shapewear, and gender-affirming clothing reported lower rates of attempting suicide in the past year compared to trans and nonbinary youth without access,” DeChants relayed.
That is exactly where Amie hopes Change of Clothes Inc. can make a difference. “We’re very approachable. We’re just here to give you a little leg up, and offer a safe space,” she said.
For more resources for trans and nonbinary allyship, visit The Trevor Project’s Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth, GLAAD’s Tips for Trans Allyship, or the Human Rights Campaign’s landing page for LGBTQ+ Youth. And if you’re looking for your own community support or other resources, DeChants suggests visiting TrevorSpace, an affirming, online community for LGBTQ young people to connect with each other and build online support networks.
Currently, Change of Clothes Inc. is only accepting donations in kind. They ask for gently used clothing items, such as pants, sweatshirts, and T-shirts in all sizes. You can email them at [email protected] to arrange a shipment or local pickup.