By Cristina Holtzer
Caleb Brown wants you to shop secondhand. In fact, he’s willing to pick out the clothes for you.
Brown, a Sharpsburg web developer and startup founder, has launched unnu (pronounced un-new), an outfit-in-a-box delivery service exclusively for secondhand clothing. Potential shoppers outline their style and sizes. Then Brown goes to work finding the perfect pieces from thrift stores and estate sales in the Western Pennsylvania region.
The company started with an interest in vintage clothing but grew after Brown did more research about the negative effects of the fashion industry on the environment. More than 11,300 tons of clothing and textiles ended up in landfills in 2018 alone, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, up from 6,280 tons in 2000 and 2,320 in 1980. The global fashion industry accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined, according to the United Nations. The industry produces 20 percent of wastewater worldwide.
As a way to combat these growing figures, the UN recommends buying from thrift stores to give garments longer lives. Brown hopes unnu can be another way to shop in an environmentally-conscious way.
“If we break that stigma about shopping secondhand, it is a way we can make a dent in those not so great statistics like water usage and CO2 emissions,” Brown says. “My personal wardrobe is probably 90% secondhand.”
As consumers have become more aware of the harmful impact of the fashion industry, secondhand shopping has grown in popularity. Online resale of vintage clothing found in thrift stores has exploded in recent years, which is where Brown got the idea for unnu.
Resellers typically look for name brand or even designer items from thrift stores, but plenty of high-quality “everyday” clothing was not making it out of the stores.
“There’s so much nice stuff that still gets left on the racks,” he says. “I realized that a ton of this nice clothing was still ending up in landfills. [unnu] is a way to bring these nice clothes that aren’t necessarily vintage grails into people’s homes.”
While there is an option to subscribe to unnu and receive a “new” outfit on a monthly basis, Brown says that isn’t really the focus as much as making secondhand shopping easier.
Currently, unnu only offers men’s clothing with a focus on casual and business casual looks, though Brown says he’d love to begin curating gender-neutral collections soon. Women’s clothing boxes may be further on the horizon, though, if he can find some help.
“I’m chatting with folks that are smarter than myself about how to address other markets,” he says.
No matter who wears the clothes, comfort is the top priority. “Cozy cabin,” but still office-appropriate, is the goal.
unnu’s mystery bundles — collections of four shirts, either graphic T or polo — have been some of the more popular orders to date. Mystery bundles cost $65, and one curated outfit sells for $80. Prices for services like Stitch Fix vary but typically start at about $50 per item.
At the moment, unnu is in the early stages, but Brown says he is looking for ways to raise awareness and funding for this new venture, which was launched in mid-February. For now, Brown is a one-man operation. He spends hours each week scouring thrift stores for the perfect items, laundering them and sending them to customers through the mail.
“It shouldn’t be that crazy to put together nice outfits that are pre-owned,” says Brown.
Cristina Holtzer is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and social media producer. When she’s not laughing too hard at TikTok, Crissy can be found writing screenplays with her husband or walking her dog around Sharpsburg. Read her work in Everyday Health, The Kitchn and Pittsburgh Magazine.