Former Sustained Dialogue group plans to launch communal closet project

Edward Cox, Assistant Web Editor

A group of Northwestern students are planning a communal on-campus wardrobe to benefit those who cannot afford to spend money on formal attire.   

About 10 students who participated in Sustained Dialogue are gathering feedback through an online survey on their project to loan formal wear to students. Socioeconomic disparity was frequently discussed during the weekly discussions, co-moderator Pooja Mirchandani said.

Some of the group members banded together to consider options to assist students facing financial hardships. At the beginning of Winter Quarter, the group decided to pursue the communal closet instead of exclusively focusing on an awareness campaign.

Middle- or lower-class students sometimes cannot afford to buy multiple sets of dress clothes for formals, job interviews or date nights, Mirchandani said. Students do not usually acknowledge financial hardship in public conversations, she said.

“There can be a stigma associated with somebody not having the formal attire for a certain caliber of event,” said Tralon Williams, a Sustained Dialogue co-moderator. “We have gotten information from people who don’t go to formals, who don’t go to job fairs, who don’t do certain events because they feel like they don’t have the proper attire to attend that event and be taken seriously.”

The group plans to request free or discounted clothes from businesses in Evanston and Chicago, Williams said. To fund the costs of running the communal closet, such as cleaning and purchasing clothes, students may have to pay  to rent the items. In the online survey, students were asked how often they would be willing to pay about $10 to rent the attire. 

The group’s greatest challenge is finding a space to keep the clothes. Ideally the space would be on campus and use an area comparable to the Norris University Center’s Wildcat Room, Williams said. The group’s requests to find space have been unsuccessful, but Williams declined to say who they have contacted.

In addition to reaching out to local business owners, group members have written grants for the initiative. Williams, who is from Michigan, said he has contacts at Ferris State University, which has a similar lending program. Unlike the proposed program at NU, Ferris State’s closet program only loans clothes for career-oriented occasions such as job interviews.

Group members will meet Monday to discuss results from the survey to gauge student interest in a communal closet. The group has collected 225 responses since the survey launched Feb. 16 and will keep the survey open another week, Mirchandani said. During the meeting, students will discuss partnering with campus groups, businesses and organizations that provide second-hand goods.

“We are actually very lucky to get this far in the process,” Mirchandani said. “We decided (to do this project) because so many people in our group had seen this problem and had encountered it in one way or another whether themselves or through friends or just through people in their student organizations.”

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