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HRSM student wants to make fashion more sustainable

Sophia Dudley leaning on a gate.

Sophia Dudley jokes that she’s a 40-year-old trapped in the body of a college student because of all the responsibilities she has taken on over the last few years. Like many college students, the fourth-year fashion merchandising and digital innovations major is juggling her classes, clubs and internships. But unlike her peers in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, she has also spent five years owning and operating a multichannel thrift store, SuperThrifty.

Dudley, who is from Marietta, Georgia, and has also lived in Texas and North Carolina, wasn’t always fond of secondhand clothing. She loathed going to the thrift store with her mother as a child. But that changed in high school when she started going to Goodwill and sifting through the bins with her friends.

“That basically planted the little seed in my head that there’s so much that people could be purchasing instead of fast fashion brands,” she says.

Her interest in secondhand fashion was furthered after taking a dual enrollment anthropology course during her senior year of high school. The instructor showed the class documentaries about sustainability.

“I got scared straight. I had to see all the repercussions of the fashion industry on our environment,” Dudley says. “One of those documentaries said a majority of the younger demographic is shopping from companies like Shein, H&M and Forever 21 because sustainable clothing in styles they like aren’t accessible or affordable.”

That led Dudley to ask herself what she could do. She started an Instagram account with a friend to show their friends what they could find thrifting. That Instagram account turned into her thriving business. She is hands-on in every aspect of the business — from marketing and accounting to curating collections and customizing garments.

“I want to continue pushing myself out of my comfort zone because I’ve realized that’s gotten me to where I am today.”

Sophia Dudley

Since being at USC, Dudley has tried to get out of her comfort zone and seek out opportunities that she wouldn’t have before — like applying to a rigorous internship in France and learning to manage a team of almost 20 people as president of Fashion Board, an on-campus club centered on fashion and the retail industry. As a digital design intern for KER MER — a textile brand in Paris — she designed sustainability authentication certificates for products and textiles produced by the company. As the daughter of an American father and a Brazilian mother, she grew up speaking Portuguese and has also done an internship in Brazil. As Fashion Board president, she coordinates campus events and works with others to set the group’s priorities.

“I got my first internship here at USC through Fashion Board,” she says. “I got to see retail from a more creative, developmental perspective rather than what I already knew from running SuperThrifty. It was a huge learning experience. And I learned a lot about patience being a member of Fashion Board, especially because I’m the president now.”

It wasn’t always a straightforward path in fashion for Dudley. She started as an international relations major but took a few detours before finding the right fit. After taking a course on sustainability and the fashion industry for her minor in retail, she changed her major to global studies with a concentration in international relations and global sustainability. Later, she decided to major in fashion merchandising and digital innovations.

“When I weighed my options, sustainability and fashion was where I saw myself long term, whereas international relations was something I loved learning about — but doing it for work just didn’t feel the same,” she says. “I like that my major now is still business-backed, but I get to be creative and learn about the structural parts of a retail business.”

Dudley is grateful for her experience as a business owner, but she wants to explore a different avenue after graduating. She wants to transition to a larger, more established retail business to learn what the push for sustainability looks like on a grander scale.

“I want to continue pushing myself out of my comfort zone,” she says. “Because I’ve realized that’s gotten me to where I am today.”