Common Thread Pop-Up Shop at Victoria College. Rueshen Aksoy/THE VARSITY

SHOPPING on a budget is a difficult task, especially when you need to find the perfect formal wear outfit. After her own struggle in finding a formal gown for Victoria College’s Highball in 2014, an idea began forming in Lucinda Qu’s mind — an idea that would be realized in 2016 as the Common Thread Pop-Up Shop.

“Many people have formalwear. Many people want formalwear,” Qu explains. “And the fancier (read: expensive) the formalwear, the fewer times you’ll typically wear it — a pattern that’s inaccessible, unsustainable, and that largely exists because we don’t make the most of what our community already has.”

Just in time for Vic’s annual Highball formal, Qu collected dresses from donors, which others could then rent out for formal events with the rental fee being paid to the donor, making the work of the pop-up shop pro-bono.

Qu’s goal was “the creation of a peer-to-peer platform where you can make money off of clothes you own, pay next to nothing for what you don’t, and think a little more equitably along the way. With that in mind, the name ‘Common Thread’ seemed like the perfect fit.”

It seems that others would agree. The Common Thread Facebook page, using students as models for the dresses in promotional photos, garnered over 200 likes in less than two weeks. Over 20 dresses were rented, mostly for Highball.

According to Qu, “[The response has been] overwhelmingly positive, and even more so than we expected: you have no idea how many times the other execs and I were told how expensive someone’s dormant prom dress was, or ‘I already bought something, but I’m totally returning it now!’ or surprised reactions about how affordable and simple and new this idea was.”

While apparently successful, the venture wasn’t all smooth sailing. As a new enterprise, Qu explains that “[g]rowing pains” were an inherent part of the process.

“[A]s students who’d never done anything like this before, we were coming up with new questions constantly. So if anything, what was hardest was trying to keep all the execs in the loop about the answers we improvised, and what’ll be the most difficult in the coming months will be deciding what we focus on next.”

In the future, Qu aspires to take her project beyond Victoria College. The project aims to “keep doors open — to look into menswear, and expand into other colleges, maybe even other universities. The team behind Common Thread believes that this could be the ‘airbnb of formalwear’, and we’re excited to see if that becomes a reality.”

When asked what advice she would give to others pursuing innovative ideas, Qu says, “Actively choose what you do and don’t devote your time to, because so much of what’s worth learning in university is not what you’re mandated to learn, and so many opportunities won’t exist until you make sure they do.”

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