Facebook Pixel

Millennials Embrace the Good(will) Life

As Elisabeth Donaldson takes guests on a tour of her small Nashville area home — which she describes as “funky” and “eclectic” — a theme quickly emerges.

First, she points to her vintage wall decorations, colorful throw pillows and furnishings, checking off where each item was obtained.

“Goodwill, Goodwill Goodwill,” she says.

Then, she shows off her extensive wardrobe, garment by garment.

“Goodwill, Goodwill … gift from a friend … Goodwill,” she says.

Finally, she displays her burgeoning collections of teapots and coffee mugs.

“Goodwill. All Goodwill!” she says.

In November, the 34-year-old stylist, artist and actress took a vow that for one year her style would consist only of items “thrifted, gifted, handmade or pre-owned.”

She began writing an Internet blog to explain the reasons for her pledge, discuss thrift-store fashion and post photos of her favorite finds. Donaldson says that experience, as well as recent discoveries about the need for corporate social and environmental responsibility, have changed not only her style and buying habits but the way she looks at the world.

“It’s addictive,” she says. “Once you start living the Goodwill life, you just can’t get enough.”

She is not alone. Studies show that people in Donaldson’s age group, known as millennials — those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000 — are more likely to support corporate social and environmental efforts than other age groups. They are more willing to purchase products with a social or environmental benefit, and they are more likely to make personal sacrifices to have an impact on issues they care about.

Donaldson recognizes these traits among her friends and has become a zealous advocate of the thrift movement, especially when it comes to spreading the word about Goodwill.

“Millennials arrived at this time where you have access to anything you could ever want, but they are starting to realize there’s something missing,” Donaldson says. “There’s an internal fulfillment not being met. People want to give back, and they want to be responsible. That’s where an organization like Goodwill steps in.”


The pixie-coiffed California native says she has shopped at thrift stores since she was 12, but she really started paying close attention to Goodwill about three years ago. That’s when she began selling “upcycled” clothing — vintage shirts, pants, dresses and accessories — that she cuts, stitches or embellishes into fresh, modern looks.

As she researched upcycling, she began to grasp the differences between “eco-fashion,” or fashion that is ecologically responsible, and “fast fashion.” Fast fashion is quickly produced, low-cost clothing that mimics luxury trends, and then, just as quickly, falls from favor.

She saw reports identifying the fashion industry as the world’s second largest polluter, and she read how some clothing manufacturers exploit workers in underdeveloped nations. Donaldson says she can no longer in good conscience shop at big box department stores or at retail stores that market fast fashion to the unsuspecting masses.

Thrift stores such as Goodwill offer a perfect alternative.

“When you shop at Goodwill, instead of buying something brand new made with all these toxins, you are buying something for reuse. It’s like recycling cans and bottles,” she says. “It’s something you can do to be fashionably friendly to the environment. The items are generally higher quality, and you aren’t contributing to the waste or pollution.”


Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment offers yet another important reason to shop there, she says.

Donaldson radiates an aura of energy and fun. But she says her success as a stylist, creating wardrobes for professional photo shoots and music videos, rests on discipline, deadlines and dedication. The satisfaction and self-respect she has gained through hard work allows her to identify with Goodwill’s mission on a personal level.

“I believe production is the basis of morale,” she says. “I’ve known people who couldn’t get a job because they were disabled or had a criminal background, and it’s a very scary thing. When an organization like Goodwill helps them overcome that barrier, it can literally save their life. That’s really cool.”


Brian Miller began thrifting out of necessity. Before July of 2014, the 33-year-old newspaper editor weighed 285 pounds and couldn’t walk to the mailbox without catching his breath.

He began a new diet and weight-lifting regimen, and the pounds started to melt away.

The weight loss and added muscle forced him to frequently replace his clothing. For the first time in years, Miller could enjoy shopping, and at the Springfield Goodwill store he found quality, fashion and low prices. He displays his favorite purchases on his “thriftylifter” Instagram page.

Today, Miller is 90 pounds lighter, with a size 34 waist.  

“Goodwill has been there every step of the way for me,” he says. “Most of the time I go there just looking for a deal, but thrift shopping is the physical manifestation of so many positive changes that have come into my life. To know my purchases are bringing positive changes to the environment and to people helped by Goodwill makes me happy I shop there.”

Miller, too, believes millennials are catching on to thrifting. He and two of his weightlifting friends, ages 25 and 29, compete to see who can score the best deals from Goodwill.

“There’s nothing worse than seeing the coolest jacket on your buddy and knowing it could have been yours,” he says.


Donaldson says one final aspect of Goodwill keeps her coming back: the thrill of the chase.

“Every time you go to a Goodwill store, you are going to find something unique that you weren’t expecting — a treasure,” she explains.

It’s that appeal that has helped her convert so many friends, including her roommate who has worked in high-end retail for years, to thrifting.

“I don’t care who you are, whether you are mega-preppy or some bohemian artist wild person,” she says, “there’s something for you at Goodwill.”

Elisabeth’s style tips:

Goodwill has plenty of cute vintage shirts with great collar details. Pop the collar out of a black or solid-color sweater for a whole new look.

Know your style and stick with certain color themes. That way, you can have lots of mismatched things, but they will still go together great.

When you try on clothes, instantly you will love it or think, “This would be cool if maybe … .” Only buy things you love. There’s an abundance of clothes at Goodwill!

Splurge and purge: Whenever I bring home a bunch of things from Goodwill, I go through my closet and donate things that I no longer need.

Brian’s Favorite Goodwill Finds:
$8 Jos. A. Bank overcoat
$8 Calvin Klein blazer
$2.79 American Eagle T-shirt

Read the Spring 2016 edition of The Ambassador – Goodwill’s quarterly magazine which provides readers with stories of events, activities and the inspiring stories of how Goodwill is changing lives

No Comments

Post A Comment