Old Threads, New Mission: Nicholas Student’s Business Turns Used Clothes into Curated Fashion

by Nathan Miller MEM’17 photography by Amy Chapman Braun

Thrifting—shopping for used or vintage clothing—is among the biggest style trends today.

Whether because of the worldwide recession, the hipster obsession over clothes that evoke nostalgia or irony, or because savvy shoppers genuinely admire the diversity of clothing that thrifting can provide, the resale clothing industry now generates billions of dollars in annual sales.

But for Darius Stanton II, it’s about more than just scoring cool styles and sweet savings. It’s also about promoting sustainable resource use.

“I was thrifting before it was cool,” says Stanton, a Master of Environmental Management student at the Nicholas School.

“My love for older clothes and retro styles started when I was a freshman in high school,” he says. “I’d spend a few hours either after school or during the weekend rummaging through the racks at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores just outside of D.C., looking for something unique or unusual.”

To him, a shirt, a jacket, a pair of shoes or any piece of clothing for that matter always maintains its value, regardless of whether or not it remains in style.

It’s this philosophy— along with a passion for environmental stewardship— that inspired him to join forces with high-school friend and fellow thrift-store curator of style Salasi Kallon to start The Rough, a men’s vintage clothing enterprise.

Based in Washington, D.C., The Rough doesn’t just sell vintage apparel. Stanton and Kallon curate the eclectic items they collect from shops all along the East Coast, from Atlanta to New York, combining articles of clothing from faded eras of fashion to create new outfits, each with a style of its own.

“We’ve put together pieces that rely on everything from colorful 80’s sweaters to understated London overcoats,” Stanton says.

“We wanted to create a variety of outfits so that our consumers look unique and feel comfortable in any environment.”

Their website, TheRoughDC.com, reflects the casual yet distinct aesthetic that lies at the heart of Stanton and Kallon’s brand. The site’s pages feature “look books” and videos showcasing relaxed but confident young men hanging out with friends, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and walking around hip neighborhoods. Their clothes reflect styles from more recent decades, including shirts with the intense primary colors of the 80’s or the geometric patterns from the early 90’s.

Among the clothes Stanton and Kallon have found are some gems that offer a snapshot into the culture of the times in which the clothes themselves were produced: a Shaquille O’Neal jersey from his tenure with the Orlando Magic, or a Joe Camel bomber jacket (the kind you could get after buying enough cigarette cartons and submitting the proof of purchase to the RJ Reynolds corporation). These particular items, either because of their sentimental value or simply their kitsch, are sure to serve as successful conversation starters for whoever decides to walk out the door in them.

The Rough launched in April 2015. Though still nascent, online business has been steady, and The Rough’s presence has spread throughout the D.C. metropolitan area and along the East Coast. They promoted their clothes last year at the Broccoli City Festival, a day-long fair devoted to sustainable living and environmental causes.

Their success from that event led to Stanton and Kallon meeting with the managers of the Nomad Yard Collective, a D.C.-based department store for vintage clothing. The managers were impressed with what the two students had created and offered them their own space within the store to sell their clothes.

Since then, The Rough hasgrown a reliable band of male consumers whose ages range from their late teens to fifties. For Stanton, the Rough is also his opportunity to merge his love for vintage clothing with his work in sustainability.

The idea is relatively simple, he says—if we use articles of clothing longer, or purchase used items instead of new, we aren’t relying as heavily on the raw materials that go into producing new clothes. This helps conserve the planet’s resources and allows consumers to divert their own financial resources into more essential consumption.

Even before he came to Duke, Stanton was heavily involved with initiatives that sought to engage local communities in environmental stewardship. As an undergraduate student at Claflin University in South Carolina, he worked with the Green For All nonprofit organization, which collaborates with historically black colleges and universities throughout the country to get communities of color more involved in environmental protection, environmental justice and resource management.

When he came to Durham, Stanton visited local public schools on behalf of Greenpeace to promote “Repower Our Schools,” an effort to integrate renewable energies into the school district.

Now in his final semester of grad school, Stanton is in the midst of wrapping up his master’s project within the Global Environmental Change concentration of the Nicholas School, while concurrently pursuing job prospects in preparation for post-graduate life.

He wants to continue building his career around sustainable development, though he is still deciding on whether he prefers working on the local, national, or international scale.

“Working on sustainable initiatives at the local level is great because you get to regularly engage with community members and witness up close the fruits of your labor,” he says. “But I’ve also interned with the Department of Energy as a graduate student, and I’d love a chance to affect sustainable development policies for the country.”

The Rough is just another extension of his dedication to living sustainably, Stanton explains.

“We tend to get tired of our old clothes,” he says. “Some pieces of clothing do wear out, but there are a lot of articles— pants, jackets, shirts and so on—that are still functional even though they may have fallen out of style.”

By exclusively selling recycled items, Stanton hopes to show that vintage clothing is not only stylish, but also environmentally friendly.

“I’d say we’ve been pretty successful so far, given our time constraints and limited initial capital investment,” he says.

Stanton and Kallon are currently laying the groundwork to expand their brand. They’re generating more video content for their website, and they released a new “look book” of fresh styles this spring. They also have events coming up soon where they’ll travel across the country to promote The Rough directly to popup shops.

Despite his busy schedule, Stanton still finds an hour or two in the week to visit thrift stores in the Triangle with the hopes of finding “lifetime pieces” that mesh with The Rough brand.

It’s more than a business, he says, it’s a passion. Regardless of whether or not the vintage clothing trend turns out to be a passing fad for most people, odds are that 10 years from now, you’ll still find Stanton—or a team of stylists he directs— sifting through the racks of Plato’s Closet, breathing new life into old threads.

Nathan Miller MEM’17 is the Nicholas School’s student communications assistant.