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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

CHS senior finds a silver lining

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

We’ve all been inundated with stories of what we’ve lost since COVID-19 upended our lives last March.

Less publicized has been what’s been gained; we’ve learned to cook, begun exercise routines, and undertaken a previously unimaginable spectrum of do-it-yourself home projects, to name just a few of the bright spots.    

Maya Garcia, 17, found her own silver lining.

The Claremont High School senior turned the tedium of isolation into a small business, opening “Maya’s Closet,” (on Instagram @mayas_closet_) shortly after area schools closed to in-person instruction last year.

“I started because I was bored,” Maya said. “Everybody had gotten out of school, and school was online. Things had definitely slowed down.”

She had been on CHS’s swim and speech and debate teams, a chamber singer, and was active with local justice organizations, including Disarm Hate (on Instagram at @disarm_hate_) which she co-founded with Webb Schools senior Lily Miller when they were sophomores.

“I was packed, and all of the sudden it went still,” she said. “There wasn’t anything going on. So I just started cleaning out my room and selling clothes. And it kind of blossomed into something unexpected. All of the sudden I had people donating to me, and it became a way to get affordable used clothes in the community.”

As the business grew, something else surprising happened: profits.

“When I realized I was starting to make a profit, and it wasn’t just getting rid of clothes anymore, it was turning into a business, I decided to kind of fuse the agenda of my activism group Disarm Hate and the money that was coming in from Maya’s Closet.

Disarm Hate’s initial focus had been on rallying support among her peers in addressing issues surrounding school shootings and gun control.

“But then after the [May 25, 2020] murder of George Floyd it kind of veered into the direction of racial equity,” Maya said. “Throughout Disarm Hate we were already talking about police brutality and the over use of weapons in this area. So we were kind of already going in that direction, and then after the murder of George Floyd we started raising money for him and his family and for victims of police brutality.”

Through Maya’s Closet, she’s donated $600 to charity thus far, representing 50 percent of her profits. The lion’s share has gone to the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter. But when her friend and CHS classmate Michael Ball took his own life January 25, she was moved to redirect her giving.

“Michael was a friend of mine on the speech and debate team at CHS,” Maya said. “As soon as he passed away some friends and I thought, ‘What can we do to possibly make this a little bit less horrific and a little bit more bearable?’ I had heard some moms came together from our community to create the Michael Ball Memorial Fund.”

The fund is housed on the GoFundMe crowdfunding platform. It links donations to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which promotes awareness and helps people struggling with mental health issues. It went live shortly after Michael’s tragic death with a goal of $5,000. It had raised $12,561 as of press time.

“I knew Michael was in the middle of creating an app to help people that were struggling with their own mental health through an Eagle Scout mission,” Maya said. “So that was something he was passionate about, and ironically … yeah.”

Maya’s Closet’s packaging is recyclable or re-purposed, as one might expect from a young, idealistic justice warrior.

“And all my clothes are second hand, so by purchasing something from my store you’re not having a giant carbon footprint,” she added.

She also takes pride in personalizing her packaging.

“I write people notes, make drawings, and sometimes I’ll add in jewelry that I make or random little knick-knacks. It’s definitely a little personalized order when people buy from me.”

Taking her green bona-fides even further, she delivered her first sales by bicycle.

“Just to get out of the house, I would just [ride] all around and deliver my clothes,” she said of her early delivery method. “But then I realized the customer base was growing in and spreading out.”

She’s now selling to customers in Upland, San Bernardino and Pomona, among other neighboring cities, and Maya’s Closet has become a pickup business.

“My porch is kind of a mound of people’s packages,” she said.

A big chunk of her business is with moms, but the store also sells boys and men’s clothes. Her customers range from middle schoolers to 50-year-olds.

Some youth-centric resale clothing shops are known for their, well, let’s just say “discerning”  buying policies. Maya takes a less dehumanizing approach.

“When people deliver donations I take it all,” she said. “I definitely have experienced that same feeling [of having her clothes deemed not cool enough to buy] and I don’t want to make anybody else feel like that, so I take it all.”

She’s also not averse to customizing some donations.

“If I feel like some of the clothes won’t sell, I’ll alter them,” Maya said. “I’ll fix them up if something’s broken, or I’ll crop a shirt if I think that’s going to be a style that people are going to enjoy a little bit more. And if really doesn’t sell I’ll just take it to Goodwill and donate it there.”

Maya’s two younger siblings, Oliver, 8, and Isa, 12, are both at Sycamore Elementary School. Her father Martin is a biology professor at UC Riverside, and her mother Eva is a midwife at Eisner Health in Los Angeles. She spent her early childhood in Connecticut, and has lived in Claremont for nine years. 

She hopes to attend one of the Claremont Colleges.

“I’m in the process of hearing back,” she said. “I have no idea if I’ll get in!” But if that doesn’t work out, she’s already been accepted to Cal Poly Pomona, “and that would be amazing as well.”

Her plan is to become a licensed marriage and family therapist and start a private practice here in town.

“I love Claremont,” she said. “I love the community. I think there’s a lot to work on obviously, but I think it’s an amazing place to grow up. I think that I’d probably want to end up staying in Claremont. I love it that much.”

Judging by her infectious enthusiasm, intelligence and seemingly bottomless energy, it’s a strong bet she’ll achieve whatever she sets out to do, perhaps even including taking her pandemic-inspired small business to the masses.

“I’ve had dreams of opening up a storefront and starting up a little shop called Maya’s Closet, but we’ll see how realistic that is,” she said. “I love Maya’s Closet. It’s definitely become one of my favorite things to do.”

Meanwhile, donations continue to come in steadily.

“To this day I have random Sycamore moms and neighbors bringing by clothes they don’t wear or don’t fit them anymore. I really found one man’s trash is definitely another’s treasure through doing this. It’s been a lot of fun.”

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