Patricia Garcia: A Spirit of Determination Sparks Affordable University Apparel

Patricia Garcia

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by a character named Spiffy, with founders working on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The focus for November is on SDG 13 — Climate Action. There is so much at stake, so let’s see what’s being done!

Hi everyone, I’m Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on climate change. Today it is my pleasure to be talking to Patricia Garcia, founder of “college thrifts”.

Spiffy: Patricia, I’m excited to hear about your venture! It’s quite new and you have some big dreams for it. Let’s start with your overall vision and mission.

Patricia:  Thanks so much for having me, Spiffy. The goal of "college thrifts" is to create more inclusive and sustainable institutions of higher education by supporting economic development and creating mentorship opportunities amongst college students. We are actually addressing four UN SDGs, including Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGoal 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGoal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and Goal 13: Climate Action. Overall, we want to raise awareness about the environmental impact of wasteful practices at the college level, and also provide a platform for students to feel part of their college communities. We believe it is our responsibility to spark sustainable consumption behavior and do our share to make the world a better place.

Spiffy: Wow! And what sparked this idea?

Patricia: Well, Spiffy, throughout my time at the undergraduate level, I’ve had the opportunity to experience distinct college campuses and cultures across the United States. 

Spiffy: That’s a bit unusual, isn’t it? How did you manage that?

Patricia:  I’ve worked on research projects at the University of California Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and the University of Miami. I’ve also participated in hackathons at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Southern California.

Spiffy: That must have been fascinating! What did you observe?

Patricia: I noticed there was one thing all these institutions of higher education had in common: high priced college gear! It’s the 21st century, but the university system continues to subtly discriminate and exclude low-income students, like myself, who cannot afford to purchase this merchandise, while catering to those who can.

Spiffy: What kind of prices are we talking about?

Patricia: Well Spiffy, when you walk into any college bookstore, anywhere in the nation, you’ll be sure to spot the $60 crew neck next to the $50 sweatpants and $35 tee. With rising tuition, room, and board costs, the average college student can’t afford to pay these high prices for apparel, with the hope of sporting their school's name.

Spiffy: I see! And if all of these items are brand new, what is a student to do? Was this the challenge that motivated you?

Patricia: It was, Spiffy! My lived experience has instilled a passion to be a voice for all the students who find themselves unattached from their college communities because they lack the financial resources, yet want to rep sustainable gear. The sustainability-minded, financially savvy Generation-Z shoppers (which make up a large percentage of college students) wanted a solution to this pressing issue and I wanted to solve it. Through "college thrifts", I hope to foster inclusivity, spark sustainable consumption behavior, and make college campuses a better place.

Spiffy: And your work is making campuses more equitable too!

Patricia: Exactly! We are doing this by providing students (especially low-income and first-generation minority students) with a sustainable and affordable way to represent their institutions of higher education in the midst of COVID-19. It is important to commemorate the culmination of so many years of hard work in pursuit of higher education – and we do this through upcycled college gear.

Spiffy: That’s amazing Patricia! What kind of impact have you made?

Patricia: Since March 2020, we have facilitated 250+ sales, and raised over $20,000 from national pitch competitions! We have also received positive user testimonials and have hundreds of potential users on our email list eagerly waiting for our launch. Based on the recent wins, we feel we are ready for our May 2021 reveal and can't wait to introduce our new carbon footprint tracker!

college thrift

A “college thrifts” sample user interface, allows users to filter by college/university. Image Courtesy of Patricia Garcia.

Spiffy: In your journey so far, have you overcome any challenges or experienced failure?

Patricia: You know Spiffy, I grew up in Little Havana, an underserved Hispanic community in Miami, but as an aspiring entrepreneur, I didn’t receive as much support as I would have liked. Typically, when I would say that I hoped to become an entrepreneur, the response was, “Mija, are you sure? You need a real job. That is a job for the wealthy.” I asked myself how I was going to build a successful venture in a field that was, I had come to believe, not designed for people like me.

Spiffy: How did you overcome that?

Patricia: After a lot of reflection, I knew I wouldn’t let societal influences – such as economic status or the zip code I was born into – deter me from pursuing my dreams, even if it meant encountering failure. In my journey to become a successful social entrepreneur, I've hit a lot of roadblocks – causing me to go back to the drawing-board a couple of times. However, every failure was a learning experience that helped build my character and got me to where I am today! 

Spiffy: I’m so glad you stuck with your dreams, Patricia. I believe we can all learn something surprising every day. What about you?

Patricia: Definitely! One big lesson I’ve learned is that your college major does not define your career!

Spiffy: I believe it! Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience today?

Patricia: Yes, Spiffy, I’d love for them to know that “college thrifts” is more than just a resale app. We are also a networking platform that allows students and alumni to connect with one another. Not only are we providing students a sustainable and affordable alternative to the high bookstore prices, but we are also facilitating mentorship opportunities and lasting alumni connections at institutions of higher education.

Spiffy: I think your determination and vision are going to take you far, Patricia. It’s been an honor to speak with you today! Go Panthers!

Patricia Garcia, a Miami native, is pursuing a degree from Florida International University (FIU) in interdisciplinary engineering with a concentration in manufacturing engineering and a minor in business management. She is passionate about utilizing a systems-perspective to collaborate across disciplines, and designing innovative, human-centered solutions to various social challenges. (Nominated by Action Accelerator)

© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and digital curriculum, with the mission to enable over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs.

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