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Molly Southern: 17-Year-Old’s Passion for Fashion Shines In Clothing Swap

As a child, Molly Southern was surrounded by inspiration.

“I’ve grown up around huge amounts of people. My mom runs a music festival, Heavy Rebel Weekender, which happens every Fourth of July on Trade Street,” Southern said. “When I was little my mom and I went to concerts every week and there would be people staying at our house that were in bands on tour.”

Her family and family friends were, and still are, a tribe of creatives—musicians in punk and rock bands, artists and travelers on the road. Each of them, in a way, contributed to Southern’s passion for clothes. She believes that the threads that weave together a cozy sweater and the dye that marks a favorite pair of jeans all say something about a person.

For the 17-year-old Winston-Salem native, clothes have the power to tell a story.

With this mantra in mind, Southern wanted to create a space downtown for community members to share their garments and stories with one another.

To do so she organized a clothing swap at Dye Pretty, the hair salon on Trade Street owned by her aunt, Whitney Sapp.

“People have been trading clothes within their circles of friends for a long time,” Southern said. “But I wanted to make it open to everyone, you know? If those clothes are eventually going to go to Goodwill, then people could just get them at the swap and then it would be a community thing. I thought it would be a better way to do it.”

She spread the word via social media, friends and family and invited anyone who wanted to shake up their wardrobe to come to the First Friday Gallery Hop in September.

“It was a really, really huge success,” said Izzy Absher, a friend of Southern’s since the eighth grade who left the swap with a new stuffed animal. “There were piles upon piles of stuff in the front of the shop. She didn’t even have enough hangers and clothing racks for all of the items.”

It was “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” to the fullest extent. A faux fur jacket from decades past, cable knit sweaters and lightly worn, brightly colored pumps lined the walls and floors of Dye Pretty.

At the heart of Southern’s mission was to donate whatever leftover clothes the swap accumulated to victims of the recent Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston, Texas.

But it was this plan that presented her biggest challenge.

“Texas was not wanting clothes, per say,” Southern said. “It was more of a burden than it would have been a relief. I had told people that’s what I was going to do, so I felt guilty for not doing that.”

After contacting a few organizations that were collecting relief supplies, she knew she could not send the 30 to 40 trash bags full of clothes donated to the swap to Houston. The organizations unanimously said that they had neither the manpower to sort the articles nor the space to host the clothes, according to Southern.

In a change of plans, Southern divided the clothes into smaller bundles and donated them to various not-for-profit thrift stores around the city like the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission and Goodwill.

But there was one item that she kept.

“The most interesting thing that I pulled out of a trash bag—I don’t know who donated it, I wish I did—was a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat,” Southern said. “It was terrifying. I have a picture of me and my girlfriend kissing with me wearing it.”

At first glance the red cap and stitched white letters, reminiscent of the Trump 2016 campaign, told a story Southern did not want to tell.

“My first reaction was to throw it out,” she said. “But then I figured I should keep it and do some sort of art with it. Maybe I could salvage the hat—it’s not the hat’s fault, after all.”

Putting her own spin on clothing and adding detail to an item is all part of Southern’s own creative process. It’s also a part of her next project.

In the coming months, Southern plans to open her own boutique, Rodman Relics. The name hails tribute to Rodman Edward Serling, the pioneer of Southern’s own fashion aesthetic and narrator of one of her favorite shows, The Twilight Zone.

She envisions two or three clothing racks and tables with vintage trinkets like mugs and piggy banks—some of her favorite items—set up at the front of Dye Pretty, just like the clothing swap.

Each article of clothing would be repurposed from worn items found at thrift stores, with a unique twist worthy of telling a story and catching a few approving glances.

“I think that the main reason that I do clothes is that I love when people look at me,” Southern said. “The best feeling for me is when someone is appreciative of what I’ve put my work and soul into. I get upset when it’s not showing my art.”

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