New Student-Developed App to Sustain High Fashion at Haverford
Perennial, created through this summer’s Innovation Incubator, seeks to reduce the fashion industry’s disproportionate environmental impact.
A passion for fashion and technology with the added goal of being environmentally sustainable. That’s the goal of three juniors who teamed up this summer to develop a clothes-selling and buying application they hope will encourage and enable the reuse and repurposing of fast- and high-fashion items among college students.
Perennial is the creation of Sabine Mejia ’25, Jennifer Contreras ’25, and Yue Chen BMC ’25, three computer science majors who began coding and developing the app during Haverford’s Innovation Incubator this past summer. Begun in 2018 as an extension of the Haverford Innovations Program, the Innovation Incubator is an eight-week session that provides funding, mentorship, and resources for developing and prototyping student-run entrepreneurial enterprises.
Like previous Haverford projects in the sustainable fashion space (see Ford’s Closet), Perennial offers students a proactive opportunity to reduce the massive carbon footprint of the fashion industry while also creating a financial engine to sustain the endeavor. The fashion industry, Contreras says in a video about the project, “produces more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.”
“The industry doesn't just destroy our ozone layer,” she says. “Discarded clothing results in synthetic fibers polluting our oceans and water sources, killing wildlife and eventually making its way into our bodies in the form of microplastics and chemicals.”
Students can sign up for the Perennial app using their school email address. After creating a user profile, they can upload up to five photos of garments they wish to sell and include a description and price. Potential buyers perusing the app can sort garments by color, type, and size to see what’s available to them.
Once a shopper clicks on “buy,” the seller tags the garment with the buyer's name and drops it off at Central Services. Later, the buyer will receive an email from Central Services indicating which locker the garment has been stored in and a QR code to open it. The hyperlocal sale is complete with no shipping costs, carbon emissions, or waste entering a landfill.
Commercial apps such as Threadup, Poshmark, Depop, and Vintage are somewhat sustainable, but all of them include shipping costs and associated environmental repercussions. Perennial, which draws on concepts and aspects of each, does not.
Mejia, Contreras, and Chen surveyed Haverford students to better understand the pain points of shopping for second-hand merchandise. When asked how likely they would be to use an app like Perennial, 52% responded positively, and 75% of respondents indicated they had clothes to sell. The survey also ranked complaints about existing resale shopping apps. High shipping costs and long shipping times topped the list, further validating the Perennial approach.
The team hopes to roll out Perennial at all three Tri-Co schools, but since each operates individual campus mail systems the app will only be available at Haverford initially. With the demands of their coursework and Mejia’s studies in Hungary this semester, Perennial is expected to launch in fall 2024.
Beyond that, the trio is hoping to raise $10,000 to ultimately expand the app beyond the Tri-Co schools and into neighboring institutions like Villanova, Drexel, and University of Pennsylvania. The team also hopes to develop a symbiotic relationship with Ford’s Closet to help move the clothes that go unsold during those pop-up events.
“I think it would be great if every college had their version of this,” says Mejia. “I believe that Perennial would be very successful at a big university such as Penn State or Michigan State. Many apps have the goal of recruiting as many users as possible and so having a bigger pool of potential users right off the bat would be advantageous.
“And I'm really hoping this encourages people to think about quality when they do buy first hand. Before I purchase something firsthand, I ask, ‘Will this resell?’ I think just having that mindset can minimize the amount of unnecessary or wasteful purchases. Hopefully having an option like Perennial to be able to sell their clothes on will help people become more mindful consumers as well.”
— Sam Donnellon