For Alexa Hollander, who was born in Laguna Beach and grew up in Costa Mesa, finding a unique style of her own was always a challenge.
But that all changed when she discovered thrifting.
Known as Alexa Sunshine to her 162,000 YouTube subscribers — after a nickname her mother gave her because of her eternally-smiling face as a child — the 25 year old videotapes her thrifting forays, teaches people how to find their look on $1 Thursdays and shares tips on shopping sustainably.
And thrifting, it’s turned out, also gives her a larger purpose: helping others counteract the ill effects of fast fashion.
Wearing her now-signature high-‘90s outfits, complete with high-waisted “mom jeans” and oversize tucked-in T-shirts, Hollander extols the joys of landing killer clothes second-hand.
As she says, “Every dollar is a vote of what you support.”
It was the 2015 documentary “The True Cost,” about the toll the garment industry takes on low-wage workers and the environment, that got Hollander thinking about the effects of mass production and impulse purchases.
Before, going to Goodwill stores and consignment shops had never crossed her mind.
As the youngest of six kids — five of them girls — her social life largely hinged on shopping.
“My grandma went to Nordstrom, like, every day,” she recalls.
Hollander’s personal style has swayed from hyper-feminine á la Bethany Mota and Zoe Sugg, to the skinny jeans and neon colors of the scene scene. Once an aspiring actress, she’d audition for Nickelodeon or Disney Channel parts wearing lots of bright colors.
“There was an endless cycle of feeling like I needed to prove myself with fashion,” she says.
On top of that, she’d head for the mall or scour through Forever 21’s new arrivals online when she felt down.
“I wasn’t happy with what I was buying,” she says. “I wasn’t that happy, not knowing what I wanted to do in my life.”
About three years ago, she stumbled upon YouTube videos on minimalism and started decluttering her closet.
“I was peeling back things I felt were holding me back,” she says.
When a friend recommended “The True Cost,” it all started to crystallize for Hollander.
Thrift stores are now her lodestar. She found the random racks of donated duds pushed her to develop her own style.
Now she takes her video camera to places like Goodwill and flea markets to film her thrifting hauls — some of which she sells online to help her followers who don’t have good thrifting options nearby.
Hollander’s YouTube following grew as she started to communicate with viewers who left comments. She aimed to hit 100,000 followers this year, a mark she made by April.
Now, most of the time that she thrifts, she says she meets fellow shoppers who watch her videos, even once encountering a Swedish follower on a thrifting trip in England.
This past spring, Goodwill of Orange County recruited Hollander to help update the work wardrobe of President and CEO Nicole Suydam from finds at Goodwill’s own stores. Suydam came away with 16 staple pieces at the Rare By Goodwill store in Anaheim, for a grand total of $125 with her 20% Goodwill discount. She high-fived Hollander at the checkout counter.
“It’s very encouraging to see you shop here,” a fascinated customer gaped at Suydam.
Hollander is relatable in her videos and transparent about her own fashion sustainability missteps, including previously accepting sponsorships, though unpaid, from fast-fashion companies.
In one of her YouTube videos early this year, she forswore fast fashion promotion on her channel. She says her sponsors and advertisers are now all sustainable-fashion brands, such as Poshmark.
Hollander quit her job working in inventory at Apple in September and now makes a full-time living from her YouTube sponsorships.
And she still gets to feed the shopping bug, but sustainably.
“I’m not gonna lie,” she says. “I have two closets.”