When Mountain View High School senior Millie Kopp toured the Discovery Shop for the first time, her eyes drifted to a big rectangular trash can in the corner. It was filled with dozens of “flawed” vintage clothing pieces, deemed unsellable and to be redirected to Goodwill or independent buyers.
“That’s when the lightbulb kind of went off in my head,” Kopp said. “Not all of it could be sold to youth, but a lot of it was vintage clothes that were really old, that are kind of cute now.”
As a freshman, Kopp began selling vintage clothing she had bought from local thrift stores on the online marketplace Depop. Two years later, after selling everything from southern NASCAR jackets to band tees, Kopp said she sold more than 600 pieces and made around $30,000.
Selling vintage clothing on Depop inspired Kopp to further explore the world of sustainable fashion, and led her to volunteer at the Discovery Shop, a thrift store which sells donated items to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Kopp said her curiosity towards sustainable fashion has been the most rewarding of the many interests she’s explored, including volleyball and school clubs. It’s also the longest-standing, tracing back to when she was just eight years old.
“My mom would walk down the stairs in these very sophisticated and chic outfits, that were a twist between upscale women’s wear and vintage, funky pieces,” Kopp said. “From a young age, I was very influenced by how powerful she looked.”
As Kopp grew up, she began emulating the vintage styles introduced to her by her mother. She founded two projects that promote sustainable fashion through Depop and the Discovery Shop. By giving and organizing TEDx talks, she’s brought awareness to the detrimental impacts of fast fashion. Even as a past wardrobe assistant and a social media manager for swimwear brand Aurora & Lolo, she has found time to volunteer monthly.
“It’s always a struggle to be balanced,” Kopp said. “I’m always kind of adjusting and being bounced around in all these different categories.”
But she said the most important things she’s learned from her past three years of work as a fashion-focused entrepreneur are delegation and empathy.
Learning to delegate
Soon after she began volunteering, Kopp’s dedication to her work in fashion reached an all time high. But as a high school student who was focused on extracurricular activities, including producing her school’s annual TEDx event, and maintaining high grades, her leadership skills hindered. Because she had such a tight schedule, Kopp said she felt more productive working by herself and began focusing less on teamwork.
“I really really commit to things, and I become very dedicated to whatever I take on, and I end up pouring a lot of my time into those commitments,” Kopp said. “Usually, other things are sacrificed.”
In late 2020, Kopp created “ON-TREND,” a section of the Discovery Shop that was dedicated to selling the vintage clothes to teens, alongside Mountain View High School senior Samantha Berry and Los Altos High School senior Chloe Park, the only other teen Discovery Shop volunteers.
“She was really passionate about the clothes,” Park said. “I’m not into fashion like she is, so it was cool to see how she had a different perspective in that sense … and just how she expresses herself through clothing.”
But Kopp’s sharpened focus and “full steam ahead” attitude was difficult for her Discovery Shop co-workers to keep up with. Berry and Park said they saw communication as key for their work, and that wasn’t possible when Kopp was always moving quickly.
“She had such great ideas and such initiative,” Park said. “You know when you dream big and you just ‘want to do it?’ That’s how she is, and it was a little hard at first to understand that.”
Last November, Kopp also took on the majority of the upcoming TEDx event’s pre-production planning. However, this was an issue for her team when she tested positive for COVID-19 mere days before the event and couldn’t attend.
Addy Kopp, Kopp’s younger sister and Mountain View High sophomore, volunteered for the same TEDx event and said that her sister needed to learn that it was okay to just “give the minimum.”
“That event made me take a step back and examine how I performed in that situation,” Kopp said. “I need to be able to teach people how to do things and let them make mistakes so that in those tough times they’ll be able to make the show go on.”
This realization was confirmed when Kopp learned about “groupthink,” the idea of reaching a consensus without critical thinking, in her AP Psychology class. By detecting groupthink in her own life and seeing the impact it had on her co-workers and projects, Kopp said she knew she had to slow down. She said it taught her that the only way to “move further” was by including different perspectives and ideas.
“I think that’s why delegating is so important,” Kopp said. “Hearing the diverse viewpoints that everyone brings to the table, I really believe in that, and that’s why I’ve become more communicative towards my club members and my volunteers.”
Learning to empathize
One of the easiest things for Kopp is being self-sufficient, she said, even if that’s not fully beneficial to her work. While she was productive and had a “strong sense of self,” Park said, Kopp still had to work on further incorporating empathy into her work.
As a self-proclaimed “semi-empathetic” person, Kopp views herself as naturally very reflective, rather than emotive.
“I constantly think about people and the explanation for why they do things,” Kopp said.
The teen said her desire to become more of an empathetic leader stemmed from observing how one of her close friends, the “most empathetic person” she said she has ever met, created strong connections with everyone around her. Kopp consistently saw the positive effects those connections had on her friend’s life and wanted to strive for similar results.
“She can really feel what people are going through,” Kopp said. “And the most amazing thing about that is that people love being around her.”
For Kopp, applying empathy into her work both as a leader and entrepreneur at the Discovery Shop and as the executive producer of TEDx wasn’t easy. Kopp said she strongly believes that compassion, charisma and encouragement all come from being able to empathize, making empathy all the more important.
“Experiencing emotions for your co-workers,” Kopp said. “That means someone who is really motivating people to join, and makes them care. It all goes hand in hand.”
Once Kopp relaxed and spent more time for hanging out with friends and watching the occasional movie, everything fell into place.
“In the past six months, I’ve really prioritized my friendships, and I understand the value in connecting with people,” Kopp said. “Building up those friendships has really helped me in TEDx, because it helps me empathize with my club members and be a human, rather than a boss.”
As for “ON-TREND,” it’s safe to say that the section will continue even after Kopp graduates. With two clubs, one at MVHS and another at LAHS, promoting volunteer work for the American Cancer Society, the team is only growing. Kopp said there are currently more than 60 volunteers across both schools.
Kopp also created a 10-page handbook for creating, maintaining and marketing a successful teen section, which will be implemented in Discovery Shop stores across the nation, and continue to promote sustainability.
So what’s in Kopp’s future? While fashion is an important part of Kopp’s life, she said she sees it more as the medium through which she’s been exploring the impacts of climate change, and plans to pursue the realm of environmental studies, public policy and business.
“Climate change touches all the complexities of how our country functions,” Kopp said. “[Environmental studies] will really allow me to make big changes and solve big issues in those spheres.”
Kopp said that everything she’s learned in high school, whether as an empathetic leader or a communicative co-worker, is vital for her future.
“I think I’ll always love fashion,” Kopp said. “Fashion was just my kind of take on how I was going to do this [work in climate change] in high school.”