Woman sips soda at a food truck.
Maddie Graham, sustainable stylist, influences a new generation of fashion.
While photographing her thrifted outfit with her iPhone propped up against an alley dumpster, Maddie Graham, local businesswoman, was unknowingly creating the environmental business, The Frugal Fox.

 

“I would sometimes duct tape my phone to a random wall to get my pictures taken,” Graham said.

The mass-produced, low-cost, worldwide fast fashion industry accounts for 92 million tons of clothing items in landfills each year due to the high demand of trendy clothes, according to earth.org. Graham’s entire message is to prevent the large clothing consumption and promote thrifting and buying second-hand clothing instead of buying new.

“Fast fashion started becoming on my radar about nine years ago,” Graham said. “I didn’t start thrifting because of fast fashion reasons. It ended up turning into being ‘Why the f are we doing this?’” 

Fast fashion stores/companies include H&M, Boohoo, ASOS, Shein and many others that mass produce clothing at a low cost. 

The 30-year-old local influencer and avid thrifter is from Lincoln and goes by @thefrugalfox_ on Instagram.

“I’ve never even really called myself an influencer. It’s something that I’m newly accepting,” Graham said. “I am just trying to fight fast fashion, empower the everyday woman and positively change the shopping mentality.”  

Graham graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School in 2010 where she was an active varsity basketball and soccer player. After she graduated, she attended Southeast Community College for four years to earn an art degree while also balancing the lifestyle of raising a child, completing school work and working a part-time job. Through all of that, she always kept fashion on her radar. 

Throughout high school and even in middle school, she would thrift and find vintage clothing to wear instead of following the trends. Graham started her own Instagram account to pursue her interest in fashion, The Frugal Fox, when she was 19 years old and in college, with the intent of it becoming a blog.

 “I knew I wanted it to be associated with fashion but didn’t know how to do that in Nebraska,” Graham said. “I originally thought starting a blog would allow me to do what I wanted, but I realized after a while that I was picturing something different.” 

After graduating college, she worked a variety of jobs such as a cocktail waitress, a paraprofessional, a preschool teacher and an employee at Trader Joe’s. 

“I then quickly realized that I had to do fashion stuff if I wanted to do what I actually wanted to do,” Graham said. 

While she was running her fashion Instagram account, she also started working at 3 Daughters Boutique in the downtown Lincoln Haymarket. 

When she stopped working at the boutique and was only running her Instagram account, Graham started offering $25 closet cleanouts to people she knew. Due to the high demand of those cleanouts, their prices of them have now quadrupled. 

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Graham’s closet cleanouts have reached a national level since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Graham’s closet cleanouts consist of her going into people’s personal closets in their homes, getting rid of the items that are not worn and finding what their style really is. She teaches people how to shop for and style their own figure and pick out things that work well with their skin tone. All of the items that are cleaned out are donated to local Goodwills.   

“I didn’t realize how many people needed that,” Graham said. “Those cleanouts really did help their lives for the better, and I have always been that way. I loved thrifting and recycling clothes and making new outfits with things that I would find, and then after I would wear them a few times, I would recycle it and thrift more stuff. I didn’t realize how many people wanted that, too.” 

When Graham was 21, she stopped posting on her Instagram page and doing the closet cleanouts and focused on family issues that she was experiencing at the time. 

A couple of years later, The Frugal Fox was back.

“It started growing off the bat, which was insane,” Graham said. “I kinda jumped into something and then asked myself ‘What did I just do?!’ because I didn’t know anything about business at all.” 

People from the Lincoln community started recognizing her from her Instagram when she was 19 years old and immediately started asking her to do closet cleanouts, personal styling sessions and styling for their family photoshoots. 

“I for the longest time thought that I would never get to do The Frugal Fox again,” Graham said. “I thought because I had quit and it sucked and I didn’t know what I was doing, no one would remember it. I then shortly realized that whenever you need to take a break from something, it will always be there and people will remember you.”

Three months after Graham restarted her business, Marie Condo, a Japanese organizing consultant, author and TV host, released her book on organizing based on what brings people joy. So whenever Condo was talked about, Graham came into the conversation because of her closet cleanout service. 

“People would start having me do their closets, and they would tell their friends who would tell their friends and everyone was talking about that book, and then my name would get brought up,” Graham said. “So, it was 100% good timing.”

Graham is an entire one-woman show.

She answers all of the emails, phone calls, text messages, Instagram messages, Facebook messages and makes sure she gets back to the right people about the right thing. She is doing all of that while she is also doing the closet cleanouts, doing the marketing, producing the content, editing the photos and doing the pop-up shops. 

Graham’s business consists of styling sessions, closet cleanouts, virtual styling sessions and selling second-hand clothing on her separate Shop The Frugal Fox Instagram page. Her main goal is to take the stress out of getting dressed and make women confident in their own bodies. 

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Every week Graham does sales on her ‘Shop the Frugal Fox’ Instagram account where she sells second-hand items she has thrifted.

Within the 2022 year, Graham started doing pop-up shops where she sells second-hand clothing at various locations. She has set up shop at sorority houses on college campuses, White Elm Brewery, Roots Collective in downtown Lincoln, etc.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently hosted a Lincoln Earth Day event at Nebraska Innovation Campus on April 23 where Graham participated in a live panel discussion that covered ways to live sustainably at home. 

Her Instagram is full of helpful tips on finding your own personal style, thrifting with a purpose, acknowledging your body type in a positive way and all doing so with an environmental strategy. 

“Before you go thrifting, I think it’s good to think about what you want to find, and to not just go in there and be whatever,” Graham said. “It’s nice to look at trends you are into that are coming up, otherwise you can get into a rut and just thrift really thrifty stuff. Going in there with a purpose helps.”

Graham’s favorite local thrift stores include Ruby Begonia’s, Glam House, One More Time, the Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Rubia Begonias is more of a vintage thrift, which is where Graham purchased her prom dress nearly 12 years ago. 

During Graham’s sessions, she teaches her clients how to stay on track with their style, gives them tips about their body type, what colors to go for that look best with their skin tone and also gives them guidelines to help the environment and stop buying things they think they need. She said this way the whole session will be more successful because they can learn what colors, styles and types of clothing look best on themselves. 

“I want to stop people from buying stuff all of the time. It’s a total competition,” Graham said. “When I worked at 3 Daughters Boutique, I would witness the same women just coming in and buying more and more and more. Like every month the same women would do that. That is when I realized I wanted to do styling, but environmentally friendly.”

When COVID-19 hit the globe, millions of people were out of work. There were a lot of negative outcomes from the pandemic, but in the world of The Frugal Fox, the positives outweigh the negatives. 

“I was working two part-time jobs and doing The Frugal Fox before COVID, and I was just overworking myself,” Graham said. “Once COVID hit, I started doing virtual styling sessions which I had never done before, and those took off like wildfire and kept me afloat through the major part of the pandemic.” 

Graham had people from Florida, New York and Los Angeles contact her looking to do virtual styling sessions. They saw her posts that their friends had shared and found her business on Instagram.

The Frugal Fox currently has nearly 4,000 followers on her Instagram platform, with her Shop The Frugal Fox page having a little over 1,000. 

Making connections through social media has allowed opportunities for other businesses like The Frugal Fox to grow their businesses. Graham and several other women in Lincoln with locally owned businesses recognized each other’s successes and created an enormous amount of support for themselves. Their support for each other has created an empowering movement for women across Lincoln. 

“I’ve met some really cool women in town that are good women that have turned out to be mentors in my life that I wouldn’t have ever met if they had not hired me,” Graham said. “They all support the young entrepreneurial women in town and it’s really cool to see this other side of Lincoln that I would have never seen before.”

The Frugal Fox’s future has a chance to really thrive and change the fashion culture, not just locally, but nationally. If everyone had the same mentality, steps could be taken to better this planet environmentally and feministically.

 “It would be really cool if some rich person would just hire me to travel with them and style their outfits, that’d be great,” Graham enthusiastically stated. “It’s just gonna be me and Rihanna, bye.” 

Graham’s next goal for her business is to eventually start a YouTube channel where she can continue to help people, and expand her pop-up shops. 

“The future of this business could take so many different avenues,” Graham said. “I honestly don’t know, and that’s such a dumb answer because I just really want to help as many people as I can and then figure out how to do that. I definitely want to keep styling the everyday woman.”