What It’s Like to Start a Clothing Store From Your Dorm Room

The Hustle, Darden Shadrach, Baker Donahue

This piece originally appeared on theHustle.com.

“Checkmate, son.”

The series was tied 3-3 and Baker had taken the lead.

Baker Donahue is my best friend. We grew up in the same town, went to the same school, and chased the same girls. On this fall day, we were having our weekly coffee, complete with scones, chess, and play-by-play reviews of last night’s festivities. As I conceded defeat, Baker got that look on his face.

I know the look. You know the look. It’s the look when your buddy has a million-dollar idea. It could be self-refrigerating beer, the next Facebook (FB), or, in our case, a bomb-ass clothing.

Here’s the deal. The clothing at our school, the University of Tennessee, sucks. It just does. It’s expensive, preppy, and boring. And the only people buying it are parents, alumni, and high school seniors on campus for orientation.

No college student in his or her right mind wants to pay $79.99 for a basic-looking pullover. Much less one with a name like “Southern Prep Tradition Classic Class” or “I am Pretentious” stitched in mint green on the tag.

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Baker continued,

“Darden. We should sell the type of stuff we would want to wear. The thrift store finds people brag about, the shirts that helped our parents make us.”

Now we’re talking. Campus-wide retail domination.

Securing product

We visited every thrift store in east Tennessee and combed through every piece of vintage clothing — the gaudier the better. If it screamed “dad” or “crazy uncle,” we wanted it.

Next came marketing. The shirts cost us around $6 each, so we knew we needed to add value. Fortunately, our talented photographer friends who can make anybody look good were kind enough to take several hundred dollars worth of photographs for free.

Next, every piece got a unique name. Examples include: “I Only Smoke When I Drink” and “Shacker Sunday”. You know, college things. (Notice we use the word “piece” as if each article of clothing is an artwork to be admired.)

Building the store

Fast forward to last week. This is where it gets interesting. Not wanting to deal with an online store, we decided to sell directly on Instagram. That’s right, we were going to be a retail store based solely on social media.

At first, the system was very simple: First person to comment “mine” got the item.

Since we only have one of each item, and it was first come, first served, people were constantly checking to see if we posted something. It was like a feeding frenzy with hundreds of sharks and only one bucket of chum.

In our first two days, we did $900 in revenue. Not shabby for a couple of college kids.

The “bidding” system & the introduction of freebies

Every dime of the $900 from our first two days was spent on new (well…used) clothing and advertising. That’s helped our follower count triple, and word is spreading like wildfire around campus.

We also switched to a “bidding system,” as shown below.

That whole “mine” thing? People were pissed that an item would sell within 4 seconds of being posted. Even after turning on notifications to get an alert every time we posted, friends were complaining they’d arrive too late.

So, naturally, we gave the people what they wanted… an opportunity to pay even more for this stuff.

The new bidding system gives everyone a fair chance to get the “In With the Old” experience, at a higher price, of course. Items now go anywhere from 4 to 9 times what we buy them for. In “Round 2” we made all of our money back with half the items.

We’ve also started to include “fun stuff” to keep people on their toes. So, we’ll spice up the feed with challenges like “First one to meet us at the downtown Starbucks (SBUX) gets this free shirt” or “Person to comment the best dad joke gets this free shirt.”

People love it and we get to interact with our customer base. Win-win.

Pros of selling on social media

Thanks to the bidding process, buying from us is a privilege. And when buying a product becomes a privilege, (think “new iPhone” or “new Jordan’s”) demand is instantly in the seller’s favor.

Advertising is also cheap and effective. For anywhere between $10 and $50, we can get someone with thousands of followers to give us a shout out.

If I want to know what Old Navy is selling, I have to go out of my way to get on a computer and check their site. Or head over to a physical storefront. For us, once you hit follow, In With the Old becomes a part of your daily life.

Not to mention the fact that every college student I know is constantly on Instagram.

Cons of selling on social media

Let’s list these ones out because they’re pretty straightforward.

  1. Payment is a hassle. Since Instagram doesn’t offer integrated payment systems, (get your sh*t together Zuckerberg) we have to send each customer a unique Paypal invoice. This is very time consuming.
  2. You have to be on your phone constantly. As soon as somebody comments “mine” (or with the “bidding” system, as soon as the auction closes), we have to be on our game.
  3. Shipping. Customers can’t just automatically enter their shipping information so we have to work out each delivery on an individual basis.
  4. Distinguishing ourselves. Since we’re building something that is fairly replicable, we need to get creative to stand out. And that’s easier said than done when you’re limited to a social media platform that you can’t really customize.



The Future

We face a lot of challenges moving forward, which include but are not limited to:

  • Differentiating ourselves from eBay
  • Streamlining the supply chain
  • Not killing each other
  • Keeping our phones charged
  • The fact that I barely passed accounting

As for big picture stuff, we’d love to prove this model works then expand to other campuses around the country. It’d also be huge if we obtained a license to produce our favorite designs ourselves because that would eliminate a lot of the cons/challenges I just mentioned.

But even if this doesn’t get any bigger than a few thousand dollars in revenue, the overall experience of starting a business and the lessons learned along the way are priceless. And hey look, now we’re on The Hustle.

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