Twenty-one-year old Kaitlin Kao has always had a love for fashion. But after dealing with a cramped closet, she brainstormed ways to ease her burden.
Kao chose the social commerce marketplace Poshmark to upload and sell her secondhand clothes after a friend suggested she download the app. She liked the process. "For someone who had no selling experience, I felt like it was really simple and exciting to clear out my closet and make money," Kao says.
"It just started as a hobby and something that I would do for fun to make side cash. But making my first sale, a $10 Brandy Melville shirt, the feeling of making the sale just drove me and it became addicting," Kao explains. "And so I started selling the rest of my closet, my friends', my family's, and I started getting into thrifting. From there, that's when my business kind of blew up. And I decided, well, this isn't just a hobby anymore. This could be a real profiting business."
The California native attends UCLA, where she studies psychology and entrepreneurship as a full-time student. Kao’s sales vary, but in holiday months like December of 2020 she generated about $3,000 in revenue after selling 150 items.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
Since launching Kao Closet on Poshmark in 2016, Kaitlin has sold over 1,900 items and grossed about $31,000 in sales.
"It never occurred to me that my business would get this big," Kao says.
Kao Closet carries a variety of items that are priced reasonably, from shirts to designer sneakers. "I like to give my buyers the best quality for the lowest price," she says. "And although I won't necessarily really make a huge profit all the time, the fact that I'm consistently making lots of little sales adds up over time."
As a full-time college student, Kao relies on strong time management skills to stay on top of both the side hustle and school. "Every day I set a little bit of time aside to work on my business,” she says. “Whether it's growing myself on Instagram, following other users on Poshmark, making trips to the store, or listing inventory."
Kao spends her weekends sourcing clothes at the local Goodwill Outlet. "Sourcing is when you pick up inventory for your closet that you decide to sell for profit," Kao explains. "I wake up at 7 a.m., or as early as I can, [so that] I can get the first pick of the day."
The trip takes her about seven hours, including commuting time — but it is worth it. "You buy clothing by the pound. Where I usually go in Los Angeles, it's about $2 per pound," Kao explains. "So when you think about that, if you find a really cute tank top, and it's lightweight, you could sell it for $20 or more. And then you've already profited ninefold. I profit the most from thrifting at the Goodwill Outlet."
Kao spends hours going through bins to find items that are in season, and after purchasing she takes the clothing back to her dorm, gives all items a wash, and patches up flaws she might find, like stains or holes. She then lists the items to her shop by taking photos of each one and writing descriptions for them.
"That takes me about three hours per haul, which is about 50 items," Kao says.
Since the pandemic, sales have gone up. "I think when Covid shut down in-store shopping, a lot of people transitioned online," Kao says. "And when the app TikTok blew up during quarantine, users were sharing thrifting hauls, DIY videos, and showing off outfits that they repurposed. I think that really encouraged a lot of users to buy used clothing."
"I think for sure there is a novelty in selling used clothes," Kao adds. "Vintage shirts sell really well in my closet — not only are they comfortable and trendy, but there's that sense of nostalgia in each shirt and each graphic."
If you want to start a side hustle or a business, Kao says, find the way that makes sense for you. And remember to be patient.
"I [am personally] an impatient person, so I get frustrated if I'm not making hundreds of dollars and millions of sales every day,” she explains. “But it doesn’t benefit you to compare your process to someone else's. Instead I believe that you should work hard, try to be the best that you can be, and see where it takes you."
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