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New HBS Start-Up, ThredUp, Aims to ReFresh Your Closet

EC student’s recently launched clothing start-up brings change to your closet.

Inspired by the Harbus’ recent issue dedicated to addressing whether now is a good time to be an entrepreneur, I sat down with EC student James Reinhart (OD) to learn about the his clothing startup, ThredUp, and to hear about the challenges of launching a company while at HBS. Is James set to revolutionize the way people think about their wardrobes? Find out for yourself by signing up at www.thredup.com.

What is ThredUp?
ThredUp is the first peer-to-peer online clothing share ever. It is the easy and inexpensive way to refresh your closet by getting rid of great clothes you don’t wear anymore in exchange for great clothes you probably will.

What do you mean probably? How does the service work?
Everybody’s got clothes in their closet in perfectly good shape that they don’t wear anymore. It’s not that these clothes aren’t still great, we as consumers are just over them. ThredUp helps you exchange these clothes with other members in a super-easy, super-efficient way using the US Postal Service. All you do is pick out those clothes you don’t wear anymore, buy some ThredUp envelopes from us, define what you’d like in return (brand, sizes, colors, etc) and then exchange until your heart’s content. I say probably, because you don’t get to pick the exact item you get, but you get to pick the parameters of that item.

Can you exchange anything?
Not yet. We’ve started a pilot for Mens Long Sleeve Button-Down Shirts in the $70-$90 range (Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Ralph Lauren, etc.). If you have good looking shirts in your closet you don’t wear, you should just ThredUp. Get rid of those shirts you don’t wear and get ones you will.

How did you come up with the idea for ThredUp?
It’s actually been brewing for awhile, but one morning I was getting dressed and I found myself skipping over a dozen shirts for like the 300th time and I thought to myself “these are perfectly good shirts, I’m just not into them anymore.” Then I started asking my guy friends if they had the same problem and it was a resounding “YES.” So I started thinking hard about it and soon found my business partner – an old college roommate – Oliver Lubin. We did some simple math about the value of these unutilized assets in people closets and came up with a big number. That got us from just a good idea to potentially a good business.

What’s the state of ThredUp right now?
We’re doing this stealth pilot right now for Men’s shirts. It’s totally free, but you do need an invitation code. We’ll run the pilot until May and then see what happens.

How do you get into the pilot?
The first 50 readers of this article can sign-up using the code “Harbus” but we’ll have to cap it after that. Every free pilot participant costs me like $20! So we have to be reasonable.

So you have not received funding yet?
Not yet. We’re working on it. We decided to do a pilot first and then try to look for funding.

Has being at HBS helped you with ThredUp?
Absolutely. The RC year was really essential in helping me think about ThredUp. Though I have to admit, you care a whole lot more about the answers to “what’s your core customer” and “what are the cash flows to the founders” when it’s your business! For awhile there, it was just an abstraction. Now it’s very real.

Speaking of real, what’s the business model?
It’s a nice business, let’s leave it at that.

How is the economy affecting your business?
We think it’s the right time for a business like ThredUp. People are cutting back and looking for value. Not just for new purchases but for getting the most out of what they have.

Biggest challenge?
Remembering that if this were easy, everybody would be doing it. It’s an emotional roller-coaster. Sometimes I wake-up and think “this is never going to work.” Then I get back from a run, and I’m all fired up. My wife keeps me sane.

Parting thoughts?
Yes. ThredUp! All of you. What do you have to lose, except that shirt you haven’t worn in two years that you’re never going to wear again anyway. Ok, I’m done now.

March 16, 2009
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