Communication studies major Reagan Brown didn’t know what to do with the hoodies she received from various romantic partners, so she decided to sell them. The business started as Project Ex, from the hoodies Brown sold from her exes. Then, during her junior year at UNI while Brown was taking entrepreneurship classes as a part of her minor, the idea took on a different form.
“So I took two entrepreneurship classes in my junior year […] and started really diving into this and making it like an actual business. In those classes, it was still Project Ex; the name stayed but the idea concept changed,” Brown said.
After the inception of Project Ex, The College Rack was born. The College Rack is a pop-up secondhand clothing business started by Brown, now a senior, to make thrifting and secondhand clothes shopping more accessible for UNI students.
The College Rack’s most recent pop-up events were held this past weekend on Thursday, Friday and Sunday in the Business and Community Services Building on campus. Thursday and Friday included clothes that were individually priced and Sunday’s event was a $10 bag sale. Brown said she has a vision of her customers feeling as if they got a good deal.
Brown describes the business as “Plato’s Closet with a social enterprise twist.” That social enterprise aspect includes donating 10% of the profits from every pop-up event to a local charity. Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, a local organization that supports and advocates for victims of sexual and domestic abuse, human trafficking and homelessness, was the benefactor of the string of pop-ups held by The College Rack this past weekend.
All the clothes that are not sold at the end of each semester at the pop-ups are donated to a charity or other in-need organizations. In the past, Brown has donated the clothes to Youth Emergency Services and Shelter of Des Moines, IA. This organization provides a safety net for children who find themselves in a family crisis.
Since learning about another on-campus organization, International Justice Mission, which also sells secondhand clothes, Brown now plans on donating leftover clothes to them in the future.
“I actually just heard about Threads […] through the [UNI] International Justice Mission and all the money goes to the International Justice Mission.”
The College Rack came a long way from Brown selling exes’ hoodies to improving on Plato’s Closet model.
“I love thrifting […] I have a weird gift of finding the best things at thrift stores. My friends have always been like ‘Dude, you find the best stuff; how do you find it?’ So, it kind of started as finding stuff for them and helping them with that,” Brown said.
The items found at this weekend’s pop-up events came from a number of sources including Brown’s own closet, the closets of friends and roommates who heard what she was doing and wanted to donate to her instead, as well as Brown’s curated finds from her own thrifting trips. Brown said that her friends’ attitude towards donating their unwanted clothes was, “If I’m going to donate this to Goodwill, why would I not donate it to you first? If you can sell it and give the money to a good organization.”
The social enterprise twist doesn’t just stop with a portion of proceeds and unsold clothes going to a good cause. Punch cards that were given out to customers at the event highlighted the environmental benefits of shopping secondhand.
As far as the future of The College Rack, Brown sees the business model evolving into a consignment format with students or others selling their clothes to Brown to be sold at future pop-ups or events.
“I know a lot of people in college who love thrift shopping and eventually we’re wanting to go into a consignment model where people can sell their clothes to us and consign them,” she said.
Brown and The College Rack plan to hold more events throughout the rest of this semester. To find out about future events, follow them on Instagram @thecollegerack and The College Rack on Facebook.