A trip to a Goodwill in eastern Washington started a 20-year-old entrepreneur’s journey to opening a mobile thrift shop in Bellingham.
“I picked up a shirt and thought ‘It’s so cute, but I don’t want to sell it [online] — I want to sell it in Bellingham,’” Levi Russell, the creator of Thrifty, said.
Russell, now a Bellingham resident, was in eastern Washington after he stopped attending Western last spring 2018. He started selling clothing he curated from thrift stores in person and online in September. Russell said he focuses on gathering pieces for his business that are affordable, accessible and earth-conscious while making the buyer feel confident.
“It’s giving people access to thrifted items in a new way,” Russell said. “There’s genuine intent with my business beyond just getting money or a quick turnover, that’s why I style it and do the videos. I’m trying to make something greater than just the clothing.”
Russell posts items he finds on Thrifty’s Instagram page, he said. In all Thrifty related-posts, Russell can be seen wearing a red varsity jacket he thrifted from Goodwill, complete with a name patch his sister found. His main account, @thrifty.wa, has amassed over 900 followers since he first started it in September. He also posts daily updates of new items he has added to the Thrifty closet on his other page, @thrifty.closet.wa.
Russell said he sells most of his garments at styling parties, where he’ll set up a mini store where people can then browse the racks and be styled in his apartment or a friend’s house. Inside, Russell will have music playing and is chatting with customers as they look at the racks of clothing and eccentric items he’s brought together, he said.
“Anyone can shop it. That means any size, any gender expression, any style,” Russell said. “I want people to genuinely connect with the items.”
Russell’s friend Haley Johnson, a third-year human services student at Western, was there for him to share his ideas with and helped push him towards making his dreams a reality, Russell said.
“He had these dreams, and I pushed him into making them goals,” Johnson said. “He really does achieve everything that he dreams of. When he sets his mind to something, he achieves it.”
After talking to Johnson, Russell decided to continue to develop Thrifty. He later came up with the idea of hosting styling parties and went to Value Village on a 50 percent-off sale day, spending $50 to get his closet started, he said.
Once he curated a few racks of clothing, he hosted his first styling party at Johnson’s house in Bellingham in September, Russell said. He invited around 15 friends over and let them shop and see what he had been working on. It was a successful night for him and made him think about how to get more people beyond his friend group to come and get interested in thrifting, he added.
“They can actually try the clothing on, it’s all here,” Russell said, motioning to the racks of clothes in his room. “I would say that not even a fifth of this is up online because I don’t have the time, I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the people. It’s hard.”
Russell said that although he has put a lot of work in, he struggled with sustaining his own business and with getting people to come to styling parties.
“I’m starting something completely new. I’ve never tried to run a business, and I’ve never cared about something so much,” Russell said.
Hannah Corona, Russell’s roommate, met him when they both worked at Forever 21 together last year. She said Russell would talk about his plans and goals for Thrifty with his coworkers. Corona attended the first styling party Russell threw.
“It was a really cool environment and honestly really inspiring,” Corona said. “Everyone has ideas but not everyone executes them. To see that he pulled off what he had been talking about for months, it felt so personal, especially being the first one.”
Corona now assists Russell at his styling parties in their apartment as the cashier. This gives Russell more time to interact with customers to help them find clothes that excite them and make them feel confident in, which is one of his favorite parts of running Thrifty, he said.
“I found this new passion I didn’t even know I had within me. I had always been selling clothes, but I never thought about it at this larger scale with human interaction and connection involved,” Russell said. “That’s what’s awesome about the styling parties. I can actually see people connect with the items because they literally light up.”
Russell’s eye for fashion, which he has been developing since he started thrifting at age 15, lets him know which garments people will connect with, he said.
He first started shopping second-hand to look for clothes but started going more often when he started finding Mariah Carey CD’s. Carey is a major influence for Russell and is constantly inspiring him and the content he creates for Thrifty, he said. His infatuation with thrifting continued to the point where he said everything he owns, besides food, is thrifted.
When he worked at Forever 21, Russell said he’d always receive compliments on his outfits. Since he purchases his clothes second-hand, he would routinely point people to the nearby Value Village. He said people would tell him that thrifting takes too much time and effort and they had trouble finding items they liked.
“Thrifting is not for everyone. It’s a skill where you have to have patience and lots of creative energy and think about what you’re doing,” Russell said.
Corona said she’s seen Russell become more comfortable being himself since starting Thrifty, adding that she was proud of Russell’s work ethic and continued dedication.
“He’s doing something not a lot of people our age would have the ambition or drive to do,” Corona said.
While flipping through the pages of his “creative thinking book,” Russell said he feels energized after quitting his most recent job at a deli, which he said drained him creatively. He is currently busy planning more styling parties and larger events where he can collaborate with other local creatives, he said.
“When people come to the styling parties, for $50 they could easily get seven or eight cool items they genuinely connect to. You can’t do that at Goodwill,” Russell said.