Thrift Shopping, Right From Your Phone

The creators of a new thrift store shopping app explain their innovative idea.

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: Winners of the competition Michelle Austria Fernandez and David Lau pose for a photo with the judges of the competition, (L-R) founder and CEO of Wanelo Deena Varshavskaya, founder of 72Lux Heather Marie and co-founder of Vine Rus Yusupov at Glamour And CFDA Host Dressed To Code: A Fashion Hackathon on September 7, 2013 in New York City.

David Lau and Michelle Austria Fernandez recently won first place in Glamour Magazine and the Council of Fashion Designers of America's recent "Dressed to Code" fashion hackathon (an event where people collaborate on computer programming). The team's winning proposal, Thriftly (originally named Thrifter), is a digital shopfront for thrift shopping. It provides thrift shops an eBay-style mobile marketplace platform, where items are listed for 24 hours with the option to buy or bid on them. The app streamlines the way vendors upload, track and sell inventory in a Twitter-style feed, in order to keeping the content fresh and rapidly changing.

David Lau, originally from New Zealand, is a digital designer and developer currently working in New York City. He holds a Master in Design from the University of Auckland. He is a self-driven, self-learning tech entrepreneur. David has been involved with mobile and web projects at RedRover and GatheringUP, both startups in New York. He is also currently studying backend development at General Assembly.

Michelle Austria Fernandez completed a Computer Science program at Columbia University and is now a developer at Worldnow. Her passion is building iOS apps, and prior to coding mobile apps herself, she led mobile projects for Milk Studios' Fashion Week and SxSW. She recently finished the Coalition for Queen's Access Code program, and is now looking at taking the Business Fundamentals course at General Assembly.

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I was fortunately able to interview the Thriftly team.

LC: How did you come up with the idea?  How long did it take for you to develop the concept into a functioning product?

DL: The idea came to us the night before the hackathon. We wanted to do something relating to thrift and vintage shopping because we both love thrift shopping, and we think it is an undervalued market. We thought about how to streamline the way thrift shop vendors can upload and list their inventory online and felt using the camera hardware on mobile devices was the way to go.

LC: What are some of the issues that still need to be ironed out of Thriftly?

MF: There are still some aspects of the business model that we need to plan out. We are currently developing the freemium v. premium plans that would drive our product as a competitive app. In terms of the app itself, we are still discussing which features would be best to integrate, specifically in relation to potentially partnering up with Glamour.

LC: What makes your app stand out from other apps?

MF: Our app taps into a market that still hasn't reached the e-commerce space. Thrift stores generally lack an online presence. There are currently no existing apps on the App Store that highlights a thrift store's inventory and allows users to buy items. Thriftly would ideally become the go-to app for thrift store shoppers and thrift stores alike.

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LC: Which lessons learned from previous projects did you apply to Thriftly?

MF:  Definitely planning and outlining the product as thoroughly and efficiently as possible before writing any code. We've both been to hackathons where the idea wasn't fully ironed out until the last half of the hackathon, leaving only a few hours to build the product.

DL: Just knowing the limits of what can be done in the time that you have. We learned from past experiences to dedicate the time to building out the core concepts into the prototype rather than cramming every social feature in and hope for the best.

LC: What other projects at Dressed to Code did you like?

MF: In terms of innovation and the use of new tech, I really liked the project Stylr and Glass. This was the project that won second place. Their idea was to integrate Google Glass technologies to show trending items based on the user's location.

LC: Did you make any changes to your presentation to pitch Glamour's product manager and executive digital director, to potentially develop the prototype for commercial use?

DL: We met with Mike Hofman and Cindy Day following the hackathon for a mentoring session. They gave us valuable advice about product viability and testing to enhance user-experience. We will be integrating more advanced features like bookmarking and store profiles for our final pitch to Conde Nast in the coming weeks.

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LC: As self-taught entrepreneurs, what challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?

DL: One of the challenges is finding the balance between business management, product development and just learning. Both Michelle and myself are self-taught developers so we are constantly learning new skills and applying them straight away into our projects.

MF: I definitely agree with David on this one. I think we are both comfortable with pushing out a product as fast as possible, but in this setting, we are also being challenged with having to work on the business side of the product just as closely.

LC: What do you see for the future of fashion and technology?

MF: I think there will definitely be an increase in drive to combine fashion and technology as it advances. The same weekend the Dressed to Code hackathon was held, Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco was going on, and at that hackathon there were four different projects that integrated Google Glass and fashion.  So there is definitely a push for wearable technology.

Lisa Chau is a private consultant focused on social media and cross–platform marketing. Previously, she spent five years working for her alma mater Dartmouth College, as assistant director of alumni affairs and assistant director of PR for the Tuck School of Business. She has also taught at MIT, and guest lectured MBA and undergraduate courses in e-business Strategy at Baruch College and The New School

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