University of Tennessee junior Baker Donahue didn't expect an idea he and his friend came up with to combat summer boredom to turn into a successful business.
But about three months and 5,500 Instagram followers later, Donahue's vintage Tennessee clothing business, In With the Old, is profitable, popular among students, has been featured in Fortune magazine and has expanded to a second university.
Donahue didn't expect that success to come so quickly. However, he knew there was something special about In With the Old's concept, which involves Donahue and those who work with him buying vintage Tennessee clothing online and at thrift stores and then reselling it on Instagram using a bidding system.
In With the Old got its start in fall 2015 when Donahue began buying vintage Vol clothes and wearing them to games. This past July, he and his friend Darden Shadrach started In With the Old, which is a limited liability company.
"We went to every Goodwill in the Nashville and Knoxville area and bought as much as we could afford ... and then we decided to sell it directly off Instagram," said Donahue while sitting in his room at the UT Kappa Sigma fraternity house.
Donahue and Shadrach organized a professional photo shoot to feature the clothing and then posted 50 photos on Instagram in mid July.
They sold out within a few days. They repeated the process, posting another round of items and selling out within two to three weeks when UT's fall semester began.
A new year of college meant more responsibility for Donahue and Shadrach, and that also affected In With the Old.
"Initially it was ... (Shadrach) and myself," said Donahue. "…(Shadrach) knew with school coming up and stuff, he wasn't going to be able to devote his full attention to this, and so he (said) ... 'I want you to take it over.'"
Donahue, In With the Old's CEO who's majoring in communication studies, knew he couldn't handle the business by himself. He recruited some of his friends to help, including UT junior and accounting major Eric Rees, UT junior and supply chain management major Marlow Payant and UT senior and graphic design major Will Reynolds.
"I was just like 'why not bring my some of best friends in on (this) business?' And they all have something unique about them," said Donahue.
Now, In With the Old has sold out of its third round of items that they began posting on Aug. 20. They had another photo shoot, using many of their friends to pose in the clothing, for their fourth round of items this weekend.
Payant explained how to buy something from In With the Old:
After a round of clothing is washed, tagged and modeled and photographed, In With the Old will post five items per day from 10-11 a.m. with a starting bid price. Those interested can bid on an item in increments of $2 throughout the day by commenting on the Instagram photo, according to Payant.
At 8 p.m., the bidding closes. The highest bidder will receive the item if they respond to a message from In With the Old and pay for the item through PayPal within 30 minutes.
If the highest bidder does not do this, the item will go to the next highest bidder. When the item is paid for, it is shipped to the purchaser.
After they post an entire round of clothing, there is a dead period while a new round of clothing is bought and prepared.
During this time, they promote their business by holding events and competitions to promote the clothing line.
"That dead period is a crucial time to generate excitement for what's going to be next since there's only one of each item," said Donahue. "People are like 'I want a piece of this. I know my item is going to be unique.'"
Donahue said that all of In With the Old's Instagram followers are genuine. They haven't paid accounts to follow them.
"We look at every follower as a potential customer, … so every follower is very important, and to have reached 5,500 followers in about two to three months of operation is pretty great. So people do think it was a good idea, and I get comments so often like 'I hate your company because I didn't do it'," said Donahue.
Donahue said In With the Old has good profit margins.
On average, an item costs In With the Old around $10 to $12 when factoring what they paid for it, what it costs to ship and labor hours, according to Rees. An average item would sell for around $30 to $35 on the low end and up to $90 to $95 on the high end.
Donahue has expanded the business to Auburn University, where two of his friends run an Instagram account featuring Auburn apparel. Donahue manages the marketing and owns the rights to the Auburn business.
"They just hit 1,000 followers in three weeks, which is great, so it's faster than the Tennessee account right now. We're trying to see how we can grow that at that school, and then possibly set up a model for each other school," said Donahue.
As for the future, Donahue doesn't have a concrete plan for In With the Old.
"That's the debate: if this can be a career or if it's just a hobby," said Donahue. "The goal is to have an In With the Old at every school, whether that is having thrift shoppers at every school to send me stuff and I manage the accounts or having actual business owners at other schools who pay me a commission to run an In With the Old at their school."
Balancing In With the Old with classes and other jobs is difficult, say Donahue and Rees, but it's also worth it.
"You have to manage your time so in a way it helped me a lot ... but it's also ... difficult at times, especially when you have test weeks coming up ... but it's all worth it, you know. It's a good time, and it's starting to be like managing real life situations instead of just school," said Rees.
"It's a part-time job, but it's creeping up on full-time," said Donahue. "But people are excited about it, which gets me excited, so it's not like it's a burden to run."
Find In With the Old on Instagram at www.instagram.com/nwiththeold/.