When I was in graduate school, I had a pretty good used clothing racket going on. Down the street from me was the scuzziest thrift store in town. I am a thrift store hound, so of course I loved it. I’d go early every Saturday morning and stand outside with a ragtag crowd of homeless people, prostitutes, and interior decorators (they were onto this goldmine too).
Once inside, I’d load up on anything that had a decent label or was made out of high quality materials. Then I’d take it home, spritz a mixture of vodka and water on the clothes, throw them in the dryer, then take pictures and get them up on eBay.
Most of the pieces I sold were marked up from $2-4 dollars to $20, so I made enough monthly for gas and beer money. My crowning glory, though, a sale which partly financed my study trip to India, was a 1950’s shawl collar coat made of vicuna, which is only the most luxurious wool ever. I paid $3.50 for it and sold it for $500.
Prior to selling on eBay, I had been a frequent giver of yard sales, seller to consignment shops, and even a flea market vendor. When you thrift as much as I do, you accumulate things. But eBay allowed me to make a larger profit, without the stigma of say, hawking my wares next to a booth selling t-shirts airbrushed with howling wolves.
In American society, the re-use or sharing of resources has been dismissed as low-class. Shopping at second hand stores, using “gypsy cabs” or renting out rooms in your house have had a certain level of sketchiness associated with them. On one hand, this is related to safety. Diseases can be transmitted through dirty clothes, and that quiet boarder could be a serial killer. But it’s also related to feminism. When you’re told as a child not to ride in cars with strangers, there is a subtext that in a rape culture, you’re never safe in a car with a strange man.
Technology breaks down these perceptions. The ability to vet customers and operators through a peer review system is what separates Lyft or SideCar from a gypsy cab and Airbnb from a boarding house. Economists tout these sites as a new form of commerce, but really, they are just legitimizing what poor people have always done to make money.
Technology can also legitimize traditional women’s work. Etsy provides a sleek platform to display arts and crafts. The former platform was “the church basement craft sale,” or “the overpriced art gallery that takes 60%.” Etsy is a marketplace where the real value of arts and crafts can emerge, and where talented craftspeople can be paid fairly.
GetBullish founder Jen often talks about the importance of multiple income streams. Today, sites like eBay, Etsy, Lyft, and Airbnb have created the infrastructure to safely engage in traditional entrepreneurial and side-job activities and removed the perceptions that typically delegated these services to women or the low-class.
So that means there is no better time to start even a tiny business to diversify your income stream. If you’re unemployed or free-lancing, you likely know the value of earning extra cash online. But even if you’re employed, sites like Freelancer and TaskRabbit allow you to pick and choose the assignments you take on, which can help you build a portfolio as well as earn some bucks.
In an article in the Atlantic, Arun Sundararajan, a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business points out that sites like eBay and Etsy may be operating as “finishing schools” for tentative entrepreneurs who aren’t ready to open a brick and mortar store. If you’re already using online sites to diversify your income stream, then you’re probably ready for the next level of education. Perhaps we can think of the Bullish Conference as “graduate school” for burgeoning entrepreneurs. I know I’m especially looking forward to the session with Jen on designing your 2014, and learning how to create multiple income streams from the resources I already have, whether that’s my time, or my ongoing thrift store habit.