Starting in the Spring 2022 semester, students at the University of Utah may have noticed monthly pop-up flea markets going on around campus. These events, which give student and non-student vendors the opportunity to sell upcycled and vintage clothes to students on campus, are put on by the student business Off the Rack.
Susma Gurung, a fourth-year marketing major and founder and CEO of Off the Rack said she got the idea for the business while working as a creative entrepreneur. Her friend, Michael Gonzalez, a fourth-year marketing major, was doing the same, and together they started Off the Rack.
“It made us realize that there was a huge market of young creative entrepreneurs in Salt Lake City,” she said. “And that market was growing.”
It began as something just for fun and the first pop-up event, which was held in Lassonde Studios, had only about five vendors, Gurung said.
“When we started it, we didn’t charge any of the vendors,” she said. “We weren’t really looking to build a business. We were just wanting to have community events and just build that community.”
That first event was in February 2022. Now, nearly a year going, Off the Rack has grown into a full-fledged business. They’ve hired student interns and ambassadors to help grow the brand and the business and now have over 50 vendors.
“We have some interns that we’re hoping to turn into employees in the next couple of years,” Gurung said. “So we have a couple of team members on the team that we are getting help from to scale our business, as opposed to like, eight months ago, when it was just Michael and I.”
The most recent event, and the first of the calendar year, was on Jan. 18 in the ballroom at the A. Ray Olpin Union Building. During the fall semester, the markets were held outside, at the Library Plaza, but Gurung said that wasn’t an option this time because of the weather.
“So unfortunately, the indoor space, we aren’t able to fit more than 40 (vendors),” she said. Because of the smaller number of spots available, the demand from vendors increased. Gurung said they opened the link for registration a week in advance, and in less than two hours, every spot had been filled.
Will Flynn, a first-year design major, was one of the 40 vendors able to reserve a spot and has been a consistent vendor at Off the Rack during his first semester at the U.
“I found out about Off the Rack in August, just through Instagram and then I reached out to them and they were super responsive,” Flynn said. “And so I just paid the vendor fee the first time and then I’ve been locked in kind of ever since.”
Gurung said casual and accessible communication is a big draw for vendors to sell at Off the Rack events.
“We have a direct communication to all of our vendors; we have a group chat on Instagram, and after every event that we do, we send a link to the post-event survey for our vendors,” she said. “So that you know, in the future, we want to make sure that the experience that we’re providing them, it’s like the best one compared to the other pop-ups that they attend as vendors.”
She added it also helps that her and Gonzalez are both students as well, like many of the vendors.
“We’re students; we’re young, so there isn’t necessarily a struggle in regards to communicating with the vendors,” she said. “So yeah, it’s very casual, very direct.”
Though Flynn got into selling vintage clothes prior to hearing about Off the Rack, he now primarily sells at their pop-up shops and said that he’s had the most success with them compared to the other one he’s been to, which was held in Provo.
“I think I found more success out in Salt Lake just because I think vintage clothes and buying vintage clothes is a lot more popular in Salt Lake compared to Provo,” he said. He added the large student attendance at Off the Rack events is another draw.
“I think this being a college, and like college kids roaming through the halls intermittently really helps,” he said.
The fact that Off the Rack events are so accessible to the campus community is what makes their business model unique and is how they add value to the U’s community, according to Gurung.
“A lot of students, faculty, staff, they don’t have time, they’re super busy to even go like 20 minutes away from campus to attend the Urban Flea Market that’s in Salt Lake City,” she said. “So when we bring that flea market experience to campus, it just makes our community super happy, and it allows them to experience something that they probably don’t because they’re so busy.”
In addition to that added value, Off the Rack’s primary concern is giving their vendors a successful selling experience. To do so, Gurung said, lots of planning and marketing is required so more people show up and buy things from them.
“Our first and foremost priority are the vendors and how much they make,” she said. “And so if we’re able to provide an event that, you know, makes them more sales compared to our competitors, that’s our goal.”
Flynn added he feels supporting events like those hosted by Off the Rack gives students an opportunity to find more unique items, as well as support small, locally-owned businesses over large corporations.
“It’s a lot better than buying from brands that overproduce and just overmake their clothes so that they can sell more, like H&M and Zara,” he said. “And I think that you can find a lot cooler and more unique things buying secondhand.”