Beginning in the spring semester of 2022, University of Utah students may have noticed monthly pop-up flea markets taking place around campus. These events, which give student and non-student vendors the opportunity to sell upcycled and vintage clothing to students on campus, are organized by 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 boyfriend, Michael Gonzalez, a fourth-year marketing major, was doing the same, and together they started Off the Rack.
“It made us realize that there is a huge market of young creative entrepreneurs in Salt Lake City,” she said. “And that market was growing.”
It started as something just for fun, and the first pop-up event, held at Lassonde Studios, only had about five vendors, Gurung said.
“When we started it, we didn’t charge any of the sellers,” she said. “We didn’t really want to build a business. We just wanted to have community events and just build that community.”
That first event was in February 2022. Now, almost a year later, Off the Rack has become a full-fledged business. They have hired student interns and ambassadors to help develop the brand and business and now have over 50 suppliers.
“We have some interns that we hope to turn into employees in the next few years,” Gurung said. “So we have several team members that we’re getting help from to grow our business, as opposed to eight months ago when it was just Michael and I.”
The final event and the first of the calendar year was on January 18 in the A. Ray Olpin Union Building Ballroom. During the fall semester, the markets were held outside in the Library Plaza, but Gurung said that was not an option this time because of the weather.
“So, unfortunately, the interior space we can’t accommodate more than 40 (vendors),” she said. Due to the lower number of vacancies, the demand from suppliers has increased. Gurung said they opened the registration link a week in advance and in less than two hours every seat was filled.
Will Flynn, a first-year design major, was one of 40 vendors to secure 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 that’s when I reached out to them and they were super responsive,” Flynn said. “So I just paid the provider fee for the first time and I’ve been kind of locked in ever since.”
Gurung said the casual and accessible communication is a big draw for vendors to sell at Off the Rack events.
“We have direct communication with all our suppliers; we have a group chat on Instagram and after every event we do, we send out a link to the post-event survey for our vendors,” she said. “Just so you know, going forward we want to make sure that the experience we give them is like the best compared to the other pop-ups they visit as providers.”
She added that it also helps that she and Gonzalez are students, as are many of the vendors.
“We are students; we’re young, so there’s not necessarily any difficulty in terms of communicating with vendors,” she said. “So yeah, it’s very casual, very direct.”
Although Flynn started selling vintage clothes before he heard about Off the Rack, he now mainly sells at their pop-up shops and said he had the most success with them compared to the other one he was at that took place in Provo.
“I think I’ve had more success in Salt Lake just because I think vintage clothing and buying vintage clothing is much more popular in Salt Lake than in Provo,” he said. He added that the large student presence at Off the Rack events is another draw.
“I think being a college and as college guys wandering the halls periodically 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 community, according to Gurung.
“A lot of students, faculty, staff, they don’t have time, they’re super busy to even go about 20 minutes from campus to visit 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 allows them to experience something that they probably don’t because they’re so busy.”
In addition to this added value, Off the Rack’s main concern is to give its suppliers a successful selling experience. To do that, Gurung said, it takes a lot of planning and marketing so that more people show up and buy things from them.
“Our first and foremost priority is the providers and how much they earn,” she said. “So if we’re able to provide an event that, you know, gets them more sales than our competitors, that’s our goal.”
Flynn added that she thinks supporting events like those hosted by Off the Rack gives students the opportunity to find more unique items, as well as supporting small, local businesses over large corporations.
“It’s much better than buying from brands that overproduce and just rework their clothes so they can sell more, like H&M and Zara,” he said. “And I think you can find a lot cooler and more unique things buying secondhand.”