Though they likely don't know it, any teacher who has ever heard the phrase "But when are we ever going to use this is real life?" should consider Penn State student and entrepreneur Allen Cao their patron saint. Because his up-and-coming fashion resale business Vint Condition is probably the best imaginable answer to that question.
Because before Vint Condition was actually a business — and one expanding its unique spin on selling vintage clothes through college campuses in the U.S. — it was a class project that Cao was working on as part of Penn State's entrepreneurship program as a senior.
“When I pitched Vint Condition to my management class, the judges were impressed,” Cao noted in an interview. One particularly impressed judge was Eric Franchi, a Penn State alum and venture capitalist who noted that Cao had more than an A+ project on his hands.
"He told me, ‘This is a real business. The market is there, and there’s a real opportunity for growth.’”
The concept, Cao noted, was pretty simple — students in State College Pennsylvania had no shortage of opportunities to deck themselves out in Penn State regalia — but it would all have the downside of looking pretty much the same. It's impossible to make a fashion statement, he noted, when you "look like every other kid on campus.”
And so for Vint Condition, Cao started combing the web and local thrift shops for throwback Penn State gear — old Bowl Game sweatshirts, vintage hoodies with older logo designs — and threw them up on Facebook and Instagram under the handle @vintconditionco.
“I knew there was value in vintage clothing,” Cao noted. “It’s different. I know college students don’t usually go on Poshmark or go to thrift shops. They buy stuff that’s easy; they go downtown. So with Instagram, I was pretty much putting it where it’s accessible for them. They just have to type two words, and they get it.”
And he literally means two words — two specific words in fact — "gimme that."
Though at first customers weren't saying that — or much of everything, as Cao noted that the initial launch was met mostly with crickets — instead of being discouraged, he was motivated to tighten up the product, improve the inventory selection and improve the experience. He started giving the merchandise clever, punny names that appeal to college students — a retro cardigan called "Carded Again," for example.
“It’s like scavenging,” Cao, age 21, said. “It takes a good amount of time searching for these.”
And suddenly, Cao noted, what was a "side hustle" is now a full-time endeavour that is on four major college campuses with number five on the way.
And the secret, he said, is giving customers a way to look different, without having to resort to dressing extremely oddly, very expensively or both.
“I like wearing stuff that stands out,” Cao said.
And though Instagram is still a major marketing channel for the brand, these days it is mostly now used for promotional purposes. Sales mostly happen on the website.
And it's very much a personal project still at this point — Cao takes his own photographs of the merchandise and is blessed with friends good-looking enough to model for him.
But the service is already bigger than he was expecting — and in some ways it has already exceeded expectations.
"The day I knew this is legit was when people were starting to buy it who weren't my friends," Cao said.