Like any loyal reader of The Penny Hoarder, I know the value of thrift shops.
To cut expenses, I started shopping for clothes at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Thrifting is always hit or miss, but I’ve found many decent items.
One day, I found a pair of NYDJ jeans. I adore the brand for its fit and quality but hate the $120 price tag. I was so excited to see them at Goodwill — but they were about four sizes too small.
Dejected, I was about to put them back when it occurred to me that other people love the brand, too. I ended up buying the jeans for just $5.
I had an eBay account I’d used once before when I was moving and selling some silly knickknacks, so I listed the jeans there.
If your thrift store find happens to have the original tags still attached, don’t remove them. Take photos of the clothing with the tags visible, as it gives the buyer a reason to trust your products.
I was utterly shocked when those jeans ended up selling for more than $50. That was my first introduction to the idea of reselling thrift store clothes for profit.
Now it’s how I supplement my income and build my savings.
How to Start Selling Clothes on eBay
I started very small.
I didn’t want to spend a lot on startup costs, so I set an initial budget of about $75.
I bought a cheap postal scale for $21 on Amazon and stocked up on three rolls of packaging tape from the dollar store. For shipping materials, I used USPS’s free flat rate envelopes.
I did some online research to find thrift stores in wealthier areas, where people were more likely to donate higher-end goods. I decided to focus solely on women’s clothing, since I’m more familiar with those brands.
When selling your products on eBay, choose between auction-style listings — which can provide a faster sale — or “Buy It Now” price listings — which give you more control over the sale price.
I hit just one store and took home five pairs of jeans at $5 each, four cashmere sweaters for $3 each, two blazers for $6 each and one dress for $5, bringing my first batch of inventory’s total cost to $54.
I read online that a professional eBay listing template was essential, but I couldn’t find a free one to use. Instead, I started all my listings as auctions and offered free shipping. I set the starting price at the item’s purchase cost plus shipping and padded it by $2 to cover eBay’s seller fees.
Amazingly, each item went for $20-$30 over the minimums. I more than tripled my money.
Deciding What to Sell — and How to Sell It
When I realized this hobby could be profitable, I got ruthless in evaluating inventory.
I learned what brands sold well and which didn’t. J.Crew pieces sold instantly, while I could only sell Banana Republic sweaters and trousers; no one would bid on Banana Republic jeans.
If a sweater had even 1% of cashmere, it was a moneymaker — regardless of the brand name.
I started to learn about SEO to get my items in front of more people, and I taught myself some basic HTML using YouTube tutorials so I could build my own templates.
Show up in searches by including as much description as you can in the title, including the brand, color, size, condition and unique features (or flaws).
I ordered business cards from VistaPrint and bought thank-you notes from the dollar store. Feedback is essential for any eBay seller — and I found mine went up when I included thank-yous.
As my profits grew, I began to get more elaborate. These investments took my business to the next level and increased my profits:
Possibly the best purchase I’ve made (and the most bizarre) is a leg form I bought off Amazon for $55.
With just legs and a butt, house guests seemed to think I was a crazy person, but it made pants and jeans look ten times better — and increased the bids on those items.
I also have an expandable dress form for tops and dresses, which was a godsend. It showed the shape and lines of pieces and made them look far nicer than they would have on a hanger.
Some thrift store clothes have been hanging in musty places for some time — and they smell like it.
Rather than spending a fortune at a professional dry cleaner, I throw these items into the dryer with the Woolite DryCleaning system. For less than $10, the kit makes full loads of clothes smell fresh and new.
Cashmere is a huge seller.
Many sweaters I find are gorgeous, but were donated because they have heavy pilling.
Five minutes with a $9 fabric shaver and those sweaters look brand new! They often sell for $50 and up.
Rather than ironing, I use a steamer to get wrinkles out for pictures. For less than $50, it makes items lay nicely on the dress forms.
For items too big for my dress form, clothespins are essential to show the garment’s shape and details.
I bought a $2 white sheet from Goodwill and pinned it to a wall for a clean photo backdrop.
I use Fotofuze, an online program that removes backgrounds from images, to give pictures of clothing a very professional look.
FotoFuze is free to use, but I pay $5 a month for a pro account so I can edit more photos.
What I Make Selling Clothes on eBay
Once I made upgrades with my photos and listings, my items started selling for much more.
After deducting expenses — inventory costs, plus shipping, eBay and Paypal fees — I regularly make between $500 and $800 a month in profit.
It’s a very part-time job. It usually only takes me about 10 to 15 hours a week to shop for items, take pictures, list items and ship them out.
The money has been excellent supplemental income and helped me significantly boost my savings. And with new clothing donations constantly coming in, I always have fresh inventory to sell.
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer located in Orlando specializing in personal finance. She is a long-time eBay seller and side gig enthusiast.