By Mikhayla Dunaj
Dominique Thomas, a 22-year-old Benton Harbor native, found passion early in life for thrift shopping for a wardrobe to express herself.
Now, she has turned that passion into an Instagram-based thrift store, THRFT, with a mission to encourage expression and individuality in her customers while giving back to other causes.
Growing up, Dominique always shopped at thrift stores.
“We were all about not spending a lot of money on stuff we were going to outgrow, so we always went to Goodwill and it was my favorite place to shop,” Dominique says. “In middle school, everyone wore Aeropostale and Hollister, and I didn’t want to look like everyone; I wanted to be who I am. I would go to thrift stores and find things that people didn’t wear — or couldn’t wear because they weren’t in stores — and buy them.”
Over the years, her friends admired her sense of fashion, often asking her to use her keen eye to shop for their own closets. Dominique recalls thinking it was a “cool idea to find the dopest things at thrift stores and resell them.”
When the demand was high enough, she started an Instagram account as a central location for selling, and THRFT was born in January 2018.
“What I really wanted when I first started was to influence people to be themselves and wear what they want,” Dominique says. “I really love Instagram for myself and all of my jobs were through social media. It’s really fun for me and easy. It’s such a good tool for people to build relationships off of.”
While she hoped it would grow into something big, she was working multiple jobs and going to school on top of running the business and ended up taking a brief hiatus before deciding to get help continuing THRFT.
“I didn’t really want something that people loved to just die,” she says.
In spring 2019, she invited her sister, Allana Thomas, 19, to join her. Allana had been shopping for thrift clothes for guy friends already, making it possible to reach another population through THRFT.
Each of the women shop for the business on their own. Dominique gets a “haul” of clothes once a month, and Allana shops when they get together for a shopping trip. These typically happen in larger cities, such as Grand Rapids.
While shopping, the sisters look for vintage brands, or brands that are currently trending. Some of these include Zara, vintage Calvin Klein, Denim & Co., Tommy Hilfiger and Billabass.
“We really like denim, vintage and things you can’t find in stores or can but it’s super expensive,” Dominique says.
Some of her favorite finds have been shoes, old band or travel tees, denim jackets and vintage rompers and swimsuits. The items are sold on THRFT for double what they were purchased at most times. The set prices when they purchase bundles are shirts for $2 to $6 and jeans for $5.
The sisters also alternate posting, with each of them in charge of the page for a week. Most clothes are modeled by people Dominique knows, and all photos are taken by her two to three times a month. She lets the models keep the photos for free.
At the end of the month, they either have a pop-up sale or $3 sale. Pop-up shops feature more expensive or seasonal items they have found and are hosted at the The Phoenix Coffee Shop, 124 Water St. in Benton Harbor. The $3 shops feature old items from previous seasons and are more casual gatherings.
Currently, half of the profits from THRFT go toward purchasing more clothes to sell. A portion of the remainder is used to pay themselves, but Dominique wanted to give back somehow with her business, and it weighed heavily on her mind and faith.
“Since I started THRFT, I always wanted it to be something not for me — for other people, and not even just making money or selling clothes,” she says. “I wanted to bring light somewhere and show Jesus to people.”
After praying over it for a few weeks, and watching Netflix’s “When They See Us,” she decided to start a give-back to the Innocence Project, which helps bring light to injustices of those wrongly accused in court systems, something she felt many do not know about.
“For me, I didn’t know that was such a big deal,” she said. “I decided people needed to know about this and help it.”
Starting in January 2020, 10 percent of the THRFT’s profits will be donated to the Innocence Project monthly. Dominique plans to donate to missionaries each month as well.
While the passion of these sisters keeps business steady, they enjoy how much the customers encourage them in their work.
“They are always sharing kind words with us or telling us about how thankful they are that they were able to find a really cool item that is second-hand,” Dominique says. “Some of our customers are doing their best to lessen their carbon footprint by shopping second-hand, and that is just beautiful. Plus, they are always communicating to us what they want to see more of.”
Arianna McLean, 22, has modeled for and been a customer of THRFT since its beginning. For her, the intentionality towards the customers is inspiring.
“They hand wrap the items and include a personalized note for you with your name,” Arianna says. “They talk to you directly when it comes to dropping off the item or shipping it to you.”
For modeling, Dominique always helps to inspire new poses when Arianna feels she has hit a wall, which maintains the trust in their partnership.
“Another thing I appreciate about THRFT is that they are very diverse,” Arianna says. “They reach an audience beyond one ethnicity or culture, male or female. I think that is so important.”
One of THRFT’s male customers, Justin Helgoth, 23, says he is beyond pleased with his experience purchasing from THRFT.
“Finding freedom in style is hard in a world that promotes buying and dressing in a certain way to look like someone else,” he says. “THRFT makes it easier for me to find ways to express my own style and look, rather than try and copy someone else.”
In the future, the girls hope to base their business out of a mobile van that will travel the country selling clothes and giving them to low-income areas as another way to give back. Dominique is currently creating a website that will become the main hub for sales when they purchase a van.
“I love trendy things that are on-the-go,” she said. “Only so many people buy in the same area for so long, so this would keep it moving and alive through travel.”
Currently, all clothes are carried in Dominique and Allana’s cars, prepared for what is next as business and followers continue to increase.
“Creating has always been a part of my life and nothing is more fulfilling than seeing something you’ve created exist,” Dominique says.
Photography by Wes Jerdon