Kyle Middleton flips through a rack of shirts, earbuds in, nodding his head as he gets into the rhythm of shopping at a local thrift store. He’s not shopping for himself, though. He’s buying clothes for his vintage fashion boutique, KYThrift, which had a guest appearance in Vaughn lobby last week.
After graduating from UT in May 2015, Middleton applied to several retail stores as an on-the-floor salesperson. But because of his lack of experience in the field, he wasn’t given any offers. Instead, he started his own business.
Middleton began by making videos of clothes he was selling and sending them to his friends, basketball teammates, and classmates. After receiving positive feedback, he decided to post the clothing photos on Instagram, which quickly earned him customers.
Middleton says his profit increased following the launch of his website, www.kythrift.co, less than two months after he started his business. However, he wanted to bring his clothing to UT students to spread the word around campus.
“There’s a very small amount of people with vintage items [at UT], but when they wear them, they’re the main attractions,” Middleton said.
On Monday, Feb. 1, Middleton set up a table in Vaughn lobby for the first time, as a part of the Black Student Union’s business expo. Many people stopped to check out his clothes, and about eight students bought products from him, including a Tommy Bahama shirt for $40, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey for $45, an Atlanta Olympics hat for $15, a polo shirt for $20, and a Black Dog sweater for $30.
“I liked that he had reasonable prices on rare vintage clothing that you would usually see being sold for a higher price,” said Frantz Pinard, junior and economics major. “I bought from him not only because he is a friend and former teammate of mine, but also because he is starting up what can be a successful company for people to buy clothes and other gear for a price lower than retail.”
Middleton agrees that, with time, his store could really prosper at UT.
“Now that I’ve been here once, people kind of know me and have seen my shop and asked when I’m coming back,” Middleton said.
Not only are students interested in KYThrift, but so are many other members of the community. According to Middleton, artists, photographers, and musicians have approached Middleton, complimenting him on his business and sense of style. Middleton says that several people have also asked to collaborate with him, such as photographer Morgan Williams, DMV artist Delonte Greenwell, and event planner Toby Scott. He plans on working with Flynn Bluett, a local musician and digital artist.
“I’m a graphic designer, so I can help Kyle with flyers and such,” said Bluett. “But I also make a lot of music and he’s an excellent promoter. I also know how great his collection is, so there’s a strong possibility that I’ll be sporting some gear from KYThrift in future music videos.”
KYThrift is already spreading through Tampa – on Gasparilla, Middleton spotted two guys wearing clothing from his shop.
“When shopping, I try to diversify the inventory to accommodate a multitude of styles,” Middleton said. He searches in his hometown of Upper Marlboro, Maryland to find clothes from a variety of sports teams, as well as regional styles, rather than just appealing to southern style. He buys football, lacrosse, basketball, and other sports jerseys and brings them down to Tampa for fans at UT, recognizing that a lot of students are from “up north.”
Middleton emphasizes that he wants to keep his business “real,” without gimmicks or tricks, like buying followers on Instagram.
“I didn’t want to go the route of obtaining fake followers or paying websites,” Middleton said. Instead, his Instagram page was passed on through word of mouth. Whenever Middleton sold a piece of clothing, he’s ask the customer to post it on their Instagram and tag KYThrift in the post. Middleton has gained many more followers and customers as a result, but he is always looking for more.
Recently, KYThrift started selling Tradition sweaters as a promotion platform for the collegiate apparel company, while Middleton keeps the profit.
As for the future of KYThrift, Middleton says he doesn’t want it to be his permanent, full-time job. However, he would love to see the business expand.
“It’d be awesome if I could open my own shop,” he said. “I think I have a good enough eye and my prices are affordable enough that people will skip going to retail shops and go to me.”
However, Middleton says he still needs to sell a lot of his inventory before buying a store. He also wants support from USF so he can bring his shop to their campus, too.
Middleton plans to talk to Student Productions about having a pop up shop outside of Sykes, where the blood drive buses usually park, potentially three times a week.
While a store in Tampa might not be in the near future for Middleton, he is not discouraged.
“I love shopping. I love having other people appreciate things they buy and show appreciation for the art I’m creating through the outfits I’ve put together,” Middleton said.