For some of our long supporting readers, you may have noticed how the AfterShip Blog has made quite the shift, both in aesthetics and content.
Since AfterShip is about helping merchants of any size gain the same competitive edge as some of the major contenders such as Amazon and Ebay, we wanted the blog to be an extended platform designed specifically for the needs of eCommerce owners.
For a long time, our approach was to provide sound advice, helping guide struggling eCommerce owners to find their own place and voice in the market.
What surprised us however, was how this was a gift that gave back!
The Startup Sharing corner all began with an email. An email that was an attempt to share with us the true struggles of running an eCommerce store, divulging a truly unique story behind the email was Rhonda Schwerdel.
The hero of today’s article and owner of ThriftEPurse. Rhonda’s message came as a pleasant surprise to us, explaining her revelation after reading one of our recent posts from the Golden Circle series - ‘Delighting Your Customers’
The Need to be Thrifty
If you ever get to meet Rhonda, you’ll find that she’s a very relatable mother of four from a middle working class family. As a new bloomer in the eCommerce market, starting in August of 2016, Rhonda’s vision for her store is clear.
ThriftEPurse is set up as an “out” for women of every background. To help them gain confidence in themselves by offering urban, designer and vintage clothing at a fraction of the original price. Therapeutic shopping if you may, in making great style, affordable!
The idea to open ThriftEPurse came as a result of a tragic loss in the family. In 2012, Jason, Rhonda’s oldest son passed away.
As a working mother, constantly away from home, the news struck her especially hard. The loss of a child is never easy to say the least, but instead of staying in her grief, she wanted to be a good example to her younger children.
Connecting in particular with her second oldest, Lauren, dragging themselves out the house, the two found comfort in shopping.
Shopping, quickly became a release for both of them. Finding peace and escaping the constant grief of Jason’s death was a healing mechanism. This along with something Jason once said, “Do more for you [yourself]!” was what sparked the beginnings of ThriftEPurse.
The ultimate vision of ThriftEPurse is to empower others in need.
Housing many different collections, all working to empower women by making them feel and look good without breaking the bank is a key component of their company.
Though the store is called ThriftEPurse, you'd be sorely mistaken if you thought that was all they were, a thrift store.
In their store, you'd find that they carry designer labels such as Ann Taylor, Calvin Klein, Elie Tahari, Adrianna Papell, Vince Camuto, Ralph Lauren, Rachel Roy, just to name a few.
Drooling over an item found at a major retailer such as Macy's? Well try scouting at ThriftEPurse and you might find it offered at an even more valuable price.
Want to find the perfect accessory for your outfit? They've also got you covered!
As the store also houses handcrafted jewelry pieces from Washington state artists and other items fitting the Washington state culture of artists and designers!
The idea is to help local designers gain a foot in the international stage while promoting the unique and wonderful local culture.
Of course, they also house hand picked products that have been thrifted. Some of which are rare one of a kind vintage clothing that can’t be found elsewhere!
On top of providing great value to their customers, ThriftEPurse also has a “Clothes for a Cause” line. Every quarter, the store collaborates with a charity of their choice, donating 50% of their profits from the “Clothes for a Cause” line to the charity.
The belief is to help others in need, bringing awareness to those who are less fortunate and are currently in struggle.
Truth of the Business
As much excitement, passion, and vision as you may have going into the project… … You will nonetheless be faced with the obstacles that lies ahead.
The hit came early on with ThriftEPurse, as Rhonda realized how little she actually understood about the eCommerce market.
Unlike stores with a physical presence, an eCommerce requires more finesse. Owners have to shift their mindsets, re-prioritizing the things that would otherwise be unimportant for the business.
Having to learn the skills of the trade along with basic coding, tasks piled up very quickly. But the most disheartening challenge more than ever is one I believe many other startups can relate with.
“How can I ever compete?”
A question that haunts the minds of many when they first start a business. Indeed, with so much competition out there, what makes it so that your store isn’t lost among all the noise and competition?
In Rhonda’s case, she started asking for advice. Advice from different people in order to better the eCommerce. At first it was encouraging and helpful, but slowly, the advice turned into a burden. Drowning in the sea of advice, weighing down on her as different people expressed different opinions, and sometimes contradicting even.
While it is always good to get the opinion of others (for a more unbiased understanding of your product) too much can be draining. What's worse is when these opinions start to muddle your vision of what you want for your business.
From being filled with passion at the very beginning for what seemed like a new hope for the family. The store quickly felt like an unwanted responsibility, starting a downward spiral in next to no time at all.
Fortunately, one day just as Rhonda was about to make yet another change to her website she came to a realization.
The realization that, while all the advice was valid, she had in fact lost her vision. The vision of this being a process of healing for for her and those around her. The idea that this was a project meant to help her bond more closely with her family and have the freedom of being uniquely herself.
The Tale as it is Today
After re-aligning the store to her original vision, Rhonda now manages ThriftEPurse alongside Lauren. Staying true to her belief of empowering women, they scout around the neighborhood for the best deals.
They also make sure that their items are of great quality and condition. Giving new life to each item as they are steamed, ironed, and dry cleaned.
Transparency is also key to what they believe. For their thrifted item, if they ever come across a valuable item with a minor flaw, they will put a “ThriftyGirl” sticker on them so customers can make an informed purchase while benefiting from the discounted price!
ThriftEPurse understands that confidence and empowerment comes from within. For this reason, they are not only about selling great valuable items, but are also determined to educate their customers.
Carrying vintage clothing, Rhonda makes sure to educate her customers about the differences in vintage sizing. Equipping customers with the knowledge and understanding so they may feel more confident about themselves and the things they buy.
It’s Only the Beginning
Throughout my time with Rhonda and her daughter Lauren, in getting to know the story behind ThriftEPurse, these two words stood out to me the most.
Healing and renewal.
ThriftEPurse, a business inspired from a tragic loss of a family member represents a great revival of hope. For Rhonda, a mother suffering from the loss of a son, ThriftEPurse provided a new sense of purpose. A legacy birthed from the death of her son Jason.
For the family, it symbolizes hope. Giving them the strength to move on. In fact, it was thanks to this store that they had the strength to refurbish Jason’s old room. To renew their memories for Jason rather than having it be an unspoken taboo.
Lastly for the people. Both their customers and the people they are helping with their donations, it is a renewed sense of energy and worth. Giving hope to those who may be feeling helpless in their walk.
In closing, I asked Rhonda for the one advice she’d give to anyone who owns or is in the process of opening their own eCommerce:
“Make sure you know the [eCommerce] business, so you can better execute your decisions. But also be clear about your vision and the purpose [for why it all started].”
In memory of Jason
ThriftEPurse runs a blog of their own, read their very first post to learn more about their story. If you enjoyed this article don’t forget to share and subscribe.
Do you also have a story to share? Message me at, email@example.com and tell me about your journey!