How I Learn by Doing

A Vintage Venture

With an eye for style and an entrepreneurial spirit, this student turned a passion project into a thriving business.

Adam Kemp sitting on vintage furniture on a green law

My favorite place as a kid was the museum. I could never wrap my head around the pristine condition of some of the old treasures kept within those walls. Today I can accept it — because I have seen with my own eyes that if you take care of things, they last.

Since 2022, I have been running an online shop called Thrifty Beaches, specializing in helping vintage furniture and clothing find new homes. In just two years, I’ve built a clientele of over 3,000 clients in San Luis Obispo alone, some of whom are teachers and faculty here at Cal Poly. Moreover, I have sold well above 15,000 pieces in the last two years since my business has expanded into the vintage clothing market.

But the idea for the shop really started when I came to Cal Poly in 2021. At the time, my girlfriend and I had taken over the lease for a house and needed furniture, so like a lot of people we began thrifting and looking on Facebook marketplace for nice pieces. When we stumbled into the San Luis Obispo Goodwill Outlet, we were stunned.

That outlet is where items that don’t sell in the regular Goodwill stores go for one last chance before they’re thrown away, and everything is dirt cheap. It was pure chaos: everyone was digging through bins like there was gold inside.

Right before we left the outlet, a set of dining chairs caught my eye. The chairs looked old, but had sleek, modern lines. I used Google Lens to identify the chairs, and they turned out to be Broyhill Brasilia — iconic among fans of mid-century modern furniture. They were selling for thousands of dollars online — and were just one day away from being trash compacted. Those chairs were my first furniture flip. They taught me about the importance of having an eye for quality, and I hoped I could start a business selling vintage clothing and mid-century modern furniture.

Learning by doing isn’t just a school slogan for me — it’s a way of life.

I invested time and money, buying a truck and trailer that I couldn’t afford at the time. I rented out event spaces to sell my pieces. I advertised my events. I refinished vintage furniture to make it look new, and washed away decades of stains from beautiful vintage garments — all for nobody to show up to my events.

But little by little, the business began to build a following.

Since then, Thrifty Beaches has been embraced by the Central Coast. People invite me into their homes for consultations and also just to show me their most beloved collectibles. My girlfriend Maria Trott, who is also a great curator of vintage goods, has helped the business thrive. We have been invited to sell at music festivals, public and private events, and vintage fairs for free due to the traffic that my business brings. We are current members of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. This spring we will open our first brick-and-mortar Thrifty Beaches location in downtown San Luis Obispo — something I’ve dreamed of since moving here.

I love what I do. Every day I am immersed in design, fashion, form, function and style. Being able to identify these elements is what my clients call having an “eye.” Having an eye is about having passion — not about how much money or resources you have.

Starting this journey was hard. The Learn by Doing approach has been taxing: I’ve embarrassed myself, I’ve lost money, I’ve lost sleep and I’ve had some relationships regress. But it has also been rewarding. I’ve impressed people, I’ve made money, I’ve developed friendships, and I have built strong new connections. I have always accepted that failure is a prerequisite for growth. Life has shown me that when you take a Learn by Doing approach, the tuition you pay is made up of your failures and sometimes all you get in return is experience. But learning by doing isn’t just a school slogan for me — it’s a way of life.

Read more about Adam in Orfalea College of Business Magazine and follow the Thrifty Beaches collection on Instagram at @thrifty.beaches.