When Jolie DeFeis is anxious, she likes to indulge in some retail therapy. And she was definitely feeling anxious.
It was March and the Brooklyn resident, 27, had just lost her job in product operations at the fitness app Classpass when the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting down businesses. A company whose business model hinges on people frequenting dozens of different gyms and boutique studios each month was among the first to close — and will likely be among the last to return.
With the stay-at-home order in full effect by the end of March, DeFeis went from busy, full-time employment to spending all of her time at home glued to her phone. She'd scroll through the endless doom and gloom and put pajamas and leggings into online shopping carts before taking them out. DeFeis would Instagram Message with her friend from college, Sophia Yapalater, 29, who was in Philadelphia. Yapalater had taken her board exams for medical school on March 13, and now was watching the world melt down in a health crisis like none other in recent history. The two were reconnecting in a way they hadn’t since college.
The friends clung to each other as they both navigated how they were feeling each day. They would exchange headlines and memes and worst nightmares. DeFeis tried to find available jobs but would come up empty-handed. And everyday there was a call to donate money to different funds and organizations to aid those in dire need, but not having an income meant she couldn’t give as much or as frequently as she might have otherwise. Both Yapalater and DeFeis took up the role of demanding action from their online communities, mostly friends and family, calling attention to mutual aid funds that were underfunded and encouraging people to Venmo them small donations to go toward one big donation. But they both really wanted to do more.
On April 7, she and Yapalater came up with “more” in the form of @AnxietyMarketplace, a buy-and-sell clothing and accessories account on Instagram where 20% of every sale benefits a different cause each month. In August, they raised more than $3,000 for Sistas Van, a mobile unit in New York City that serves survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. In the wake of COVID-19, Sistas Van has been inundated with those in need of their help. DeFeis and Yapalater chose Sistas Van because they’re “on the ground and grassroots,” DeFeis said. “We know that the money we raise will go directly to help those in need.” The amount raised means that the marketplace did over $15,000 in sales in just 30 days.
It was important to DeFeis and Yapalater to shine a light on organizations that were doing the work, but not receiving a ton of recognition. Unlike big nonprofits, smaller NPs and mutual aid funds have little to no overhead and rely solely on volunteers rather than paid employees and staff. (Tools like Charity Navigator and Guide Star provide a transparent look at how nonprofits spend their money.) Mutual aid funds are usually created to fill a need gap in a neighborhood and community, and are not 501(c)(3) certified, which means you can’t write off your donation on your taxes. Big nonprofits also have marketing budgets for getting the word out about their organizations. Mutual aid funds most often do not.
“We wanted to help spread awareness to these groups that do so much for their communities,” Yapalater said. The two friends are also helping to build community within their Instagram feed, which has grown to nearly 3,000 followers in the last six weeks.
“We named it Anxiety Marketplace because mental health in this country is a health crisis and it is still everywhere, now exacerbated by COVID,” DeFeis explained. “We wanted to be able to have that conversation and connect with people and let people connect with each other while also supporting a cause.”
The two co-creators sell from their own closets, but also source fun and vintage pieces from a variety of places. (“Shout out to my incredible doorman and the USPS carrier who handles my building,” DeFeis wanted to add. “They have been so helpful and interested in what we’re doing.”) Followers are encouraged to list their clothing as well. Author and podcaster Nora McInerny donated a dozen dresses and skirts from her closet for 100% donation, and helped the account rack up a few hundred new followers in the process as she shared the marketplace mission. And unlike lots of popular sell-via-Instagram stores, there is no limit around what brands are allowed to be listed.
“We actually encourage fast fashion,” Yapalater said. Not only is fast fashion more inclusive to how the everyday person shops (not everyone has a closet of high-end castoffs, nor can afford to buy them), but it’s also a greener way of thinking about sustainability through fashion."
“Fast fashion brands are the most likely to end up in landfills, which sees a staggering amount of textiles trashed each year,” DeFeis chimed in. “This is another small way to do our part; to keep clothes out of the trash.”
Want to get involved? Here’s how Anxiety Marketplace works:
- Take photos of an item you want to sell. Think: a coat you don’t wear anymore, those shoes that were just bit too small when you bought them, a necklace that you got for your birthday that wasn’t your style, etc.
- Email TheAnxietyMarketplace@gmail.com with the name of your item in your subject line.
- In the body of your email, describe your item starting with item, brand name, size and price, followed by any other information you would want a potential buyer to know, including how much shipping will cost. (When I have sold on Anxiety Marketplace, I’ve done everything from including shipping costs in the price of the item to charging $8 for a full-priority shipping).
- Within 72 hours, Yapalater or DeFeis will list the item on the Instagram feed. Followers, browsers and shoppers will see your item and will tag you in the comments if they’re interested.
- You’ll exchange Venmo and shipping information via DM, and accept payment before shipping. Then, you can Venmo Anxiety Marketplace 20% of your sale plus an optional $1 listing fee. And that’s it!
Molly Stewart, 27, said she started selling clothing on Anxiety Marketplace in the beginning of August, and she’s already sold seven things and made a few hundred dollars.
“That’s way more than I would sell in three months using Poshmark, and the 20% I’d have to relinquish to Poshmark goes to a good cause,” she said. “Plus, I get the money right away.”
The cause Anxiety Marketplace is supporting in September is Florida Rights Restoration, a grassroots membership organization that helps recently incarcerated persons rejoin their communities as active participants. The focus is on making sure their votes are counted this November.