Imagine stepping into a classroom and being challenged to start your own business.  Go on, just do it.  Could you rise to the challenge?  UTSA students Cassie Constanzo and Somer Baburek did.

They pressed forward with a simple premise: an online fashion competition that challenges local designers to take used clothes and create a designer piece for a runway. So the contest, aptly named Thrift Off San Antonio, was born.

Already humming that song in your head?  You guessed it, the inspiration came from Macklemore’s song, “Thrift Shop,” with an obvious nod to Project Runway.

[Video contains some explicit language.]

“I’m gunna pop some tags … ” is a line from the song and it’s also how Awesome SA Trustee Van Teodosio announced the winner of the $1,000 Awesome SA grant on Thursday.

[Full disclosure: The Rivard Report is a sponsor of Awesome SA.]

Baburek nervously waited during the announcement ceremony at Sam’s Burger Joint – Thrift Off SA had applied for the grant in February, but were told to refine their proposal and try again this month.

Somer Baburek receives a $1,000 grant on behalf of the Thrift Off SA project from Awesome SA Trustee Van Teodosio. Photo by Hugh Donagher.
Somer Baburek (left) receives a $1,000 grant on behalf of the Thrift Off SA project from Awesome SA Trustee Van Teodosio. Photo by Hugh Donagher.

“This time we were a lot more confident – we actually had something to show the (Awesome SA board),” Baburek said. “Last (month), it was just an idea. We didn’t have designers or a place to do it. Now we do … they trusted us to be awesome this time.”

San Antonio isn’t known for fashion or designer talent, but that talent definitely exists and it’s worth highlighting, she said.

“Fashion is not just about the clothes,” Baburek explained. “It’s really about giving people a way externally to exemplify how they feel internally.  It’s what makes people unique.”

Not only is this an opportunity for the contestants to engage in the local community, but it allows the designers a chance to promote themselves and show their talent to potential clients and investors.

“Our goal was to give them a platform to publicize their talent,” Baburek said. It’s a win-win for Thrift Off SA organizers and the designers.

Round one of the competition commenced two weeks ago at Goodwill (just off San Pedro Avenue and Bitters Road).  Excitement was in the air as the hangers screeched across the metal poles at Goodwill. About 14 designers scoured hundreds of second-hand, discarded items for the few with runway potential. Designers had a meager $50 budget – but that can go a long way for experienced thrifters.

Old dresses, bed sheets, table cloths, even a broken guitar was purchased by a contestant.

“What are you going to do with that?” Baburek said. You’ll have to come to the final fashion show in April to find out.

A contestant rummages through clothing at Goodwill to find a piece that can be transformed to runway quality. Photo by Sean Davis Photography,
Thrift Off SA contestant and designer Janay White looks through clothing at Goodwill to find a piece that can be transformed to runway quality. Photo by Sean Davis Photography.

The design stage of the competition, ends today. “Before” and “after” photos of the raw materials bought at Goodwill and the finished products will be uploaded to the Thrift Off SA’s Facebook page, anyone can go to the page to “like” their favorite design. Voting starts today at 6 p.m. and closes in one week on April 6.

Round Two:  The five designers with the most Facebook “likes” move onto the next round. Each designer is given $75 to shop for clothing that will eventually turn into three runway designs that they have three weeks to complete.

For more information about participating designers, visit
For more information about participating designers, visit

Round Three: Each designer presents their recreated designs on models of their choosing for the runway at the final fashion show on April 27 at The Falls, a live music venue and bar off of Bitters.  Three judges, with varying fashion and local industry expertise,  will decide on one winner based not only their artistic eye, but also construction of designs, creativity and degree of change from the original material.

Designer Pearl Cobain.
Designer Pearl Cobain. Photo by Sam H Photography.

Designer Pearl Cobain, like many competitors, had a vision of what she wanted to create before she stepped into the store.  She’s a student at IADT studying fashion design and merchandising and found out about Thrift Off SA through one of her teachers.

Cobain said that in high school, she was constantly making her own clothes and she’s been interested in fashion ever since.

Constanzo and Baburek, are both seniors in UTSA’s brand new major, Entrepreneurship. They describe the program as intense and nontraditional, a program that pushes students to gain hands-on experience and deal with real world opportunities.

Their professor, Anita Leffel, assistant director of the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship was present for the kick off event.

“This is school!” Baburek said, gesturing around the store and their booth – not your typical classroom environment.

Cassie "The Dreamer" Constanzo. Thrift Off SA co-founder and CEO.
Cassie “The Dreamer” Constanzo. Thrift Off SA co-founder and CEO. Photo by 1005 Faces.

Fore these young entrepreneurs, this is more than a contest, their grades depend on it. Once the idea materialized months ago, Constanzo and Baburek still needed participants in order for this venture to be successful. Designed by using the skills they’ve acquired through the Entrepreneurship program, they formulated a business plan of attack.

They researched the fashion design scene in San Antonio to find communities and those involved in the local fashion industry – it all started with Google and cold calling.

Thrift Off SA contacted the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT), Art Institute of San Antonio and University of Incarnate Word’s Fashion Management program. These school were all extremely receptive to the idea and even helped with posting flyers around campus as well as telling their students in classes, Constanzo said.

The next “entrepreneurial” step was to create a brand partnership with a thrift clothing store to act as the host store for the designers.

Several thrift stores were visited and some were more receptive than others, Constanzo said, but it came down to low price items and a willingness for collaboration.

Eventually a Goodwill employee put them in touch with Marketing Manager Melissa Mireles.  She was very supportive of the idea, Baburek said, and Mireles helped integrate the Goodwill Facebook audience with the Thrift Off SA competition idea.

“Our vision is for this to be something that expands beyond San Antonio and being that Goodwill is a national chain, that makes the alliance a little easier,” Baburek said.

Word of the Thrift Off San Antonio competition was mainly spread by social media, primarily Facebook and Pinterest. University fashion programs they contacted also helped spread the word by telling students about the contest. Flyers were also posted at several craft shops and coffee shops.

Thrift Off SA is an exercise in collaboration, partly out of necessity – as materials, venues and marketing need to be cheap or free – but mostly because that’s the very nature of artist communities – share resources, work together.

Somer "The Realist" Baburek. Thrift Off SA COO.
Somer “The Realist” Baburek. Thrift Off SA COO.

“Cassie and I went back and forth (paying for things),” Baburek said. “Whoever had money to throw at the situation at the time, we just went with that.”

The Awesome SA grant will go directly towards the designers, the top five of which will each be getting $75 for Round Three. “We were sweating bullets wondering how we were going to come up with that,” she said, laughing.

They’ll also be using the grant to pay for a promotional ad on Facebook and silicon bracelets that will act as tickets for the final show, sold for $10 before and at the event. Paper tickets can also be purchased for $8 through the Thrift Off SA website.

The owner of The Falls and his wife were supportive of the idea and have donated the time and space for the runway event.

“The Falls definitely fits with the aesthetic we want,” Constanzo said. Elaborate chandeliers. Colorful lighting. Images projected on a huge waterfall that spills over an industrial, hammered tin wall.

“It’s chic and modern but it also looks homemade,” Baburek said. “(The look we’re going for is): ‘Holy crap how much money did you spend on that?’ ‘Oh, nothing, I got this for five bucks at a thrift store.’”

1005 Faces, a project of local photographer Sarah Brooke Lyons that highlights San Antonio diversity and talent, is also in the mix. HILMY photography, and Consummate Clothier (a custom menswear boutique opening soon) are the only official sponsors of the event so far, but Constanzo and Baburk continue to look for more support.

Adison Chase sorts through clothes at Goodwill. He is one of 12 designers competing to win the Thrift Off SA challenge. Photo by Sean Davis Photography.
Adison Chase sorts through clothes at Goodwill. He is one of 12 designers competing to win the Thrift Off SA challenge. Photo by Sean Davis Photography.

The top five designs will be auctioned off and a portion of the proceeds from that auction and any ticket sales will go towards Baburek and Constanzo’s ultimate goal: SAve The Arts, a non-profit that derives its name from its main goal, to support artists in San Antonio by creating a networked community downtown. They’ll naturally start with a website, Baburek said, but the endgame is to have a physical location for artists and the general population to come together for collaboration and demonstration of their skills.

Baburek excitedly describes Cassie’s grand idea:

“Eventually we’d like it to be an incubator for artists … we’d like to create the space out of old shipping containers, let artists and designers work inside … but invite the public (and fellow artists) to watch and hang out, “she said. “Like a food truck park for artists – to expose them to an audience. (SAve The Arts) is kinda like an art project in itself.”

So what’s in store for the future? Constanzo and Baburek have steel in their eyes. They are determined to make both Thrift Off SA and SAve The Arts success stories for San Antonio and its creative population. The goal is to have 30 designers compete next year and to, eventually, have national Thrift Off chapters.

First things first, ladies, one step at a time: The very next week after the fashion show is finals week. After that, Baburek said, they’ll hit the ground running.

Purchase tickets for the fashion show, April 27 at The Falls (226 West Bitters Rd.) by visiting or by contacting Baburak and Constanzo via email.  

Jessica Mattsson works for C.H. Guenther & Son, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @BenchmarkBrand.  You can also read her blog, Benchmark Brands, which recognizes forward-thinking companies differentiating their brand via innovative strategies.

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