Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
One million people on TikTok follow Cait Conquers for her thrifting content.
So it’s a little surprising to find out she used to hate thrifting.
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When she was young, her mother used to furnish their house and their closets with bargain buys from thrift stores. “My mom, she wasn’t just thrifting, we were going thrifting when it was 25-cent thrifting day. Getting the cheapest things that we could ever get,” Cait says. Paying $3 for a T-shirt was too much; her mom was on the lookout for $1 shirts. As a kid, this was just how things were. She didn’t realize other people bought new stuff–until kids at school started making fun of her secondhand wardrobe.
Cait came to resent thrifting. After getting her first job as a high schooler, she struck out for the mall, thrilled she was finally going to get to buy brand-new clothes.
But the mall was one big sticker shock. $25 for one shirt?
Becoming conscious of just how much things cost gave her a new appreciation for thrifting. Years later, as she was getting ready to become a mom herself, she ramped up her efforts, turning into a “professional thrifter,” she says. Now she estimates around 95% of her family’s belongings were bought secondhand.
Her skills didn’t go unnoticed by her family. One Thanksgiving, her stepsister (who Cait swears is “way cooler than me”) encouraged her to download this newfangled app called TikTok and start posting videos about her thrift store scores. Cait didn’t think TikTok would work out for her, but she installed it anyway and started watching videos.
“One of the first videos that I saw was of a girl, and she had a dress form, she just threw clothes at the dress form, and then it cut to a finished dress. I was like, ‘Hey, that’s so cool,'” she says. “My brain started to work and I was like, ‘I could do that with things I get from the thrift store. I could do a before and after and I think people would find that really entertaining.'”
Now, TikTok is a major part of Cait’s life–and one that she hopes can turn into a career capable of supporting her family.
Check out our chat with her below.
@caitconquers Its hurts my heart to see handmade at thrifts, but I know there are prolific makers out there. Maybe they’ve made 1000s of pieces and cant store it anymore, or maybe a family doesnt know what to do with it. I will always rescue what I can and try to give it a new life. #crochetweddingdress ♬ My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from “Titanic”) – Céline Dion
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: Very excited to get to talk to you! I’m familiar with you and with your videos, but pretend somebody is seeing this or reading this and they don’t know who you are. Give me a little bit of background about you.
Cait Conquers: My name is Cait, I’m 36 years old. I have three kids. I’ve been married for 14 years. My husband is in the Marine Corps, so he has a very serious job and I have a very unserious job. Where should I start? Let’s see. I grew up in a family that moved around a lot. I went to three elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. I’ve always kind of been the new kid and always out there on my own.
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. We had no money, really. I grew up going thrifting. We were in the thrift stores all the time. I’ve been going since I was a small kid. My mom, she wasn’t just thrifting, we were going thrifting when it was 25-cent thrifting day. Getting the cheapest things that we could ever get. I never saw a problem with it. I grew up like that and that was just how we did things. But in about third grade, people started to catch on that all of my clothes were used. At that time, it was really still taboo. People started to make fun of me for having used clothes, just teasing and all that stuff. In fourth grade, it got really, really bad and I got really bullied for it and really cast out.
I told one of my friends. I was like, “Hey, this sucks. Why can’t I have new clothes? I have to wear all these old clothes, and people tease me all the time.” That friend ended up telling her mom, and that mom told my mom. I remember how hurt my mom was when she heard that, because she was doing her best. She was trying her best, and in her mind, we had clothes, and that was good enough. It was a really hard thing for me to try to understand her, but still have my feelings be validated, but yes, so I was really– I hated it. I hated thrifting. I hated everything about it.
When I got to high school, I was one of those kids who immediately got a job because I felt I had to pay my own way and pay for myself. As soon as you start getting your own money, you start to realize, “Oh, I get it, I get it.” When I grew up, $3 for a shirt was too much money. You needed a shirt for $1. When I had my own money in high school, I was like, “I’m going to shop at the mall,” and I went in and shirts were $25! I was like, “This doesn’t make any sense. I’m not going to do that.”
It was around high school where I started to appreciate thrifting and the value in it. When I started having kids, that’s when I became a professional thrifter. Now, after all that time, almost everything that we own is thrifted. I would say 95% of our house is all secondhand and used. That has become a really important part of our life and our lifestyle, is always trying to find it used first, and that’s how I got into thrifting.
That was a long story. With sewing, when I was pregnant with my youngest, I wanted to start sewing. I had a sewing machine, but it sat in a closet for two years because I was intimidated to start using it. When I was pregnant, I decided I wanted to make quilts, so I just started going on Pinterest and I started reading blog posts, because there wasn’t a lot of YouTube content on what I wanted to see. I read all these blog posts and I taught myself how to sew and how to quilt. I didn’t start sewing clothes until 2019. That’s right around when I joined TikTok.
@caitconquers Decided to take a thrift store gamble I have a problem with feeling sentimental for things that don’t even belong to me, and then I end up in situations like this ☠️ Good news, no extra creepy crawlies, and whatever was there has been gone for decades. What should we do with her!? #thrifted #thriftstorefinds #vintageweddingdress ♬ Big Band Jazz – Swing Era, Intense, Gorgeous(1032830) – Ponetto
Tubefilter: Amazing. And how have things changed for you since then? Have things changed?
Cait Conquers: I feel like a lot of things are still the same. I’m still doing the same thing that I started doing. I don’t know, not a lot. I think people, especially like my husband, he takes me more seriously. When I first started posting on TikTok, I was a 30-something posting on this app that was mostly for kids at the time. It’s changed a lot since then. When I joined, it was still a lot of lip-syncing and dancing only, and I was doing something different. He really thought it was silly, but he takes me a lot more seriously now, especially after reaching a million followers and really thinking about how many people that is, and that’s important. That was a big change.
Tubefilter: Can you talk a little bit more about that? Validation and feeling like what you’re doing is important is something I think a lot of creators struggle with.
Cait Conquers: Absolutely. I was a stay-at-home mom. I still am a stay-at-home mom. I had always been trying to find something to do. I had been quilting for almost a decade at that point, and when I joined TikTok everyone always made fun of me for quilting, because I was a young person quilting. It was seen as something only older people did. I felt like it wasn’t…No one really saw the value in it.
When you’re a stay-at-home mom and you are trying to add something to your family, and especially adding an income to your family…Being a stay-at-home mom is really hard, but it’s often overlooked as just not a job. I was always trying to find a job to do other than raising the kids. TikTok ended up being that for me. It was so absurd. When you start gaining followers and more people start watching you, then a lot of people take more interest and are going to take you more seriously because they see other people taking you seriously. It’s a domino effect. I don’t know. That was it.
Tubefilter: I totally get it. That connective force.
Cait Conquers: It was really cool this year. This is the first year I went to VidCon. To be in a space where everyone’s just making content and having a good time and cheering each other on. That was the vibe that I got from VidCon.
Tubefilter: Was that your first time being around other creators?
Cait Conquers: Yes. Because I don’t know anybody. I have online friends, we all do, who we chat back and forth with. There’s a few people that I met at the beginning of TikTok that we’ve clung to each other and we always ask each other, “Well, what are you doing? What is this? What’s happening here?” I have those few people, but VidCon was the first time that I saw the scale of the creator universe, the amount of different types of creators. Everyone’s out there trying to tell their story or put their skills or their talents. It was really awesome.
Tubefilter: It’s good. I’m really glad it was a positive experience for you. It’s a good atmosphere.
Cait Conquers: Yes. It’s electric.
Tubefilter: When you posted, what was your thought process going into starting to make content? I know you mentioned you were looking to add an income to your family, but did you think that this was going to be as big as it is for you?
Cait Conquers: No, absolutely not. I joined TikTok because my stepsister–It was Thanksgiving and we were at a family dinner, and my stepsister had TikTok and we’re the same age, but she doesn’t have kids, so she’s way cooler than me. She’s very on-trend. She’s very into all the things. She was like, “Hey, do you have TikTok?” I was like, “No.” She was like, “You should do it. You should join it, but not just join it. You should be posting videos. You should be showing people all of the stuff that you’re doing.” I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
She kept pushing me and she was like, “Just put something out there.” That night, I downloaded TikTok and I started watching videos. One of the first videos that I saw was of a girl, and she had a dress form, she just threw clothes at the dress form, and then it cut to a finished dress. I was like, “Hey, that’s so cool.” My brain started to work and I was like, “I could do that with things I get from the thrift store. I could do a before and after and I think people would find that really entertaining.”
That really inspired me to try it out. It takes a while for something to hit. My first couple of videos, I’m like, “Wow, I suck. This is terrible. This is a bad idea.”
Tubefilter: Classic experience.
Cait Conquers: Then it just takes the one video to go anywhere that you start feeling like, “Okay, well, maybe this is a thing I could do.” That’s how I got started. At first, it was just before and afters. I didn’t film any of the process. It took a really long time to get to that point to be confident enough with video, editing, and all of that stuff to post full tutorial videos. I just started with before and after. I tried to keep it simple.
@caitconquers As always, purely speculation as each performer, performance and costume may vary ✨ Do you think you know how its done? #seamstress #magictrick #costumedesign ♬ original sound – Cait
Tubefilter: What’s your production like these days behind the scenes? Are you aiming to put out a certain number of videos per week?
Cait Conquers: Oh, Lord. I think I read somewhere, James, that you also have ADHD. Is that true?
Tubefilter: I do have ADHD, that’s correct.
Cait Conquers: I just go wherever the serotonin is. I have learned that I can’t have a strict production schedule or try to adhere to a schedule because my best ideas and my best videos come where I am just following what is exciting to me at that moment, which sometimes it doesn’t work out because I’ll start a big project and leave it, sit there for months. I did a corset top with Barbie shoes on it. That was one of those that I dropped everything, I got it in my brain, I dropped everything that I was doing at the moment, and I was like, “I have to do this. I have to do this exact thing, and if I don’t do it, I might die.” That’s how I get my best videos, and that’s how I get my best content is I’m just following the joy, the happiness, the things that scratches that itch.
Tubefilter: The dopamine.
Cait Conquers: Yes.
Tubefilter: I’ve been there. I get it. Do you remember what the first video of yours was that really took off?
Cait Conquers: Yes. I don’t love talking about this video, but it’s important to talk about it, especially when it comes to upcycling and thrifting. In this video, I had a shirt and it had butterflies on it, but the shirt was like a 3XL. I turned this shirt into a dress and that was a really, really popular video. That was my first video to get duetted and it was a big deal for me. That video also sparked a whole conversation with a lot of people about upcycling plus-size clothing when you’re not plus-size.
It was a really important realization and thing to happen to me early on because a lot of people let me know, and I learned that obviously plus-size clothing is scarce in thrift stores. When you are taking something that’s plus-size and making it smaller, that’s sending a message. You’re taking away resources from plus-sized people who want to thrift and want to be in that world and already their resources are so limited that you shouldn’t be doing that. You should not be taking plus-size clothing and making them smaller for any reason, but that was the first video that got really big for me.
Creatively, it was a really cool project, but I’m glad it happened early on, and I could learn from that. I see a lot of creators in the upcycling space who are still doing that and still trying to rationalize it. I want to have a lot of talks with them. Anyway, that was my first really big video that had a really large reach and went to a lot of places.
Tubefilter: Sounds like it ended up with positive results. I’m curious, was there a point with TikTok where you were like, “This is going to become career for me”?
Cait Conquers: Honestly, I’m still waiting a little bit. I’m still waiting for it to be a career. I work at it every single day. I am either doing a project or thinking about a video or working toward something, but I’m still waiting for, I don’t know what else to happen. I’m still waiting. A career is defined by making money. I’m still waiting for that, to be able to make enough money to say, “This is my actual real job. This is my career. This is what I’m doing.” For it to be not only something that I’m passionate about, but something that also helps support my family.
I’m still waiting on the career part, but I feel like it’s been about three years, and hopefully I’ll get there soon, because numbers don’t necessarily mean success. When you first start out, you think, “Oh, a million, wow, I’m going to be so big then,” or whatever, but you learn that’s not necessarily true. I’m still waiting.
Tubefilter: Do you have any plans or goals or projects you want to talk about?
Cait Conquers: Let’s see. Well, I really want to put out a book. I really would love to put out a book about upcycling, to teach a younger generation all of these skills that our grandmas used to teach us about how to fix things, repair things, re-use things that we don’t do it anymore. We just buy new instead of fixing what we already have. I’d really love to put out something that was a resource for people to learn those skills again or do that.
Let’s see, I guess we’ve talked about career. I’d love to have this be a career. My husband has been in the Marine Corps for like 17 years, for a really long time. He’s getting close to retirement. It would be awesome if this could be something that, if he retired, he wouldn’t have to worry about us. If I could provide enough income for our family, that would be great. He’s put a lot on the back burner to support us and to support me. It’d be cool if he could retire and I’d be like, “Babe, I got this.” That would be awesome.
Project-wise, I never know what I’m going to do. It’s always a surprise. That’s what makes it fun.
@caitconquers It’s that time of year again! Let’s reminisce on the time I learned that certain dyes travel in the steam and I stained everything I own red. ✨ #marinecorpsball #caitsews #upcycledfashion ♬ As It Was – Vitamin String Quartet
Tubefilter: Is there anything else you would want readers to know about you, or about upcycling in general? Any advice you have?
Cait Conquers: I feel like specifically thrifting, I’m always trying to break down that stigma. A lot of people, I’m still surprised, especially a lot of people in my age group, they still see thrifting as something only people who are struggling do. It’s only for people who don’t have a lot of money or whatever. That fact is holding people back from buying used and looking for used. I feel like it’s really important that a lot of people recognize that we all need to be thrifting. We all need to be reusing the stuff that’s already here on the planet because it’s not looking good.
The rise of fast fashion is one of the number one polluters. I wish more people would start looking at thrift stores or start looking for things that are used. I hope that seeing me doing these things can inspire people to, if you can’t find what you need, maybe you could find something similar and make it what you want.