The Marketplace Boom   //   October 19, 2023

How Poshmark’s annual conference PoshFest tries to fuel power selling and platform loyalty

Around 600 people are gathered in San Diego’s Town and Country hotel ballroom, where four women are passing the mic on stage. From the silky hot pink blazers to the encouraging calls to action, they’re exuding major girl boss energy as they discuss how to go “from zero to $100k” by selling secondhand clothes. 

“Don’t say why you can’t, and don’t say you’re not enough,”  said Aurora Lopez-Szpak, otherwise known by the handle “MamaChickys.” The crowd cheers. Following the panel, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé blare from the overhead speakers as the crowd heads to breakout groups and mentoring sessions in the palm tree-lined courtyard.

Welcome to Poshfest, the annual conference hosted by secondhand marketplace Poshmark. The event, which Poshmark has hosted for 10 years now, serves as a learning lab and networking meetup for its power sellers, or “Poshers,” and those looking to learn best practices for making money on the platform. And for Poshmark, hosting a conference helps set it apart from online resale platforms like ThredUp, The RealReal, Mercari and eBay by embracing its top users and help keep them selling.

While thrifting and resale shopping was once the habitat of low-income shoppers or vintage aficionados, it’s become a mainstream way to shop, especially as household budgets strain under the weight of continued inflation. Research from Morning Consult published in January found 42% of U.S. shoppers had made a secondhand purchase in the last three months, with nine out of 10 saying their main motivation was saving money. But the overall share of secondhand shoppers was relatively stagnant year over year, according to Morning Consult, meaning further growth of the resale sector depends on getting more people to participate. To that end, Poshmark’s near-term growth may come down to getting its power sellers to bring in more business.

Enter Poshfest as a way to teach its users how to sell more, and more successfully. What started in 2013 as a gathering of about 50 people in the Las Vegas ballroom hit a peak attendance of 1,500 in 2019, followed by virtual conferences during the early pandemic years. Some attendees are full-time sellers who left a corporate job or teamed up with their spouse to run a profitable closet. Others are fashion-forward side-hustlers, who may dream of going full-time or use simply their closet sales as a way to spend money to refresh their own wardrobe.

Panels focus on best practices for marketing and merchandising. In the conference hall, a Poshmark tech desk invites sellers to ask any questions they have about issues they experience on the platform.

But Poshfest is also a moment of “see-and-be-seen” for the resale world. Attendees have their handles on thier badges and encourage each other to follow closets. Conversations are shared over cocktails, and outfits are praised with gusto. Like many digital-based entrepreneurial jobs, several Poshers told Modern Retail that running a Poshmark closet can be “lonely,” and Poshfest helps them make friends with similar interests. And there’s no shortage of Instagrammable moments, from neon signs to plant walls to Barbie-style toy boxes. Since top sellers can amass thousands of followers on TikTok and Instagram, Poshfest serves as a mutually beneficial retention strategy that helps its users grow their personal brands and become part of a broader community.

“It’s not only for growing your business,” said Mimi Kno, a Posh Ambassador and San Diego resident who helps host local meetups with other sellers. “For me it’s the networking and creating friendships and having Poshmark in common is really cool. Whatever brought you to Poshmark, we all have that in common.”

Lessons in poshing

Founder and CEO Manish Chandra told Modern Retail that 2023 felt like a strong return for Poshfest following a smaller-scale event of 300 people in 2022. This year had an all-time high of nine sponsors, including Visa and List Perfectly, a seller inventory and listing tool. 

Chandra, who attends Poshfest to give a keynote address and meet up with longtime sellers, said the main goal of Poshfest is community building. 

“For us, the focus is about empowering not just people who are power selling, but people who are selling and rotating their closet,” he said. “When we think about the network of rotating closets around the country, that’s how we sustain the future, the circularity of fashion.”

It’s also an opportunity for the company to get buy-in on its latest profit-drivers. Chandra announced this year that Postmark will soon launch gift cards as a way to boost sales. The brand also gets a chance to deepen relationships with its users, with a room devoted to capturing content like video testimonials from sellers.

But this year, much of the buzz among attendees centered on “Posh Shows,” a feature that Poshmark rolled out in beta last year and has expanded since then. Shows allow sellers to go live and auction off their items, allowing for buyers to see items in real time before purchasing. 

For many sellers, it can prove to be a moneymaker, because sellers can auction off multiple items in one session. And with Poshmark taking a 20% cut of sales — standard across the platform for any item over $15 — auction items that go for a high number wind up benefiting the company as much as the sellers. Poshmark says since the feature started beta testing last year, the number of sellers making over $100,000 a year has almost doubled. 

Multiple sessions focused on strategies for sellers that want to improve their live show performance, whether that was tips on how to stage a video or undergo a “self-confidence bootcamp” to help feel ready to go live. On site, a large conference room hosted the “Posh Show Studios” with multiple colorful sets that were assembled for sellers to go live from the event — complete with a complimentary stocked beauty bar for hair and makeup touch-ups. Sellers waited in line to participate, chatting over their inventory they brought to sell. 

Gina Weisberg drove about three hours to attend Poshfest from Calabasas, California. This year was her first time attending, and she said the event is a good “once a year thing” to learn more skills as she aims to become a full-time seller.

“It’s a lot of work,” to go full-time, she said, noting the 20% cut that Poshmark takes on sales of over $15 can be prohibitive if selling a higher-end item like a designer bag. And attending Poshfest itself is an expense, with registration nearing $300 plus several hundred dollars to stay at the swanky mid-centrury modern lodgings at the Town and Country. Still, Weisberg didn’t regret attending and was eager to learn more about live selling. 

She used the live shopping stages that were set up in a ballroom to experiment going in front of the camera for the first time — and quickly sold the outfit she was modeling. But her second take didn’t get any shoppers.

“I’m trying to learn more,” she said. 

A loyal community

LyAnn Chhay is the svp of community at Poshmark. Twice a month, she travels to different parts of the country to meet with sellers and hear about their experiences. She said that Poshfest serves as a culmination of some of those lessons learned, as bringing sellers together allows them to help each other. 

“You feel the energy here at Poshfest,” she said. “It’s getting like-minded people to support each other.” 

During breaks and mealtimes between sessions, sellers swap best practices about how they run their closet. One seller from Texas explained how her first foray into selling didn’t go well, until her daughter swapped out her Target inventory for the likes of Madewell and Eileen Fisher. And like many conference circuits, people come dressed to impress, but with a thrifted twist — like sequined minis cast off from Eras Tour attendees and upcycled denim jackets.

“Thrifted or new?” one seller asked another in reference to her silky blazer. “New, but discounted,” the blazer-wearer said. 

Secora Hawkes, a southern California resident, snapped photos in front of a mossy green wall with her friend on Day 2 of the event in between sessions. She’s sold vintage clothing for more than five years and has dabbled in Poshmark. But the event, which she won tickets to on TikTok, is giving her inspiration to expand her closet into a bigger endeavor.

“It’s such a big networking event, I’ve had jobs offered to me or people who want to help with stuff,” Hawkes said. “It’s good to meet people who are likeminded, and doing girl-boss stuff.” 

Shiela (CQ) DeForest has been selling since 2013 and attending Poshfest just as long. She is also a Posh Ambassador, a status that sellers can reach after amassing thousands of sales, listings and ratings that allows them to unlock special benefits like getting early access to new features. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Colorado with her husband in 2021 following a career as a flight attendant with Emirates. Selling secondhand clothes helped her connect with Denver’s fashion community, and sellers around the country, DeForest said. She’s even attended the weddings of fellow Poshers.

“Working from home, you don’t really meet anyone,” DeForest said.

To this end, Poshfest promotes mingling and networking through multiple sessions and interactive events, including group yoga and an up cycling workshop. Inside the Posh Show Studio, sellers line up and show each other the items they’ve brought to sell.

Helping to build community could be a key differentiator that helps Poshmark, which was a public company before it was acquired by Korean internet company Naver earlier this year for $1.2 billion, stand out in a crowded marketplace. Competitors like ThredUp aims to turn profitable this year, while TheRealReal has laid out a path to profitability through 2024. But both those platforms have users send in items to be sold by the marketplace itself, rather than the peer-to-peer style of shopping on Poshmark.

Near the close of Day 2, one seller goes live from the Posh Shows Studios while modeling a green, blue and purple wrap dress that she’s styled around her jeans and black top. Saying hi to users by referencing their handles as they sign on, she told the viewers that she was at Poshfest and gushed over the event.

“If you can make it Poshfest next year, do it,” she said.