An Eye for Cool: Top-ranked Wrestler and MBA Student Adam Kemp is Scoring Big with Vintage Furniture and Clothing Biz

Adam Kemp sitting in leather chair outside
Written by February 14, 2024

UPDATE: Adam Kemp recently won the PAC-12 title for his weight class, becoming only the third Mustang wrestler in history to win the 174-pound PAC-12 title, and he recently opened his store in downtown San Luis Obispo. To follow Kemp’s wrestling activities as he pursues an NCAA title, check out the Cal Poly Athletics wrestling page

On a sunny autumn afternoon, students swarm Adam Kemp’s vintage clothing pop-up at Dexter Lawn, digging through racks loaded with jackets and bins full of throwback T-shirts, jerseys and pants.

A few feet from the bins, math major Rapha Coutin is clutching his prized discovery: a Christmas sweater bearing the name Christine.

“I don’t know who that is, but it’s a little bit different,” said Coutin, who prefers to wear Christmas sweaters outside the holiday season. “I’m not going to find that in a store because it’s a personal thing. There’s only one Christine sweater out there, and I have it now.”

Kemp’s business, Thrifty Beaches, sells an array of vintage clothing, furniture and collectibles, with styles he describes as eclectic, midcentury, funky, modern and just plain cool.

“What people are looking for at this point — they like my eye,” Kemp said. “I can look at something right away and just tell ‘This is it.’”

Adam Kemp poses among vintage clothing with his girlfriend, Maria Trott. (Photo/Christa Renee Pfleeger)

That knack for style didn’t come easy for Kemp, who grew up in a low-income household. But Kemp’s journey, which entailed becoming a nationally ranked wrestler now pursuing an MBA at Cal Poly, has helped him create a successful business while still in school.

“My ultimate goal is to have multiple stores throughout California,” said Kemp, who is preparing to open his first store at 1019 Broad St. in downtown San Luis Obispo.

His Own Style

As a child, Kemp didn’t have the material things his friends had.

“We had no furniture, no TV, nothing,” he said. “It was white walls, and we had air mattresses. I remember nights where I’d be sleeping, and my bed would start deflating.”

Yet, even as a youth without money, he had his own sense for style.

“I’d wear what I thought was cool,” he said. “Other people might laugh at me, but I felt comfortable in my own style.”

Kemp and his three siblings initially lived with their mother in Minnesota and California. Then in sixth grade, Kemp and two of his siblings moved with their father to the Chicago suburbs.

Kemp wasn’t aware that his father had been a wrestling legend.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” Kemp said.

“I don’t waste time. Every section of my day is allocated to something.”

                                                Adam Kemp

As noted in the documentary “Wrestled Away: The Lee Kemp Story,” Lee Kemp earned three NCAA championships for the University of Wisconsin, where he won 103 consecutive matches. Lee Kemp was considered a favorite to win Olympic gold – and potentially lucrative endorsement deals — but was denied the opportunity when the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

Despite that disappointment, Lee Kemp knew his son could benefit from the sport, so he offered him $50 to try out for his high school team.

Adam Kemp poses at his new downtown location. (Photo/Jack Sann)

“At the time, I was pretty money motivated,” Kemp remembered. “And I’m just so thankful. He saw how life changing that could be.”

Kemp eventually earned a scholarship to wrestle at Fresno State. Meanwhile, he began studying journalism. As the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd protests rocked the country in 2020, Kemp took to interviewing people on the street for his journalism Instagram site, naïvejourney.

“I felt like I was on a naïve journey, a little ignorant, not knowing where I’m going to go with my life,” he said. “So, I thought how cool would it be to be so naïve to go out and talk to people who maybe society doesn’t think have the answers.”

His numerous interviews included a police officer on patrol, a homeless woman and a racist.

“If you had asked me back then if that was what I wanted to do for my career, I would have said, ‘Yeah,’” Kemp said.

Learning by Doing

But around that time, Fresno State decided to eliminate multiple sports programs, including wrestling, forcing Kemp to take his studies and mat skills elsewhere.

He transferred to Cal Poly in the winter of 2021, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications studies last June and became a nationally ranked wrestler.

A new chapter in his life began when he purchased a media cabinet from 2nd Chance Home Decor in Pismo Beach.

Adam Kemp, on the mat. Kemp, who has been a nationally ranked wrestler, transferred to Cal Poly when Fresno State shut down its wrestling program. (Photo/Cal Poly Athletics)

As he was checking out, he asked the owner, “How do you get this stuff?”

“And she just went in depth and talked for about an hour,” Kemp said.

Soon Kemp quit his Door Dash job and began searching for stylish furniture he could flip. And he quickly gained a refined eye for simplistic lines, art deco designs, dovetail drawers and walnut.

“That’s all stuff that gets you excited,” he said.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Kemp, decided to pursue an MBA, following his father’s path, which allows him to take advantage of extra wrestling eligibility.

“I have a business, but I also want to learn the accounting side, learn the legal side,” he said. “A lot of businesses are not well rounded in that way.”

Ben Alexander, director of the MBA program and an associate professor of management, said a master’s won’t replicate the learning experience of owning a business. “Rather, the program will provide Adam with knowledge, tools and opportunities to rethink existing processes, to explore new markets, to scale with greater confidence and to network with students, alumni and other stakeholders who might be partners in Adam’s vision for Thrifty Beaches.”

Finding Treasures

Kemp’s eclectic taste and his ability to communicate well will bolster his success, Alexander said.

“He manages to find treasures across different eras and styles,” said Alexander, who purchased a jacket from Thrifty Beaches. “Adam seems to know every item he sells, and he helps them come alive for customers with their stories.”

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The items Kemp sells are stylish, classy and hip. Recent sales include a Tiffany-style lamp, an Elise vanity and stool set, a 19th century hotel safe and a 1970s swivel chair that looks like it came from a spaceship.

Kemp is buying and selling daily — in between a busy class and wrestling schedule and occasionally helping his dad with wrestling camps.

“I don’t waste time,” said Kemp, who finished the 2023-24 wrestling season ranked #9 in the 174-pound class. “Every section of my day is allocated to something.”

That structured, efficient lifestyle — along with his life experiences and maturity — provides an inspiration to his teammates, said coach Jon Sioredas.

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DOWN TO BUSINESS: Adam Kemp is an MBA student, business owner and nationally rnked wrestler. (Gallery photos/ Cal Poly Athletics, Pat Pemberton, Christa Renee Pfleeger, Jack Sann, JP Vega)

“He is very methodical and thoughtful in his approach to the sport,” said Sioredas, last year’s Pac-12 Coach of the Year. “This is different from most, as the norm is to put your head down and push forward. Adam puts a lot of thought into why and how to continue to improve and progress.”

As he seeks to improve his wrestling record — his goal is to become an All-American — he also strives to up his business game, which will eventually require hiring employees.

“I have to ask myself: Is this a business or am I hustling?” Kemp said. “I want it to be a business.”

He typically sells to individuals who reach out to him via Instagram, and he sells at antique fairs and the clothing pop-ups. While the furniture tends to sell to more established adults with money, his clothing mostly appeals to college students.

While meeting with a panel of Black business owners, Adam Kemp gifted San Luis Obispo Mayor Erica Stewart a newspaper with the headline “March of the Poor.” The march, led by Coretta Scott King, featured Black women calling for equal rights. (Photo/Courtesy of Adam Kemp)

At Dexter Lawn, Kemp worked the pop-up with his girlfriend, Maria Trott.

The first time they featured a pop-up, Trott said, it was so busy, it became unmanageable.

“It was like a swarm of people,” she said. “We couldn’t see anything.”

On a good pop-up day, Kemp said, they might sell 200 items.

In September, those items included a unique Christmas sweater. Coutin, who bought the sweater, walked over to the pop-up during a break with fellow math majors Kelley Lam and Stephen Cook.

The pop-up featured bomber jackets, a Miami Dolphins jersey, Cal Poly sweatshirts, hip shoes and more.

“Some of the clothes here are more unique,” Cook said. “You don’t really get that at Target or regular clothing or retail stores.”

Coutin, who has purchased multiple Christmas sweaters from Kemp, was especially proud of this year’s pick, previously owned by a Christine.

“I like the story I can tell when I’m wearing it,” he said.

Kemp can appreciate that quirkiness.

“Why not? Life’s supposed to be fun,” he said. “I kind of like people who go against the grain with what is cool societally in terms of fashion.”


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