How Satu Kujanpää founded Preloved

And revolutionized America’s thrift stores using her experiences in native Finland.

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

Iam a dual citizen of the U.S. and Finland. My mother immigrated to the U.S. in her 20s, but we often went back to visit my grandparents. I adored wandering Finnish flea markets and thrift stores with my grandfather. My love for thrifting sprouted from watching him and my other family members buy used, imperfect things and proudly display and use them.

I met my husband, Josef, in a Finnish class at Brigham Young University. He also had a Finnish parent. I loved being around him; he gave me a safe environment to be myself and dream big. It took a while, but we eventually married and moved to Houston, where Josef managed a chemical plant. The job was good, but it wasn’t Josef’s passion. It taught us we didn’t want to spend our days working for someone else’s dream; we wanted to be entrepreneurs together. 

We spent the years at this job expanding our mindsets and learning about business ownership. Life was so busy, but Josef and I supported each other, and we were grateful for what God was giving us. I took photography classes and started a business while Josef earned his MBA from Rice University, and we had babies two and three.

With my photography business, I loved using my creative brain and offering clients unique experiences. I faced all the complex parts of business ownership and learned that if I didn’t show up, the money wouldn’t either. I also learned how to juggle a business with raising young kids.

The backstory of Preloved 

As our family grew, I tried thrifting more in America but rarely found good deals at thrift stores; garage sales would only have a few good items, and donation centers were always dirty. And, with little kids, you can only put so much time into looking. If you leave empty-handed, it’s very frustrating.

In Finland, I discovered booth thrift stores and constantly shopped for kids’ clothes. I would go every day because I never knew if there would be a new vendor. I would take a duffel bag and spend 300 Euros. Then, we would have our kids’ clothes for the entire year. I’d also buy all their gear: hockey skates, snowsuits, toys, Finnish books—all the things little kids need.

I loved dressing my kids in beautiful, affordable clothes. I was excited to help them get dressed every day, and I felt this huge mental lift as a parent because, even though I loved what they were wearing, I wasn’t panicked about them getting dirty in their clothes. The kids played in the forests and got blueberries all over their “new” clothes. I was in absolute heaven with my camera in hand. 

Back in the U.S., I craved the Finnish thrift stores. I searched everywhere for something similar, but there was nothing, and I missed it so much! While photographing my clients in Houston, I saw thousands of dollars worth of kids’ clothes and gear in closets. I asked clients what they did with old clothes and equipment. They’d usually say they’d just store them somewhere or give them to a friend. 

I recognized immediately that we needed a Finnish-style thrift store here. I needed to develop this idea into something real. Families were paying expensive mortgages on spaces they couldn’t utilize because there wasn’t an easy way for them to sell what no longer served them. 

I started looking for places to rent for Preloved. I wanted to take what I found in Finland but make it better. I talked with everyone about my idea. I asked moms at the park if they’d rent a booth and for how much. I messaged people on Facebook selling clothes in garbage bags and asked them what was frustrating about selling that way. I wanted Preloved to make thrifting amazing for both buyers and sellers. 

And revolutionized America’s thrift stores using her experiences in native Finland.

"Preloved is so much more than a thrift store. She is an opportunity to reset your life; she is a vessel for joy; she is a therapist who enables you to let go of the past and confidently move into your future. With the help of our communities, Preloved has revolutionized the thrifting experience."

In 2020, we settled in Utah, and I continued searching for a place for Preloved. I pitched my idea to many landlords and spaces, but it was a risk for them—I was revolutionizing the thrift industry. Since this concept hadn’t been done before, it was hard for landlords to comprehend my vision for “elevated thrifting.” 

I finally found an abandoned building on Canyon Road in Provo with potential. The next-door neighbor was buying the place, and I asked her if she’d like to have a renter once the sale went through. She said, “Absolutely.” A few months later, I signed the lease with my fifth baby strapped to my chest. Getting a space had taken a year, but I was finally doing it! 

I signed the lease and got the keys. Josef was on a work call when I got home, and I shook the keys with a big smile, mouthing, “We’re doing it!” I didn’t know how I was going to manage Preloved with five kids and my husband working full time, but I either needed to go for this idea or let it die and live with regret for the rest of my life—and I am not a fan of regret. 

We had a lot of figuring out, but God guided me in every step. For example, the shelves I wanted were out of stock for three years because of Covid. I was about to buy custom shelving when the shelves I wanted suddenly came in stock that same day! I took it as a sign from God that I was doing the right thing! 

I spent my nights pitching people on Facebook to sell at Preloved instead. Most people thought it was bizarre, but I just kept going. To this day, I do not take a single booth booking for granted. The people who took a chance on me will forever hold a special place in my heart. We opened our first Preloved in Provo in November 2021, with all 40+ booths filled.  

Creating a superior experience

One of the pain points of Finnish thrift stores was that I didn’t know when there would be new inventory. This is why I implemented weekly rotations at Preloved. I want buyers to come every Saturday knowing they will find completely different inventory than the week before. 

I also spent weeks figuring out how to keep track of each seller’s sales and how to put their discounts straight into the POS system. In Finland, if a seller puts a discount sign on their booth, it’s up to the buyer to remember at checkout. This often led me to overpay for items and was very frustrating. 

I was the only in-store employee for the first few months of Preloved. I love our sellers and worked hard to help them do well by cleaning up booths, marketing and selling items on Instagram and providing tagging supplies to keep the booths’ inventory tags consistent. These extra actions saved our sellers and buyers time and money. People loved it, and it’s a big part of why Preloved is so special. 

Finnish stores often have kids’ corners so parents can shop while kids play. I love that part of Finnish culture! Every Preloved has a kids’ corner where kids are greeted with fun toys, friends and a safe environment to play in so their parents can shop each booth thoroughly.

Preloved also gives the majority of each sale (65 percent) right back to the seller. I wanted women at home with their kids to be able to do something about getting money and taking care of their families. It’s frustrating to feel like you no longer need the things in your home, but you can’t easily make money off them.

Juggling a business and a family 

Three months after opening, I felt strongly that this was our chance to live the entrepreneurial life we had dreamed of since the beginning of our marriage. I told Josef I felt God inviting us to go all in. What I built was good—we were giving back and improving the world. I was serving people wholeheartedly, and the business model was working. Josef agreed. 

He took a huge risk and quit his job to join me at Preloved full-time. We had our five tiny kids and lost health insurance, but once again, we thrive in the unconventional. We were ready. We had been working toward this for many years. 

Everyone talks about balance when running a business. I don’t think we will ever feel balanced. Being off-balance is what keeps us innovating and learning. I’ve decided that we just have to make every minute count. Josef and I work hard to help each other and give grace. We all have seasons of giving and taking, and the impossible can be accomplished when you work together.

We balance each other out and let each other have the space we need to shine and make decisions. I’m good at the creative aspects of business, for example. I love people, and I’m good at telling my story and expressing why the Preloved lifestyle is beneficial. Josef is very good at Excel sheets and numbers! 

We feel truly blessed to work side-by-side day and night. We love being stressed about the same things and falling asleep talking about business. Our kids are also totally invested, and we love having them with us through it all. They’ve helped us build shelves, traveled across the country, slept in the kids’ corners overnight, napped in the closets and eaten many dinners on the Preloved floors. We hope as they see us working together for our dreams, they will have the confidence to do the same.

Preloved has been around for over 18 months and is rapidly growing. We opened Provo in November 2021, Spanish Fork in April 2022, Sandy in November 2022 and Layton and Houston in April 2023. We sold our first franchise in January 2023 in Rexburg, Idaho, and they opened in March of 2023. 

Changing the way America thrifts 

My goal has always been to change America for the better, one closet at a time. When we buy slowly and intentionally, new habits develop, and we cease to fill our spaces with the unnecessary. People who have made Preloved a part of their lives know thrifting can be a beautiful, clean, uplifting experience. 

Gone are the days of digging through dirty bins, hoping to find one decent thing. Gone are the days of thrifting being associated with struggling financially. There is no shame in buying used, and I love that people who never thrifted before are now avid Preloved fans. Preloved is so much more than a thrift store. She is an opportunity to reset your life; she is a vessel for joy; she is a therapist who enables you to let go of the past and confidently move into your future. With the help of our communities, Preloved has revolutionized the thrifting experience. 

If I could pass anything along, I’d say, if God has given you an idea that won’t let you go, just go for it! The timing is never right. The stars are never fully aligned. You have to remember your why and then jump. Just jump! So many people are cheering you on, and you will feel so happy knowing you tried. Even failing helps us become more interesting people—there is no regret in trying.

Satu Kujanpää is the founder of Preloved—the thrift store that makes buying and selling second-hand fun and beautiful. With a mission to help as many people and families as possible, Preloved gives the majority of each sale back to the seller and has helped over 15,000 people clean out their homes and earn money from things that no longer serve them. Satu and her husband, Josef, run Preloved together alongside their six children.