Starting a Store & Saving Animals: An Interview with APA! Thrift Creator Oliver Jolis

March 13, 2019 / Spark Magazine

Entering the unique world inside APA! Thrift’s doors, I am greeted with an infinite array of colors, eclectic clothes, and tiny trinkets; an avid thrifter’s dream. Among the treasures I spot the most adorable, soulful dog running around on the vintage carpets; she looks as tiny as my hand. I soon learn that tiny, lovely creature is Sweets, the store founder’s dog – Oliver Jolis. Oliver introduces himself with a warm smile. We walk into the back and sit down. I feel minuscule amongst the piles of clothes and goods waiting to be sorted through; a sight that yet another lover-of-thrift would fantasize about. I immediately apologize to Oliver for making him come to the store on his day off. He cuts me off and says, “Carson, don’t apologize. I LOVE it here.”

Instantaneously, a chill bumps arise on my arms from this profound, genuine statement. I jot an invisible note in my mind that says I hope I feel the same way about my future career. We chit chat a tad, and after less than five minutes I find that Oliver is one of the kindest, purest, most genuine human beings I have ever met. Sweets joins us for the interview, and once she is settled in and nestled in her owner’s lap, we begin.

Spark Magazine: Can you tell me a little about your role at APA! Thrift?

Oliver Jolis: The founder/operations manager is sort of my role and job title. I see it more as letting some incredible volunteers do their thing. I steer the ship and these guys are the magic makers. It’s been a busy year and a half, we’ve made some good money for the shelter. So yeah, it’s been great.

SM: How did APA! Thrift begin?

OJ: I came up with the concept for APA based on a store that I worked at years ago in Charleston South Carolina. Then I came to Austin (I moved here because my sister lives and has a business here). I asked her who I should approach about this idea, and she actually said Austin Pets Alive. I went down to the shelter, knocked on the door, pitched the idea, and that was kind of it from there.

SM: Does the store today match your initial idea, or did the outcome change at all?

OJ: Oh yes, this was it. I’m a believer in you can manifest whatever you want. It’s exactly how I wrote it up in my business plan. I figured APA was a popular local organization, so we’d probably get a lot of donations, keep prices low since there’s so much competition in town, generate buzz, and be known as that spot where you get nice stuff for low prices. And… it’s worked. It’s neat to see it come to be what it is.

SM: Did you initially want to benefit animals? Was that your passion?

OJ: Yes, I’ve grown up with animals and always loved them. APA! Is truly the perfect fit. I knew it was a popular organization, but initially, I didn’t realize how amazing it was. The work they do is unreal, and they are taking off. There’s now a branch that’s called American Pets Alive. It’s spun off into this completely separate organization that teaches shelters around the country to do the programs that we do here. By the numbers, I think APA! can be considered one of the most successful animal organizations in the world, have taken 60,000 animals off of the euthanization list in 8 years, I think. AMPA is needing funding so they’re wanting me to open up more stores for them. There’s still some more kinks we have to iron out, but really the sky is the limit in terms of what this can be.

SM: Have there been any challenges you’ve had to face, creating APA! Thrift or running the store?

OJ: Yeah… definitely. For me the challenge comes down to relationships; everything is about the people. Managing others can be a challenge. There are so many different personality types, and it’s unique here because our workforce is volunteer. I want to make sure those guys are happy. The rest comes easy because it’s such a great cause and people are very open to supporting us. Whenever these volunteers walk in the door, or even customers, my heart is filled and I’m thinking these guys could be doing anything, shopping anywhere… but here they are, at this place that I’ve created. I believe everything works out in the end. If you set your intention and envision what you want it to be, it will get there. You just have to ride the wave and the challenges along the way. It’s definitely been an eye-opening experience for me, but a good one.

SM: What does your day to day look like running the store?

OJ: My day to day at this point is doing everything from opening the store to bringing in the donations, to cashiering and checking the customers out, to merchandising the store. I’m also responsible for the APA! Thrift up north as well, so I’m checking in with those guys and making sure our strategies are on par with what our numbers are showing. It’s a bit of everything. It’s cool, no day is ever the same. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world in so many ways. I get to bring my dog to work, I get to work with so many amazing people, and I get to make money for the shelter.

SM: Was this the career path that you knew you wanted all along?

OJ: (chuckles) Oh no, it was completely different… that’s why I think life is magical. I was living in California and had no idea what I wanted to do… I was a beach bum and it took me eight years to get my degree. When I finally graduated from college, I bought a one-way ticket to Thailand and took off traveling and working around the world for seven years. I come from a family where my father’s side had an international diamond business, so I grew up with traveling and stories of African adventures, so I knew that I wanted to travel. When I was off doing that I was thinking, I can’t go back to the US and be a normal person and have a normal job. I got over it, came back, and in the states I was teaching ESL to immigrants. I’ve done a little bit of everything, and it wasn’t until I came to Austin did I envision this. When I was working at that store back in the day in Charleston, I would’ve never imagined that I would’ve continued in the non-profit retail sector. I think life is awesome like that, because you just never know.

SM: What kind of work ethic did it take to bring APA! Thrift to life?

OJ: My take is that whatever you’re doing, it’s got to touch something deep inside of you. It’s got to be driven somehow, some way. There has to be some kind of inspiration, otherwise you’ll wake up in the morning like, “eh…”. Because I have the inspiration of animals and making my family proud, it’s easy to put in the long hours.

SM: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start their entrepreneurial dive, or for anyone that has no clue as to what they want to do?

OJ: It’s pretty cliché, but I’m a believer in do what makes you happy. It might be a challenge to figure out what you enjoy, sometimes not, but you know… if money wasn’t an issue, what makes you smile? What makes you come alive? What makes you feel something? Decide what you want to do, put that intention out there, step back and I believe it could just kind of unfold. That being said, you do have to put in work. And honestly she (Sweets) has changed my life. That was one of the reasons I wanted to stop traveling and settle down for a bit, to have this connection with an animal. She brings out the best in me and I want to encourage everyone to adopt an animal because it puts things in perspective. I believe it opens your heart, and if that happens, then you can’t go wrong really. •

Written by: Carson Blair

Photographed by: Carson Blair


Driven by creativity, Carson Blair is a senior majoring in  Radio-Television-Film. Her interest in film stems from her deep passion for photography, and she pursues freelance photography outside of classes. In her free time, she can be found adventuring around Austin and collaborating with other creatives.

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