A recent graduate from suburban Wheaton College put his thrifting skills to use, flipping an unlikely find into a fortune.
On his way out of a Chicago-area Goodwill in September, 22-year-old Terrelle Brown said he spotted an ashtray on which was painted a unique cartoon character locked away in a cabinet.
"I didn't know how I recognized it, but I knew I recognized it from somewhere," Brown said. "And just like my gut feeling was like, 'hey, like, can you like, let me into the cabinet?'"
Brown purchased the ashtray for just $10, then said he quickly ran to his car for fear the Goodwill workers would realize the value of the item.
"I ended up purchasing it almost like ran to my car, because I didn't want them to be like, 'oh, like wait, come back. Like we actually know what that is,'" Brown said.
Once inside his vehicle, Brown said he immediately began looking up the artwork on the ashtray and verified it was a piece by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, who has made a splash in the market over recent years -- particularly growing in popularity due to vintage shoppers posting videos to TikTok.
It turned out to be Nara's original "Too Young to Die" work from 2002.
The 22-year-old said the ashtray was likely more rare than other works because he found it in the original packaging. Brown said the piece sat on eBay for six months before it was finally sold a couple weeks ago.
"I actually got the notification while I was sitting in class," Brown said. "And I like had to get up and use the bathroom to make sure it was real and it was like my heart was beating really fast, but it was really - it's really incredible."
The ashtray sold for $2,860, which equates to a nearly 30,000% profit.
"I honestly have no idea why someone would give it away, but I mean there's so many things in the world that have just like...hidden gems, and they're just in there and they're just waiting for the right person to find them and take care of them."
Brown has been thrifting since his freshman year of college, but took his passion to the next level. While in school at Wheaton College, Brown and his friends opened a second-hand clothing store called Paradigm Vintage.
It began as a pop-up around the Chicago suburbs but has become a storefront in Wheaton's town square, he explained. The store's Instagram is called Paradigm Thrift.
"Our tag line is 'let nothing be wasted,' which comes from a verse in the Bible and that is a philosophy I carry out when I’m out looking for pieces," Brown said. "There are always things that are overlooked and underappreciated, but I want to be the one who gives them life again.”