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Meet Sift, a thrifty Chrome extension developed by Brown students

Extension claims to save users 40% on online shopping costs

Sift, a new Google Chrome extension developed by Brown students, is available for download — though it has not officially launched. The extension provides secondhand clothing options to consumers browsing through online stores, supplying shoppers with cheaper alternatives to brand-name products from sites such as Depop, Mercari and Poshmark.

Once consumers download Sift through the Chrome Web Store, the extension allows shoppers the option to see cheaper alternatives when they view an article of clothing in an online store. Users can choose to navigate to the alternative product’s website by selecting one of the options provided by the extension.

Sift was developed primarily by two Brown students: CEO David Chu ’24 and Technical Co-Founder Jialiang Zhou ’24.5. The pair met in ENGN 1010: “The Entrepreneurial Process” and further developed the project through Hack@Brown and the Breakthrough Lab, a summer program at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship intended to accelerate entrepreneurial projects by Brown and RISD students. Annabelle Hutchinson ’21, a current student at Harvard Law School, is Sift’s chief operating officer.

Sift’s mission is to “enable consumers to find anything secondhand,” Chu said.


Sift first aggregates “the inventories of different marketplaces together into one spot, and then (uses) artificial intelligence to organize these products really effectively,” Chu said. Consumers often want to buy secondhand apparel, but are less likely to follow through, Chu said. “We want to fix that gap,” he explained.

“It makes secondhand shopping very easy and convenient,” said Tom Yang ’24, who also participated in B-Lab. “It is the only product to my knowledge that efficiently aggregates secondhand clothing for consumers.” 

“By facilitating the search for secondhand alternatives, Sift encourages recycling and reuse,” Yang added.

According to Derin Akdurak ’24, "it’s important to have some alternatives to big brands” because it allows people “more of a chance to express (themselves) as a person.” She added that she would “definitely use (Sift) to save some money while also helping the environment.”

While Sift has yet to begin a full marketing push, the extension has garnered 250 active users since its release, Chu said.

“We started by just going on Reddit and getting our initial users,” Chu said. “We got 30 to 50 users in the first couple of days.”

On average, each user uses Sift five times a month, according to Chu. “We’re hoping these numbers go up,” he said.

The development of Sift stretches back almost two years. Sift originated from a project that Zhou and his friends created in the months leading up to 2022’s Hack@Brown competition, an annual 48-hour hackathon that brings computer programmers from the University together to develop and share software, projects and ideas.

Sift won Hack@Brown with an early version of the extension. The following semester, Zhou and Chu met in ENGN 1010 and began to work on advancing the idea together. First came a rebrand: The extension was originally known as ThriftSwitch, but Chu rebranded it to Sift after realizing that the prior name “was a mouthful,” while Sift is “verb-able.” A piece of clothing bought through Sift can be said to have been “Sifted,” he explained.

On the development side, the first step was “thinking about the idea and designing the basic wireframes,” Chu said. Once the general idea was solidified, the pair received help from Professor of the Practice of Engineering Daniel Warshay ’87, who is also the executive director of the Nelson Center. And Through B-Lab, Chu and Zhou continued developing various facets of Sift.


“I was talking to users and to people interested in gauging the market size, as well as bringing people into the team,” said Chu, explaining that Zhou began research into building out the project.

After the summer spent working in B-Lab, Chu and Zhou entered their junior year in a new stage, with Zhou leading a team focused on product development. Their work hit an inflection point in March 2023, Chu explained, “That was when we first put everything together and ran it for the first time.”

Since then, the Sift team — which is comprised of five members focused on the engineering aspects of the extension and four others working on its marketing — has been hard at work. Balancing life as a student while developing this project has been challenging, Zhou said.

 “We have so many other things going on that sometimes (we) get really stressed,” he said.

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As the team continues to work on Sift while balancing the workload of being students, Zhou added that he is focused on an overarching principle: “I really believe in doing tech for good,” he said. “We want to make our company successful and, in the meantime, do as much good as possible.”

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