By Dariya Subkhanberdina
As a loyal, if not compulsive, Depop shopper for years now, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat giddy while waiting for Micaela Cacho-Negrete, CC ’22, in the lobby of Wien Hall on a blissfully sunny Thursday. As one of the most successful 2,400 sellers of 18 million, Micaela holds the exclusive title of a Top Seller on Depop—an online platform that endows a vintage e-commerce marketplace with the adornments of social media. That afternoon, Micaela strutted out of the elevator and greeted me with a warm and unreserved hug, giving the impression that she is always in a bit of a hurry and yet will still make time for sincere endearment. It felt only fitting that her hands were full with a few packages.
To say that Micaela has great style is an understatement. The subtleties of her coordination—the green in her eyes even mirrors the emerald gleams of her bracelet and cartilage piercing—convey an attention to detail paralleled by few others. Immediately, one can sense the infectious pleasure, even childlike wonder, in her self-expression. When we met, Micaela wore a blazer and mini skirt co-ord set in lemon yellow, black booties, black tights, and a black turtleneck. Her chiffon ruffled socks, accents of both gold and silver in her jewelry, and black satin headband read like an homage to fictional fashion darlings like Clueless’ Cher and Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf. With nearly waist-length, straightened blonde hair, feathered brows, dusty rose lipliner, lush lashes, and expertly executed winged liner, she emits a campy, celebratory call toward girly glamor and 90s nostalgia. “My boyfriend tells me sparkly isn’t a color, and I tell him in my world it is,” she joked. But Micaela is not all fashion and sparkle. She’s also a former basketball player, the former head manager of Columbia’s women’s basketball team, a self-proclaimed tomboy, and a sneakerhead. Everything about her demands not to be placed in any particular box.
As a Barnard student who had never before stepped into the Mail Center, I’m somewhat taken aback by the faster pace and institutional feel of the space. It came as no surprise, however, that Micaela greeted the workers behind the counter with a sing-songy “hello” and some chummy banter highlighting the close relationships she’s fostered with them. She laughed to me about how these are the people who know her best on campus; each time she’s down here, there’s always a spirited repartee of compliments and mutual appreciation for each other’s outfits and makeup.
Native to Los Angeles, Micaela grew up in close proximity not just to fashion but to thrifting specifically. For as long as she can remember, she frequented yard sales with her grandmother. Today, she’s sold almost one thousand items on Depop. She sources each and every one from online auctions, thrift and upscale vintage stores, and estate sales in LA. Listing True Religion, Juicy Couture, Von Dutch, and Coach as brands she keeps an eye out for, Micaela shared that she is particularly drawn to articles with a story behind them or to pieces that will make people feel good about themselves. Affordability, sustainability, and empowerment lie central to her values as an entrepreneur. “Understanding what makes you feel good is a part of learning,” she told me.
This commitment to empowerment runs deep for Micaela, surfacing in the parts of her life beyond Depop. “When you live in LA, what’s important gets skewed sometimes,” she remarked. But her own hold on the values most important to her seems unfaltering. A mold of her two matriarch grandmothers, she speaks about her family with an immense sense of gratitude for grounding her in the people-minded person she wants to be. She currently serves as Publicity and Digital Presence Liaison at Freedom and Citizenship, a Columbia-run nonprofit working to increase higher education access. Micaela has also volunteered for an English-learning center near campus, interned for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, and worked for the mayor’s office in Los Angeles on its homelessness and economic development initiatives.
We make our way across campus to Café East, an everyday staple for Micaela. Waiting for her delightfully purple Protein Punch shake, she intuitively bounces my own questions back at me with genuine, eager curiosity. When I ask about the factors contributing to her Depop success, she explains how she replies to each message she receives to personalize the experience for every customer. With her work at Depop and Freedom and Citizenship both relying on digital identity and publicity, I’m surprised to learn that she’d actually deleted her personal social media accounts a year and a half ago. “I got really tired of wanting to look and seem perfect all the time,” she told me.
With a high-heeled boot in two worlds that seem so far apart, Micaela bridges her passions for fashion and education equity so naturally that the two feel made for each other. An American Studies major, Micaela’s academic interests are as unsurprisingly intersectional as her style and passions. She knew early on the department was right for her, she said, because all her classes focused on finding creative solutions to contemporary problems.
It was in an American Studies course that she first learned about Freedom and Citizenship. When she talks about the program, her delivery is irresistibly compelling. Gushing with adoration for the high schoolers she’s worked with, she values relationships above all not only in her personal life but in her professional pursuits, too. The day has grown even lovelier as we sit on one of the sunlit stone benches outside Hamilton Hall, our conversation at once leisurely and animated. Micaela’s so excitedly consumed with providing the fullest answers she can, I notice she’s barely had time to drink her Protein Punch. “I’m an all-in person for better or for worse,” she tells me, “Freedom and Citizenship should be a household name … and I can explain exactly why.” I can’t help but smile as she does exactly that, noting to myself how rare it is to meet somebody who believes so fiercely in the organizations they belong to.
Micaela’s next steps involve a bit of everything. Having had it on her bucket list since she was 12, she’s headed to London to study abroad, where she will complete her Columbia career and graduate a semester late. Having also taken time off from school to work in Hawaii last year, she illustrates her commitment to living one’s life as expansively as possible.
We end our time together in the American Studies office in Hamilton Hall where she shows me the department’s library—a homely conference room doused in natural light. With its discreet view of 114th and Amsterdam, it is a safe haven of sorts for Micaela. Reflecting with uninhibited openness about being made to feel, throughout her life, as though she’s too much, she articulates a feeling I can’t help but deeply relate to. “My brain is a freeway where everyone’s going 120 miles per hour,” she laughed.
Here at Columbia, she’s found a community that celebrates the breadth of her passions and the largeness with which she cares for the people and projects in her life. Some days she wants to be president, some days she wants to be CEO of a fashion company, and on others she even thinks about having her own talk show one day. Her Columbia peers love her precisely for this capacity to dream, intensely and simultaneously, about all these different things. “There aren’t going to be any roles, I’m just going to do it my own way,” she told me. I hug Micaela goodbye and leave our conversation with a firmer appreciation for all the seemingly contradictory sides of myself. Half an hour later, I can’t resist purchasing a couple of items off of her Depop.