Adventures in Thrifting Adventures in Thrifting: Buying to Resell Laura Owen

In this world of grim economic prospects and high “funemployment,” if you’re someone who likes to go thrifting for vintage clothes and items, a young girl’s fancy often turns to reselling a great find. After all, there’s Ebay and Etsy just waiting there for you to use. Part of the fun of thrifting is that great discovery — that designer or vintage item you bought for almost nothing (every thrifter’s got at least one Great Find). So why not resell and make a little cash?

I met my friend Cybele for a drink at Scott & Co, which has the most amazing happy hour of anywhere, ever — artisan cocktails for only five dollars! We had a chat while I drank Sazeracs, and I recorded the conversation on my iPhone. The only problem was that Sazeracs are really strong, and as the interview went on I kept interrupting with high-pitched exclamations.

Cybele has an Etsy store, Cyberbelle, and she’s an avid thrifter/antiquer. Our conversation mostly focused on reselling antiques and collectibles, rather than clothes, so I think I will do a follow-up about clothes specifically.

[Sounds of ice clinking in glasses is heard. Interview begins.]

Me: Buying things to resell: How did you get started doing it?

Cybele: I found myself [in a] period without income…So to tide myself over, I started selling antiques I myself owned…There’s a certain satisfaction in passing a treasure along…So that’s another reason, I think, that people get into reselling collectibles and antiques. It’s a hunter instinct…you see a great treasure and you just want to buy it. You just want to have it. But you don’t need it. You can’t use it. You don’t have the money for it. So you resell it. It’s kind of way to hunt and collect these wonderful things. You have them for awhile, and then you pass them on.

Me: Which is in the whole spirit of thrifting and antiquing, really.

Cybele: Yeah. So I’d recommend that you only try and make money if you’re already predisposed—you have to already love it. You do not make enough money otherwise to make it worthwhile, I think. But then, I’m small time.

[Cybele talks a little bit about her process:]

…I like going to estate sales, cause I feel like there’s a higher concentration of treasure at estate sales…If I see something and it’s just got this design that I love, and I know that I can make a small profit, then I will buy it. So a key to reselling is knowing what things are worth.

But [estate sale companies] can be quite smart. For example, I found this adorable 1940s children’s hankie with a lamb on it. They had priced it at $4. Because what it will go for on Etsy or Ebay is $7 or $8. So I made very little money. I made a few bucks. And for that few bucks, I drove to the estate sale, spent time there, picked it out, took photos, described it, did a little research on pricing, shipped it. So the joy of owning—

Me: [Interrupting, Sazerac definitely getting to me by now] So like pretty much every way to make a living, it’s a lot harder than it looks.

Cybele: …So what makes me do it is the joy of having the lamb hankie for awhile.

[Continued:]

Cybele: If you’re going to an estate sale, it’s something to keep in mind: the people running the estate sale are trying to get the most money for their customers…it’s very likely that they’re educated about the worth of things…

…Even thrift stores can be very savvy about the value of things. For instance, the St. Vincent de Paul down in my neighborhood, there was this Cathrine Holm bowl, very collectible mid-century enamel ware, and they had it priced at what it would go for on Ebay…

I think maybe some tips for beginners…a lot of items don’t fit our contemporary lifestyle. So that was a little learning curve I had. Which is: you know, a set of little, teeny tiny tea cups….people don’t want a little tea. They want a big tea.

Me: But small tea sets are adorable!

Cybele: [Laughs.]

Me: I have several.

Cybele: Yes, you as a collector. But if you’re trying to sell it, you know, a set of tiny tea cups might not be so attractive. So: utility. I look for design, utility, and color. I love color.

Me: So tell me a little bit about the process of selling online…

Cybele: There’s lots of different ways to determine the value of things. You can search Ebay…you can search “Sold Items” on Ebay—that’s just under “Advanced Search.” That will show you what things sold for and very often, what didn’t sell. Collector’s Weekly is a website that has a lot of information about collectibles. You can find lots of information online, of course, about any topic, but if you have access to a university library…I’ve gone to the university library to check out books on ceramics….

If an item is relatively inexpensive and I like it, I’ll just buy it and do the research later. If it’s a big-ticket item—for me [laughs]—then I might do some research [before].

Me: Have you ever had an experience where you bought something and regretted it later?

Cybele: No, but where I get hung up on is shipping…Shipping is a lot of work. [Laughs]. I think what both Bad Cholla and I have learned is to be afraid of shipping…To really do it right, you package up the item and you price the shipping [in advance] but I’m usually too lazy and don’t have faith the thing is going to sell…so I just estimate.

So I’ve been in a situation where I sold something…and I’ve underestimated the shipping, and then I have to work hard to try and actually get the thing shipped for what I’ve sold it for…

This is why Bad Cholla turned to clothes…she got tired of trying to ship big, breakable things…So that’s where I make a mistake: I see something adorable, like a 1940s owl cookie jar and I think ‘I want to buy this and resell it’ and then I’m stuck with an item that is hard and expensive to ship….So that’s the advantage of clothes, jewelry, books…

[Last few pieces of advice:]

Cybele: …I’d say if you’re interested in reselling: focus. Pick an area of your greatest interest and focus in that area…and develop your knowledge and inventory in that area. It’s natural to start with what you know…

Oh, and let your personal aesthetic shine through because whether you’re selling on Etsy or Ebay, your personality as a dealer is going to attract buyers who want to see this specific collection of objects that you have picked out. When you’re on Etsy as a shopper, you see this. You see people who…I mean, their store is so specific: they like vintage things that are tan.

Me: [Laughs.]

Cybele: But it gives their store a really wonderful look because part of the fun of shopping is entering an aesthetic space.

Me: That’s so true! Because what you’re buying when you buy something isn’t really that thing…it’s the aesthetic that comes with that thing.

[Hmmmm. Very profound thought there, Me. Sazarecs do wonders for your articulateness.]

Any experiences buying or reselling on Etsy or Ebay? Next up: reselling clothes!

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  1. I love vintage items and the stories that go with them. Historic costume has always been a passion of mine, along with fashion design and merchandising. I recently opened up an etsy shop for vintage and handmade, called Gilly Lynn. http://www.gillylynn.com

  2. I just sold that cookie jar in my store a few weeks ago! (also not a fan of shipping) http://www.feedingbirdsboutique.com

  3. I do this for spending money for my nails or lunch dates with my friends. It is true that you must know what to buy in order to get the best deal. I have many times bought something I “thought” would sell and it did not so it went back to donation. I learn ALOT while I am researching to so I get to look for items I did not know about. My husband bought me an iphone and it is indispensible for thrifting. Just as the article says, I love having the item for awhile and enjoying it and then passing it on. It is lots of fun. I recently became and Top Rated Seller and Power Seller so that was a thrill too all for just buying what I like!.

  4. I have that cookie jar…

  5. I love to shop at thrift stores, im madly in love with etsy and anything vintage… i have my own etsy store ! i love hello giggles!! http://www.etsy.com/shop/Selena500?ref=si_shop

  6. My problem is always buying things I think I’m going to resell, only to forget about it or just grow too lazy to do anything about it…and then my house becomes filled with all these “treasures” that I didn’t really need and that I never intended to keep in the first place. I have a problem doing that with clothes too, especially when the clothes don’t even fit me and I never resell them.

    • Why, hello there JA! I think Cybele has a similar issue! It’s a fairly big investment of energy to resell. Another alternative: a clothing swap! (Inviting people over to bring all their old clothes to swap). No money, but a chance to get rid of things that don’t fit and get other clothes for free in return.

  7. hardest part, this is. Dunno what the “harest” part might be.

  8. dabbling in this a little… and i agree, shipping is the worst!

  9. My hubby does this with vintage music equipment. He’s just started getting into housewares which makes me very excited:)

  10. I LOVE that owl cookie jar! I think that its the neatest thing!
    I also really enjoy this article, I love thrifting, and the idea of thrifting to make a few extra bucks makes it even more appealing!