Adventures in ThriftingAdventures in Thrifting: Starting a Small BuisnessLaura Owen

A recent New York Times article branded the younger generation as “Generation Sell”, for whom the “ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business.”

Interesting, no? Anyway, there’s one small-business woman whom I’ve mentioned in basically every post here about thrifting, as she actually runs a small business selling vintage clothing and passes along helpful tips to me. So I thought I’d show you the “woman behind the curtain.” Practitioner of the social form of the small business!

We went to Union for “Social Hour”–a weird way of saying “Happy Hour” I guess? I edited out the parts below where we debated the merits of toffee popcorn or when the waitress brought us more drinks.

I started out asking her how she got into selling vintage clothing:

Bad Cholla:  …When I got to grad school, I didn’t have any money, but I had always enjoyed clothes… and the thrift stores in Iowa, where I went to school, were actually pretty good…So I started collecting at that point; I would just buy stuff because it seemed interesting and old and cool, and I’d just have it for a long time.

So I had the idea to open a store…but I don’t have the computer wherewithal to build a site…Once I found out about Etsy, and realized I could have a store there, then I decided to give it a try. At that point, I was living here [Tucson, Arizona]…and there were no jobs to be had, and so I thought I might as well try it…starting your own business is just—it shouldn’t be intimidating. People shouldn’t be intimidated at all by it because it’s really much easier than you think it is —

Me: I think it’s intimidating!

BC: I did, too, which is why it took me a long time to really do it, but it’s better to just forge ahead because you do learn on the way. [There’s Etsy] and depending on what you do, there’s things like Café Press… There’s a lot of options now. So I think you shouldn’t be intimidated by it. I never took any business classes—I was an English major. But you learn really fast…

…I also think, having being unemployed for awhile, looking for a job is a really disheartening process but it’s also this process where you’re just entirely passive. You’re putting your resumes out there, but you’re just waiting for someone to do something for you. So it feels much better to do something for yourself. You’re not just waiting for someone to pick you…

[I talk about Cybele’s comments on the difficulties of shipping the items you sell].

BC: The trick is, you do have to get a postal scale. They’re, like, 30 bucks. Sunbeam makes them—you can get them on Amazon. I weigh everything—everything I ship is different…I have all my boxes, all my envelopes—when I do my listing, I put it on the scale with the box and whatever packing—and then I calculate.

[I mention her photographs of her items always look great]

BC: Thank you. I had to work really hard. My photographs sucked at first.

Me: So how did you…get them better? Cause they look really great.

BC: I have a better camera. I learned more about how to get the lighting right….For little items, people use light boxes, which is why they look really brilliant and beautiful. For bigger items, natural light is what you want.

[She uses a mannequin, similar to a sewing dummy, for show her clothes]

BC: For clothing, it’s better to have a mannequin than just a hanger. And to take the pictures in different spots. My first pictures I took outside, thinking it would be nice to have desert wildlife in the background…I’ve seen people who make the outdoor photography work, but mine just looked weird, like “Why is the dress outside?”

Me: [Laughing] “Why is this dress in the middle of the desert?”

BC: Also, I tend to be attracted to brighter clothing. Part of my branding is to have lots of bright, colorful clothing. I always try to have very colorful things in stock. So actually, taking fairly simple pictures against a simple background works better.

Me: Have you done any academic research on vintage clothing?

BC: There are definitely books on clothing values, and I’ve looked at some of them. But honestly pricing changes really fast, so [the books are] not super accurate, in my experience…

…You also have to learn labels…You learn a little at a time. I think that’s what kind of hard to for people who really want to get into it, is that you can’t just sit down for two weeks and learn everything…There are sites that deal with when companies are incorporated and when labels are trademarked, so you can see “Oh this label started in 1952 and folded in 1969,” so you can date things that way.

[Last thoughts]

BC: …I like knowing that I can find something at an estate sale or a thrift store that someone clearly didn’t want anymore, and someone else might really want it—that’s really exciting to me.

…Especially living in Tucson, you’re aware that a lot of these clothes come from people who have retired here or who have passed away, but I think it would make them happy to see that someone else is wearing this dress they bought in 1962… I’d be happy to think someone was using my stuff….It’s also a recycling thing. I think vintage stuff is very environmental.

[More thoughts]

BC: You become hyper-aware of how much stuff there is in the world. And there’s an insane amount of stuff in the world…You start to have a weird relationship with stuff. I used the watch that show Hoarders a lot, and I was forced to stop watching it because I would always sort of side with the hoarders…I was like, “She could use that dish again! I don’t know why no one else sees that!”

Me: I’ll send you this hoarding stages website I found when I was trying to convince my dad he was a stage-two hoarder.

BC: I’ve got some books. I’m not really a hoarder because I’m happy to let things go. But like them, I have a weird relationship with stuff. Because what’s interesting or valuable to me isn’t what it might be necessarily be valuable to someone else.

Me: Is there a particular era or aesthetic you try to emulate?

BC: It’s more of a mix. I think I admire stuff from all decades, in terms of what I wear. I always wanted to be a person that had a very definite look. You know, your closet is a very cultivated, curated thing…But I’m not. I like a lot of different things. So now I just embrace that.

We talked about some more things, including the History of Why Clothes Sizes are Stupid, Whether It’s Sanitary to Wear Secondhand Lingerie, Whether Vintage Fur is Cruelty-Free or Not, and Drycleaning: Is it Possibly Evil? which I intend to follow up on in future posts! Lemme know what you think below.

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  1. I am on ebaY and I just opened my Etsy shop as well. I loved your article. I feel the same way about watching Hoarders;I also covet some of their amazing stuff LOL. Best to you.

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/thelmastrove?ref=pr_shop_more

  2. [...] So in light of my New Years clothes resolution, I made an attempt to deal with my enormous pile of thrifted stuff. Previously, I’d asked my vintage-store owner friend for advice: [...]

  3. I look forward to your article about vintage fur. I’d like to hear some different points of view on this issue, since I’m still trying to figure out what my own position is.

  4. Well im not a starving student, but I am a soldier who after 7 years has ended up in wounded warriors and I had no business attire for looking for jobs and interviewing. Thanks to Goodwill and thrift shops I have been able to afford many good pieces, so in the next few months when I am medically retired I will have a decent wardrobe to support my civilian future career. …Great Article. I will have to look this up on Etsy.

    • Thank you for your service! You deserve amazing interviewing outfits — and suits and formalwear are among the most criminally overpriced items new, anyway. And people often donate them after wearing them once!

  5. I JUST opened up my Etsy shop, and am slowly adding to it, so this is a really helpful article. Perfect timing. Looking forward to the follow up posts!
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/fromtheheath

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