Vocation: Etsy Vintage Vendor (shop here: BrownCowVintage)
Location: Milwaulkee, WI
Q1. When did you first get into vintage? What was the first piece that really excited you and jumpstarted your love for vintage all these years?
I first got into vintage 13 or so years ago so it’s kind of hard to pinpoint the very first item that inspired me. However, one special piece from the early days of thrifting does come to mind. It’s a shirt that epitomized my flamboyant vintage-wearing high school years, but still remains something I would pick today. It was a knit 70’s red pullover short sleeve top with a single front pocket and white trim. It was too perfect, but it stunk to high heavens like thrift store and years of storage so I hung it outside for weeks on end trying to combat the smell. I eventually did wear it into the ground, but I’ll never forget this trusty basic.
Q2. How did thrifting and vintage go from a personal preference to a hobby to a full time gig?
Well, it was very easy. I am addicted to the thrift stores and the more I went the more beautiful pieces I accumulated. Either I had myself convinced I would find a time and place to wear each piece, or I couldn’t bear to leave them behind even if it wasn’t my style or size. Early on in my thrifting a friend introduced me to vintage resale on Ebay so that gave me all the more reason to collect. I did it part time in college, graduated with a useless degree, and with too many clothes to justify as a personal collection decided to take a chance at doing this full time. I’ve been at it for almost 4 years.
Q3. Can you describe what your work flow is like? Procurement process to cleaning, shooting, posting and shipping off?
I shop the most of any step in the process and bring home loads of new merchandise nearly every other day. I clean only the items that absolutely need it either by hand washing, spot treating, or dry cleaning. These are items with visible stains or noticeable odors. I give buyers special care instructions if they desire to clean the item after purchase. I shoot with live models several times a week for 2-3 hours at a crack and get through about 25 different looks. I work with a variety of sizes, ages, and styles to best represent the wide variety of styles and sizes I feature in the shop. I TRY to post daily, but it can get hard to keep up. I have way more in stock than I ever find the time to list online. Truly, I could use some help, but the business is still small and a work in progress. When an item is purchased I ship via USPS as soon as I possibly can.
Q4. Have you tried to do brick and mortar in terms of a retail store? Pop-ups? What’s your take on market life and online selling v. brick and mortar shop from your experiences and maybe future endeavors?
I have sold my items at friends’ shops in town, but these shops have since dissipated. My city hasn’t completely jumped on the vintage train AND isn’t huge into shopping so this business was hard to get off the ground. That said, I still don’t have much interest in owning my own shop. There is a novelty to shopping online and also an urgency that doesn’t exist when you can stop into an actual location during regular business hours. Stuff moves fast online and stays current with trends. Shops (not all, but some) can tend to get stale and require a lot of overhead cost and additional upkeep. Plus, it’s so much more flexible to work online and sales can be made to anywhere in your worldwide market. Pop-ups on the other hand are my absolute favorite. Seeing things in person IS exciting and being able to try on is best of all. For me, I love the personal interaction and the chance to be an active part of the buying process. Personal styling has always been a strong suit.
Q5. Ultimately, what would be your ideal state for yourself being a vintage vendor? What would you love to get your hands on?
I would love to keep doing what I’m doing, but moving more product so I can keep seeking out stellar new items for the shop. I want to endlessly travel to new cities to check out their wares. Every region has a slightly different history and style, and I desire to find any and all treasures. I would also love to do a flea market in each place I stop to meet my buyers and share my story.
Q6. Any advice on shopping for thrift or vintage? Sale cycles, trend cycles, how to take care of it, how to make sure you’re getting goods, knowing your measurements for fits? Any tidbits on like…random stuff like which eras flatter certain body types, which fabrics to go for that go the distance in terms of staying in good shape or quality?
As far as thrifting advice, have patience and look everywhere! Treasures await you everywhere. When choosing a good thrift spot, the bigger the better I say. Big giant department store thrift stores have endless things to look at and generally great items in stock. Goodwill is on this list even though other stores can be more promising.
Expect summers to be slower when selling online. People go outside and enjoy themselves rather than online shop. Plus, there’s generally less clothes to be worn. This means big money with swimwear! However, it’s always summer someplace, so keep all seasons in stock at all time.
Remember that most vintage was made from higher quality materials, some that require special care. Plus, you have to consider some deterioration of durability with age so it’s best to air on the side of caution at all times. Read the care tag labels, try using water or cleaning products on an inconspicuous area first just to be sure you don’t ruin the whole garment, and don’t dry clean or dry any items with stains or they are set forever. My go to stain remover is simple- dawn dish detergent, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide. It’s color safe, great on pit stains, and if you let it soak a while will get out basically any old stain or mark.
Knit polyester is not the most comfortable, but dang is it durable. Other polyester blends are also durable and easier to care for. Silk is finicky, of course. Rayon is a beautiful substitute for silk, but never put a super hot iron on it because it burns super easy. Actually, never use an iron if you can help it. Always use a steamer. It’s quicker, more portable, and easier to do.
Q7. Any advice on entrepreneurship? About going after your passions? When do you know to abandon ship on a previous endeavor & really go for what you want?
I guess my best advice is to just go for the things you love. There’s no reward without some risk! Have some prior knowledge and plenty of patience and determination. Learn as you go, remember you’ll occasionally stumble but that’s not only normal, but totally ok. Accept help and advice from others; doing it all yourself can be very counterproductive. Keep your books in order and don’t procrastinate. Maintain a schedule and plan ahead. For those looking to open a shop like mine, a good starting point is having a solid base of items to list online and some cool graphics. Use social media! It really makes all the difference. I need to take my own advice on that one…