As 2021 begins to wind down and the secondhand market continues to ramp up, consumers whose closets are filled with firsthand, full-price clothing are becoming fewer and fewer.

And in a market that has, at times, suffered from a humdrum of uninspiring product, more shoppers are reveling in the hunt that vintage and consignment stores provide. Whether it’s Chanel that’s a season old or Sergio Rossi heels Gabrielle Union was sporting on her Instagram, finding the goods at a price more can afford has become a retail delight unto itself, and online vintage stores are delivering on that experience. More and more, diverse founders are bringing more diverse assortments to the space.

Here, WWD checks in with four Black female entrepreneurs in the vintage and consignment game about how they source inventory, their thoughts on sustainability, the new consumer and more.

Thrilling

Shilla Kim-Parker

Thrilling founder Shilla Kim-Parker.
SERGIO GARCIA PHOTOGRAPHY

WWD: What made you get into the vintage business?

Shilla Kim-Parker: I grew up thrift shopping in NYC — I love the treasure hunt, it is absolutely about the journey just as much as the destination. And once you fall in love with this way of shopping, and you learn how devastating the mass apparel industry is for the environment, it is absolutely impossible to go back.

The specific idea for Thrilling came from being surrounded by small business owners among my friends and family — who all speak with great passion about being left out and left behind by the tech industry. They shared that while they feel great urgency to get online and reach more customers around the world, most e-commerce options were geared toward individuals uploading items from their closets, and not for professional curators of secondhand inventory with tens of thousands of individual skus. This was an exciting and urgent challenge — how do we help support the livelihood of tens of thousands of small business owners, help digitize secondhand inventory, and evangelize and popularize vintage shopping? This was the genesis for Thrilling.

WWD: What are some of the things you look for when buying new inventory? Do trends play a part in it?

S.P.: Every item on Thrilling is sold and shipped from the stores themselves, so we do not buy our own inventory. However, I can tell you that as a general rule our store owner partners do not follow trends, they are generally guided by their own internal compass and stylistic point of view. Part of the joy of vintage is the freedom from the norms and expectations inherent in other parts of the fashion industry. It is Kando-esque — what sparks joy for you? What makes you feel like you are expressing yourself most authentically?

WWD: As the pandemic forced people to change their habits and rethink how and what they consume, we saw more attention being paid to vintage and secondhand — what did you see change in your business and do you think it’s a lasting change? 

S.P.: Sales on our platform dramatically increased during the course of the pandemic, which I believe is the result of several trends accelerating. First, we all became more comfortable with shopping online. Second, more people are realizing the power of their dollar and voting with their wallets. They are asking more questions of brands, and choosing to spend their time and money with companies that reflect their values and their worldview.

WWD: How do you use social media to run your business and draw customers?

S.P.: We love using our social channels as a platform to shine a light on our store owner partners or to showcase artists and change makers who reflect our values and inspire us. We also know that navigating millions of items of vintage can be daunting, so our team will create vintage “edits” on social that highlight some of the most exciting pieces on our platform.

WWD: What are your thoughts on sustainability and how do you feel what you’re doing in your business contributes to it?

S.P.: The mass apparel industry is one of the leading contributors to the climate crisis. The production of new clothes is enormously natural resource intensive, not to mention the human rights issues often inherent in the supply chain. One study found that if every American bought just one item secondhand this year, it would be the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road. Our mission is to help make vintage shopping more of a habit for more people, and our hope is that Thrilling becomes one of the places you turn to first before heading out to the mall.

WWD: Do you feel like there’s enough representation when it comes to diversity among vintage and consignment store owners? 

S.P.: Ninety-five percent of our store owner partners are women and/or BIPOC. The world of vintage and secondhand small business is incredibly diverse — the challenge is the ecosystem around that world. The financial analysts covering the retail industry, the bankers who make decisions on loans or other sources of capital, the landlords, the fashion publications, the social gatekeepers. It is the structural inequity surrounding the diversity of small entrepreneurs that impacts visibility and growth.

WWD: What do you see in the next three years for your business and the vintage/secondhand market as a whole? How do you think this plays into ways the fashion industry is changing?

S.P.: We are spending our time investing in our core product and service offering, to make sure that we are serving our customers and store partners’ needs: getting inventory online more quickly and easily, and helping people find vintage that is specifically delightful to them. In terms of the future of the industry, I see its growth as only continuing to accelerate — we already know the resale market is growing more quickly than traditional retail. As selling and shopping vintage becomes more accessible, and the climate crisis becomes more acute, more people will turn to resale as a way to make a living as well as a way to fill out their closets.

Trunk Show Designer Consignment

Heather J

Trunk Show Designer Consignment founder Heather Jones.
Courtesy photo

WWD: What made you get into the vintage business?

Heather Jones: I’ve always been a vintage fashion enthusiast. Growing up with a luxury fashion eye, but not always having the monetary means to fund such a lavish pastime, I’d often turn to consignment and vintage shops to acquire my designer goods. Once I decided that I actually wanted to venture into the industry as an entrepreneur, I initially started selling designer items from my own closet on eBay. Things were moving pretty quickly and I realized that I was actually running a remunerative business. At that point, I decided that it was time to shift to a brick-and-mortar operation and I immediately began reaching out to people within my network to source my inventory. I assisted those clients in selling their designer items and began acquiring new clientele through word of mouth and referrals. It all happened really organically.

WWD: What are some of the things you look for when buying new inventory? Do trends play a part in it?

H.J.: Absolutely! Buying inventory for a consignment business is quite similar to that of any retail clothing business. You have to be knowledgeable of styles, silhouettes and brands that are currently trending. Although the items being sold are secondhand, they still have to appear relevant to the consumer. In some instances, shoppers may purchase a piece solely because they are fashion connoisseurs. In others, they purchase because a specific design, color way, or pattern is prevalent at the moment. There are always few things that play a factor. 

WWD: As the pandemic forced people to change their habits and rethink how and what they consume, we saw more attention being paid to vintage and secondhand — what did you see change in your business and do you think it’s a lasting change? 

H.J.: The pandemic definitely shifted the way consumers buy clothing in general. With more people spending time at home or engaging in activities that do not require them to dress up as much, they are definitely thinking twice about dropping major bucks on high-ticketed designer goods. I’ve noticed both a spike in individuals looking to get rid of items as well as those who were looking to shop but more consciously versus frivolously. I also noticed that consumers were looking for more practical clothing and accessories rather than avant-garde or statement pieces. I just think people are shopping with a much more pragmatic approach because we are dealing with so many greater issues in the world. We are prioritizing only what is necessary. 

WWD: How do you use social media to run your business and draw customers?

H.J.: Social media is such a pivotal component in running my day-to-day business. I’ve noticed that consumers buy based off of influence, or associating a brand or product with a person that they find interesting or identify with; therefore I tend to leverage my personal account (as it has a higher following than my brand page) in creating opportunity to gain new potential buyers and sellers for my consignment business. This includes posting actual product and/or content that drives traffic to my business page. I also use my consignment business page to keep followers up-to-date on sales, new inventory or any other relevant information regarding the shop. 

WWD: What are your thoughts on sustainability and how do you feel what you’re doing in your business contributes to it?

H.J.: More recently, I’ve become a lot more involved in both consuming more sustainably and implementing sustainability practices in my business. In addition to selling consignment clothing, I’ve created a sub brand called (Reassembled NYC) which was basically conceptualized around the idea of reworking existing clothing. I truly think repurposing garments extend their lifecycle and creating custom (made-to-order) garments help to minimize overproduction. These are some fun and innovative ways I feel my business contributes to the sustainability movement. 

WWD: Do you feel like there’s enough representation when it comes to diversity among vintage and consignment store owners? 

H.J.: To be completely honest, I don’t think there is enough representation when it comes to diversity among vintage consignment store owners, and that is just one of the reasons I deemed it important to open a business in Harlem. When I first opened my shop nearly 11 years ago, consignment wasn’t as prevalent or accepted as it is now (in my opinion). It almost had a stigma to it (especially in my community) as a lot of people who consumed luxury goods just weren’t quite receptive to the idea of buying “used” luxury goods. I am happy to see that a lot of that has changed over the years with more and more people of color starting consignment businesses online as well as opening brick-and-mortar locations. With an increasing number of consumers wanting to support Black and minority-owned establishments, I think adding more representation in this industry specifically would be a very lucrative change. 

WWD: What do you see in the next three years for your business and the vintage/secondhand market as a whole? How do you think this plays into ways the fashion industry is changing?

H.J.: Over the next three years I project that my business, as well as the vintage secondhand market as a whole to continue making an upward shift. With more and more consumers shopping more sustainably and seeking to extend the life cycle of their closets, I can only imagine these new trends to make a positive impact on the industry. I truly feel like shoppers are just more conscious about being wasteful when it comes to buying new clothes. This entire pandemic has spawned a new generation of “educated consumers,” and I think that’s great! 

Yuris Market

Yuris Carter / Yuris Market 

Yuris Market founder Yuris Carter.
Courtesy photo

WWD: What made you get into the vintage business?

Yuris Carter: My mom bought me my first piece of designer clothing off eBay at the age of 11, it was a Dolce&Gabbana set and I’ve been in love ever since. At 14 there was a local consignment shop on the way to my high school. I became super involved in the store from buying and selling to just spending entire weekends there. My love for vintage was passed down to me through my mother but it’s been a lifelong passion since. I’ve always loved the value of a great vintage piece. There is something exclusive yet completely accessible to it and there is no copying of a vintage piece. I love something only I can have.

WWD: What are some of the things you look for when buying new inventory? Do trends play a part in it?

Y.C.: When buying new inventory I never look for what is currently trending because in today’s age trends don’t really matter, it’s all about style. Chasing trends, especially in vintage, will keep you in a constant loop. I like to buy pieces that reflect my personal style and honestly whatever I think is cool. The girls who shop at Yuri’s Market are not chasing trends, they’re creating them.

WWD: As the pandemic forced people to change their habits and rethink how and what they consume, we saw more attention being paid to vintage and secondhand — what did you see change in your business and do you think it’s a lasting change? 

Y.C.: I think online vintage shops saw a huge push during the pandemic in spite of physical vintage stores suffering, mainly because of the ability to shop remote. I believe the pandemic forced people to sit with their habits and how those actions affect others; as we become more conscious of how interconnected we all are, people are beginning to become actively mindful of their own waste and how it contributes to society. People are shopping vintage and archive because it allows us to indulge responsibly.

WWD: How do you use social media to run your business and draw customers?

Y.C.: Since Yuri’s Market conception we have been an online store; social media is literally our lifeline. It allows us visibility in worlds we wouldn’t get a chance to be seen in if not for being online. Knowing your brand and your customer has always been our superpower; maintaining a clear and organic feed allows a space for customers to naturally engage with us. Our customers are not just customers, they are our followers, mutuals and friends; we know exactly how to connect with them.

WWD: What are your thoughts on sustainability and how do you feel what you’re doing in your business contributes to it?

Y.C.: The increasing reality of the effects of climate change are ever present today; as a small business I try to reduce my carbon footprint as much as possible but it does become overwhelming and costly at times. I think it is all about the small actions that contribute to the bigger picture. We use recyclable materials and we do our part to honor our customers and mother earth.

WWD: Do you feel like there’s enough representation when it comes to diversity among vintage and consignment store owners?

Y.C.: I always get this question and the answer for the last five years has remained unchanged, no. There is a kinship amongst us but there are very few players that look like me. Representation means nothing without giving others access and opportunity. I started this business because I wanted to bring archives to people who did not have the access. Black people are style. We deserve luxury at an affordable price point and we deserve to shop designers without feeling inadequate.

WWD: What do you see in the next three years for your business and the vintage/secondhand market as a whole? How do you think this plays into ways the fashion industry is changing?

Y.C.: Our first showroom will be opening in Atlanta in late September. We are expanding into men’s wear hopefully within the next year and we want to start our own non-profit organization that will bring education and tools to the next generation of consigners. Within the next three years we will definitely see an uptick of designers brands partnering with vintage sellers to provide a more authentic and curated shopping experience. The fashion industry is scrambling to revive older designs and patterns that the new generation will identify with. That’s why you have Jean Paul Gaultier referencing his older pieces in his new collection. Resale is not going anywhere and if you can’t beat them why not join them.

Shop.Vanilla.Vintage

Mariah Collazo / Shop.Vanilla.Vintage

Shop.Vanilla.Vintage founder Mariah Collazo.
Courtesy photo

WWD: What made you get into the vintage business?

Mariah Collazo: My business started as a side hustle in college, I began by selling through the app Depop and eventually started my own website. I’ve always loved fashion, particularly vintage clothing and the way we use clothing to express ourselves. I also love being able to breathe new life into items that would’ve otherwise been thrown away or overlooked. I graduated college in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with zero job prospects, so I figured why not take my business more seriously and see how far I can take it. The response from my customer base since then has been amazing and a little overwhelming at times but I’m very thankful.

WWD: What are some of the things you look for when buying new inventory? Do trends play a part in it?

M.C.: Everything in my shop is handpicked and curated by me. I like to choose items that are trendy and fun but still timeless enough that they can be worn for years to come, which is a huge part of creating a sustainable wardrobe. When I’m searching online or at the thrift store, I keep an eye out for pieces that remind me of the trendiest items this season and see if I can find them secondhand. Fashion is very much cyclical, so whatever fashion trends are hot right now, there’s a good chance you can find something similar on eBay or at your local thrift store. 

WWD: As the pandemic forced people to change their habits and rethink how and what they consume, we saw more attention being paid to vintage and secondhand — what did you see change in your business and do you think it’s a lasting change? 

M.C.: My business exploded during the pandemic, partially because the COVID-19 pandemic made people understand how important sustainability is. More and more people are realizing the social and environmental impact of big business and are choosing to support smaller, more ethical clothing brands instead. I believe this is a trend that will continue for years to come because social media has made it easier than ever for consumers to find smaller niche brands that they connect with on a personal level and that align with their values. I myself have started spending more of my money at small businesses, particularly Black- and women-owned brands because I like the fact that my dollars are supporting individuals instead of huge corporations. Genuine passion, friendly personal DMs, and handwritten notes included with your order from someone who actually cares about their customers just isn’t something that you usually get from these huge fast-fashion companies. 

WWD: How do you use social media to run your business and draw customers?

M.C.: My Instagram feed (@shop.vanilla.vintage) is very much aesthetically driven, but it’s not only a place for my followers to see the newest Vanilla Vintage products, they can also find fashion and lifestyle inspiration, DIY ideas, and discuss fashion industry news. One of my favorite things about social media is being able to connect with my customers and talk to them one-on-one. I also do a weekly feature called #MoodboardMonday where I pick a particular theme or public figure and create a digital moodboard on my Instagram stories. It’s a lot of fun putting them together, and my followers love it, too. Past themes have included Halloween, Cowboys/Western, Lil Kim, and Princess Diana.  Instagram has been a great platform for expressing myself creatively and creating strong brand imagery. Right now, I’m focusing on expanding my Twitter audience because it’s an amazing way to update my audience in real-time [and] engage with my target market on a personal level. 

WWD: What are your thoughts on sustainability and how do you feel what you’re doing in your business contributes to it?  

M.C.: A large reason why I started Vanilla Vintage is because while studying fashion and textiles in college, we learned a lot about how damaging to the environment the fashion industry can be. Knowing this, I tried to find more sustainable alternatives to the fast fashion I was used to buying, but I found it very difficult to find options that were:

  1. affordable on a college budget

  2. fun and trendy like the fast-fashion brands I was used to

  3. catered to sizes bigger than a size large

I was dismayed by how very few options were available to me. Vanilla Vintage gives women like me a sustainable option that’s been noticeably absent in the retail marketplace. I also use my platform to educate my followers about sustainable clothing because many consumers don’t see the connection between fast fashion and the damage it does to the environment and to the people who make our clothing. Even though it may seem counterintuitive as a business owner, I encourage my audience to buy less and spend time learning to love the wardrobe they already have. When my customers buy an item from me, I want it to be something they truly love and makes them feel good while wearing it.

WWD: Do you feel like there’s enough representation when it comes to diversity among vintage and consignment store owners? 

M.C.: The diversity of the vintage community has definitely increased since I first began Vanilla Vintage, but there’s still lots of room for improvement. I think a large part of the reason my customers have had such a strong response to my brand is because there is a very noticeable absence of Black/Brown women and plus-size bodies in a lot of brands with a similar aesthetic to mine. And what’s the point in promoting sustainability if it’s not for everyone to partake in? Thrifting and buying secondhand has always been a staple in low-income communities, especially amongst minorities, so it doesn’t make sense for us to be absent in this movement.

I was inspired by Random & Chic, another Black woman-owned vintage brand to take my business more seriously simply because she was another Black woman doing what I was doing, but on a much larger scale. So I figured if she’s doing it, why can’t I? Since then, other people have told me that just by see me running my own brand they said “Oh, hey! There’s a girl who looks like me doing this, so why can’t I do it, too?” You never know who you’re going to inspire just by being yourself and following your dreams. 

WWD: What do you see in the next three years for your business and the vintage/secondhand market as a whole? How do you think this plays into ways the fashion industry is changing?

M.C.: I think all people should be more open-minded about shopping secondhand, regardless of socioeconomic status. The resale industry is growing rapidly and at a much faster rate than the general fashion retail sector. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest changes we see in the fashion industry in the next 10 years. Not only is it environmentally friendly, it’s also good for consumers’ pockets because they can get the latest trends at a lower cost. It also encourages a circular economy, which is something we as a society desperately need.

I don’t see Vanilla Vintage slowing down anytime soon. I’m most excited about expanding my business to cater to a wider audience of different sizes, genders and lifestyle needs. My biggest dream right now is to have an original, in-house Vanilla Vintage line where my customers can get their favorite chic wardrobe staples. I don’t see Vanilla Vintage being just a clothing brand, but as a lifestyle brand for women to connect with each other and build confidence through learning about own their personal style.





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