Part 2: Where does Vintage come from?
January 16, 2019
NOTE: I had originally published this post 4/2/2017 in the TCP blog but with some website changes wasn’t able to transfer over all the previous content. This is part of a series. See Part 1: The Meaning of Vintage here.
So where do you get all your stuff?!
I'm excited to continue this series with the golden question that many are curious about, yet resellers are hesitant to share...Where does vintage come from? I'll be sharing a decent amount so get ready for a good Sunday read.
Lets demystify this all for you.
The Cycle of Donated Clothing
So did you know that most clothing you donate to smaller charities or those drop off locations around your local city actually gets sent to used clothing warehouses? These warehouses then sort the clothing into categories and grades by quality and either sell the clothing back to for-profit thrift stores, shipped out to developing countries or sometimes gets sold to companies who make insulation? Clothing you donate gets bought by these used clothing warehouses for cents a pound which is how these charities and non-profits get money to support their cause. You might want to think that these charities are actually giving these clothes to the homeless or some other noble cause, but most times they're just getting sold to these warehouses which then distribute the used clothing from there.
A lot of for-profit thrift stores buy clothing by the pound that have already been organized by category. This helps the shops stay current on seasons. For example, you'll notice that there's more shorts or skirts on the racks during the summer seasons vs more coats in the winter. Normally people donate off season therefore need to sell then re-buy the clothing when needed.
Historically used clothing has also been a huge industry of export here in the US, flooding developing countries with our excess amount of clothing, which is then resold in the local communities. This is a whole other topic of conversation for another time…
There are the exceptions like Goodwill or non-profits that have physical locations/outlets they can sell through where they'll pick out clothing that is ready to sell and put them straight on the racks. More about this when I talk about Thrift Stores.
Used clothing warehouses & their vintage departments
Most used clothing warehouses have "vintage" departments. These vintage departments pick out vintage clothing or anything they think may be valuable and end up reselling it to vintage shops by the piece or by the pound. Most times the prices are actually higher than a thrift store, but the thought is that they've done all the hard work of finding the "best" items therefore can charge more.
This brings up another point, that sometimes thrift stores that buy their clothing from used clothing warehouses (these thrift stores are normally for-profit organizations like Thrift Town) are sometimes already picked through by these vintage departments so it becomes harder to just find items on your own. Once in a while you'll find that amazing designer piece, but humans make errors and its humans that are organizing the donated clothing in a warehouses. Not machines. The cheap and illegal labor sometimes doesn't end after the clothing is made, it actually can continue throughout its lifecycle.
So there's another smaller category of warehouses that specifically specialize in vintage clothing and don't necessarily just purchase donated clothing straight from charities. I actually can’t confirm where they purchase their items from, but I do know they purchase in bulk. And by bulk, I mean BULK.
Some cater to specific categories of clothing like denim or workwear and some focus on eras and styles of clothing. These vintage warehouses normally supply vintage shops all over the world, but they're main volume comes from bigger companies like Urban Outfitters who sell vintage as well. There's very few of them out there but they are definitely growing and becoming more of a demand as "vintage" becomes mainstream.
Pricing is definitely on the higher side, but again, they're doing a lot of work on their end by organizing and categorizing similar items to buy in bulk. This doesn't discount the hard work still put in by vintage resellers though...You are still sifting through dirty clothing and leaving with the dirtiest fingernails you’ll ever have. More on this topic in the next series on vintage pricing.
Thrift stores are still a great sources for vintage or everyday secondhand basics. With thrift stores it is always unpredictable. For anyone that thrifts themselves, you know it is hit or miss. You either come back with LOTS of amazing items or nothing at all. But when you're a vintage business that relies on consistent inventory, this can be tricky. Sacrificing the time needed to find enough items for your shop can be hard to balance with everything else you need to get done. This is particularly true for actual brick & mortars.
As I mentioned before, non-profit thrift stores will go through donated clothing and put them straight on the racks as they come in. So this can cause you to find some jackpots especially if there was a whole lot of good stuff just donated. Many say you can visit multiple times a week and potentially find good stuff each day, but even I personally can't find the time to do that. Hint: You may already know this but the best thrift stores are the smaller non-profit ones in remote areas aka not in a metropolitan city. Also - If you’re okay with supporting Salvation Army...they’re actually a larger non-profit that I think still doesn’t pre-pick from the donations.
So as a reseller you need to diversify your sources. But for those that love the hunt, thrift stores are one of the best consumer facing options to find vintage yourself.
Now...even with thrift stores being the best option to find secondhand for the best price on your own, you may be feeling like sometimes it is hard to find certain items...(ahem vintage denim...) Well...Side note on this...I think some thrift stores actually pull valuable items (ahem vintage denim) before even putting them on the racks. I’m particularly hinting about Goodwill. Have you ever seen a good pair of Levis on the racks in the past 5 years or so? Your answer is most likely no. Why? I think they actually recently started pulling Levis from donations, grading them on quality, then bulk selling them to vintage warehouses. In the end, Goodwill gets millions of donations and their main thing is moving/selling as much product as possible. They’d rather guarantee a sale in bulk vs. just have it take up rack space even if they know it’ll sell one off. I actually wonder if this is true for designer clothing? I’m actually not sure… What do you think?
Either way, this is all just my own observation...a speculation...a theory. No concrete data to back it up so don’t quote me. ;)
Estate sales have been growing in popularity and IDK if resellers are happy about it (haha). These are basically sales of someone's personal goods that may have passed away or needs downsizing. You'll find all types of treasures from furniture to everyday home goods to clothing. This is sometimes a bit tricky for vintage shops because it is always hard to tell what you might end up getting in the end. It can be just as time consuming as thrift stores due to the increased competition of resellers and the location of where these sales take place.
If you've ever been to an estate sale, you'll sometimes find yourself walking straight into the house and finding nothing at all. Sometimes you'll be waiting in line for hours just to get into the house to find that all the good stuff had already been snatched up or you'll find yourself standing in line by 6 or 7AM for a 9AM sale just to be the first round of people to get into the house. Or once in the blue moon you'll get lucky and spend 2 hours at a local estate sale and come home with a box full of goodies.
Just like thrift stores, estate sales can be unpredictable. But this is another consumer facing way to find some treasures and is fair game for everyone. You’ll just need to be a morning person and be okay driving to remote areas to find the good goods at a good price…
You can find a list of local estate sales through sites like estatesales.org.
I share this all with you because I believe in transparency, awareness and education. As much as I care to sell a lot of vintage though my shop, I care more about promoting this lifestyle. Whether you buy from my shop, straight from the thrift store or from another vintage shop. I support you.
In the end, we all win when we join a secondhand lifestyle. The planet, the animals, local entrepreneurs, you, me and our future families.
Next up is the last part of our series which goes into why vintage costs the amount it does. It’ll go live tomorrow.
Till then, would love to hear your questions, your comments and your personal experiences shopping vintage.
Disclaimer: This post is all based on research I've done on my own. If there is something inaccurate. Please let me know! I'm only here to spread awareness and help people understand the secondhand/vintage industry as a whole. Thank you!