Vintage mania: The race to buy vintage clothing on Instagram
It hadn’t been more than five minutes since Kaye Chapman had posted a photo of a vintage ’70s maxi dress to sell over her Instagram when she heard a response back. “How much? I need it,” she read in her inbox. After responding with the price, another minute later, the client replied, “I’ll take it.” And just like that, the dress was sold.
“Sometimes, it takes only five minutes to sell an item, sometimes an hour and sometimes a few hours. But once I post that item, it will always sell within 12 hours,” says the 21 year old, a 2015 graduate of Stonington High School, of her experience using the image-centric social media platform, Instagram, to host her newly formed vintage clothing business Easy Coast Vintage.
“I only put up the best of the best on Instagram, but anything you post, you know it’s going to sell. People see it, they know someone else will want it, and so they will just nab it right then and there. … It’s like, ‘Oh, I could be the person who got that before anyone else could have.’ It makes people feel cool.”
Such is the exciting reality of an ever-growing subculture of modern vintage-clothes-selling entrepreneurs who use the Instagram platform to reach new clients and make money. Just in the last two years or so, vintage shops around the world have flocked to the platform to promote vintage and thrift-shop clothing products and to sell items fast.
With its photo-heavy design and easy posting process, Instagram has quickly become a staple in the everyday life of vintage clothing sellers while simultaneously turning into a shopping haven for cyber-savvy millennials looking to augment their wardrobes with one-of-a-kind pieces.
Follow the right accounts, and you might see posts of an ’80s Parisian silk top, black leather cowboy boots from Texas, English tweed blazers, lacey nighties or vintage Levi’s pop into your newsfeed throughout the day. All of it is instantaneously available, but only if you’re the first to get to it — a tough feat considering that some of those Instagram shops will have thousands of followers vying for that next piece. Posts on the platform can easily be missed. And in those rare instances when a buyer does find a piece still available, they must either message the seller and lock the piece down, typically paying for it through PayPal, or else, lose out on it forever — a business model that sellers know makes items instantly more coveted.
“Posting pieces over Instagram creates an allure to them. People will want to buy it right then because they know that that piece is being seen by thousands of other followers in that very moment,” Chapman says. “And messaging to find out the price only adds to the allure. ‘Oh, it’s not gone yet? I should get it.’
Having officially launched her shop last summer, Chapman has only used Instagram and a vintage e-commerce site similar to Ebay called Etsy.com to establish an internet presence. She does not own a storefront (though she hopes to by the time she is 30) and only recently started attending Saturday markets at Stonington’s Velvet Mill to help promote her shop. She runs the shop part time and also works another job, helping photograph and ship items for a prominent Amazon seller in Mystic.
And while Chapman doesn’t sell as often over her Etsy account (most of her sales and page views come through Instagram, which she tracks through an analytics tool), having an Etsy page allows her to post pricier designer items that she knows won’t sell as fast.
That all comes at a price, however. A new Instagram-based shop, for example, requires no startup costs or fees, and posting items on that platform is infinitely easier compared to posting on sites such as Etsy and Ebay.
“You have to answer at least 20 questions about the material of the item, the sizes and dimensions before even being able to post on Etsy,” she says. “It really takes a long time, while on Instagram, you can just get the piece up. And it makes sense — why take the time to list an item on Etsy or wait to drag it to a show when you can just post the item on Instagram and sell it instantly?”
In the six months since starting her shop, Chapman says she has sold over 50 pieces through her Instagram account (an average of two pieces per week), all priced between $35 and $200, while only a handful of the 28 pieces posted (she owns over 500 vintage items) onto her Etsy account have sold — sales that she says are on the low end of the spectrum compared to other Instagram shops that she follows. The ones who know how to utilize the platform to its maximum can easily make $5,000 a month, she says, or can sometimes make $3,000 in a single week alone.
Social media shops such as these, in the last two years, have come to represent a prospering corner of e-commerce. So much, in fact, that Instagram has rolled out features to help make selling items for both vintage shops and large retailers easier. Just last year, the platform started allowing retailers to tag products featured in posted photos, hooking viewers through an image of a model, say, wearing a breezy top, and enabling the viewer to click on individual items, such as that top, and purchase on the spot.
“Instagram has really become a form of free advertising,” Chapman says.
For Tove Vigen, 41, owner of Tova’s Vintage Shop in Old Saybrook — a store specializing in day dresses and evening gowns from the late 1800s through the 1970s — Instagram has become a fairly easy way to reach out to new and existing customers and generate business.
“I just posted a vintage Louis Vuitton case yesterday, and I’ve already talked to four or five people about it just on my way to work,” Vigen says last week while a woman in her shop tries on and buys a coat she saw on the platform just the night before. “It’s that powerful.”
The allure of setting up shop on the such a platform goes past its low-effort simplicity. Instagram also allows sellers to curate their profiles — creating a sort of aesthetic, or a certain feeling, to supplement the items themselves.
In Chapman’s case, she describes her shop as “vintage ’70s/Stevie Nicks/’60s mod.” Scroll through her feed and you’ll see sepia-toned images of vintage Levi’s displayed over a 70s-crochet throw, red-headed models effortlessly posing in vintage Moschino trousers, or a model wearing rainbow-striped bell-bottom pants in front of a roadside motel. Posts need not be clothing-centric, either. Images of a retro diner, or a psychedelic VW bus may seek to appeal to a certain clientele — allowing for more freedom and versatility to convey a specific message compared to a website such as Etsy or Ebay.
“It’s where people figure out what type of seller you are. People will follow the shop for the content, for the feeling of it, and for the hope that they can maybe buy a piece from them in the future,” she says.
For Vigen, who started her shop in 1999, keeping up with the changing internet landscape has been a challenge, as well as a joy.
“Instagram is a different level of interesting, I don’t post anything on Instagram that I don’t think is really interesting,” she says, while explaining she only just launched a page for her shop in the last year. Go onto that page now and you’ll see she has already accumulated over 500 followers with a classic, Audrey Hepburn-like aesthetic — photos of ’50s-era dresses border another image of a cute pug sitting in a teal blue-classic convertible.
“It’s forced me to think about my online presence as well as the one you get in my store,” she says. “It’s almost like a storyboard. It doesn’t have to just be a product that you post, you can post a quote or a photo of a car that would set the stage for the feeling you are trying to put across.”
Vigen, though, hasn’t been using the platform in quite the same way Chapman has. She won’t sell items directly over it. Instead prospective buyers must click on the Etsy link attached to the profile, to find out other information about an item, such as sizing and price. Alternatively, she hopes the page will inspire clientele to come into the shop itself.
“It’s about creating the interest for people to want to come. That’s what you’re doing. Even if you’re posting things that people aren’t interested in, it’s still creating a feeling to make them want to come in,” Vigen says. “And if you don’t do this, you just become a door that people just drive by. You have to always be putting something out there on the internet these days.”
How to find them
Easy Coast Vintage can be found on Instragram @EasyCoastVintage or on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/EasyCoastVintage. You can also visit the shop from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Stonington’s Velvet Mill Market.
Tova’s Vintage Shop is located at 1330 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook; on Instagram @tovasvintage; or on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/tovasvintage.
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