I love you. Truly I do. I love what I do and providing a service for you. Without you, my business could not survive. But every once and a while, a potential customer asks for significant discounts on a vintage item. And this piece is written for you. I truly want you to understand the economics of what vintage dealers do so you can understand why vintage is priced as it is.
Many of us, especially us smaller dealers, are one person operations. We run all aspects of our businesses, from sourcing, to cleaning, to marketing, customer service, and shipping. Conglomerates and chain store have multiple people to serve in these roles. Us small guys do it all ourselves. I want to break this down for you.
A typical day. I often wake up before 5am to rush to an estate sale to stand in line for a few hours to be admitted to a sale first to have the best choice of the goods. Sure this isn’t difficult, but how early do you wake up for work? Often times, I drive up to 1oo miles to get to the good stuff. I am going to very rural communities outside the city or traveling out of state so that you don’t have to make that drive or waste your time on something that may not even fit you. Then when I get into a sale, everything is covered in dust. Many of the clothes are damaged and dirty. I dig through all of the disgusting stuff and bring out the best. Not all the homes are this way, but people in the antiques world are called pickers for this reason, we pick through all the trash to find the treasures. While this isn’t my only source, a lot of inventory comes from private estates, downsizers, etc., all vintage acquisitions almost always all entail some form of travel. Now it’s an hour or so back home/to my shop so that I can process the inventory. This entails cleaning and mending.
Cleaning vintage clothing isn’t as easy as throwing into the washer and dryer as you would with your fast fashion. A lot of vintage clothing was made before washing machines were the norm, and hand washing or dry cleaning is often the best way to preserve the clothing. Now, it’s not as easy as just dropping clothing off at the dry cleaner, as any embellishments must be removed before dry cleaning or else they will most likely be destroyed. So all buttons with rhinestones, extra decorations, belts, etc. must be carefully removed (and reattached after cleaning). And a professional dry cleaning doesn’t entail that the garments will survive intact. I have to sign off liability on all vintage garments, so every once and a while, one is damaged by a cleaner and I am out that cost. This is ok as it is the cost of dealing with vintage. But isn’t it nice to know that I take that hit, verses you purchasing a dirty item only to find out it is damaged by the cleaners and you are out even more money? Don’t forget the time associated with the return trip to the cleaners and reattaching the embellishments.
Handwashing items may take several soaks before they come clean. For me, this often means giving up my bathtub for several hours and moving bins of water and soap about several times. Then they must be carefully hung to dry. Items then need to be steamed or ironed before they are wearable. This is the part of my job that I dislike, hours of ironing is never fun for me. Oh did I mention, many items need to have zippers replaced, hems mended, buttons replaced, etc. So add in a few hours for mending. This isn’t a difficult process if you know how to sew, but it is time consuming. And beyond basics, I am not a seamstress, so there may be an added expense of outsourcing mending.
Now I have spent the early part of our morning sourcing, several hours cleaning and mending. Some of my garments end up in my showroom. These are the easiest to processes I only have to clean and measure them. But it’s still another few hours to stock the showroom and make it easy for you to shop. With the garments that end up on etsy, I still need to list these items online for you to be able to shop. This starts with photography. Unfortunately I do not have a dedicated studio just for photography (because you know that costs money) so I set up and take down my backdrop and lighting for each photoshoot. I use professional lighting and white balance every image so that I can show the best representation of color to all of you. Monitors are different and I want to make sure that you have the best representation of the item as possible. Every vintage dealer is different in their photography, and no one way is correct, but I want to maintain professional standards for my shop so that it is the easiest for you to shop.
Now that items are clean, mended, and photographed. I measure as many basic measurements for you as possible so that you can determine the best fit. Listing on etsy now takes about 10 minutes an item because in addition to writing a description, I have to calculate weight and shipping profiles for each item. Note that this has taken me a few years to streamline the process, and it may even take newer dealers longer per listing.
Great, now there is clean, wearable, awesome vintage available for you to shop. But wait, just because it is listed, doesn’t mean that you can find it with all the volumes of information online. Now I need to market my shop – which includes listing each item on several different social media sites and running ads online, which also costs money. Furthermore, I have to stay on top of best SEO practices, social media policies, and marketing strategies, which are always changing. This includes time to educate myself, watch tutorials, read blogs, and experiment.
Included in all of the steps is my expertise and education. Not everyone knows exactly what they are looking at when they find it. I have spent years learning about fashion history, how garments were constructed, determining era, etc. Through practice and many failures, I can determine what stains can be removed, which garments will continue to stand the test of time, and which garments will look amazing on different body types so that I can stock my shop with nothing but the best for you. You won’t find moth eaten, dirty, double knit polyester in my shop. And you won’t have to dig through heaps of bad styles to find something amazing for you. And this is due to my careful attention to detail, education, and experience. All of which comes with practice, and I am always learning.
Still with me? Now I get to the point where the economics comes into play. There are hard costs for items and costs associated with time. I want to break this down so that you can understand why vintage is valued at what it is.
Inventory: While people may think that good vintage can be found for pennies while thrifting, this is often not the case. Most items run at least $5 and are often more at wholesale, depending on the quality and labels. Designer goods obviously cost much more. Also, thrift stores are almost always picked over and filled with slightly damaged fast fashion from chain stores.
Travel Costs: There are hard costs associated with travel, whether it is across town or traveling to another state. Gas, plane tickets, wear and tear on a vehicle, etc. These all add up.
Professional cleaning: Dry cleaning costs money. And a good dry cleaner with experience with vintage goods often costs more than your average guy.
Equipment: Basics include a computer and a camera. Studio lights, camera accessories, software, etc. are not cheap. Plus there is a cost in maintaining hardware.
Marketing: Advertising costs money. A lot of us rely on our followers and fans to help spread the word to their other vintage friends, and we rely on low-cost marketing tactics such as social media. But it takes money to make money, eh?
Shipping: This cost generally is paid by the customer, but there are often times when shipping is miscalculated, prices are raised by shipping providers, etc. The conglomerates such as Amazon have taught consumers that shipping should be free and so it is expected from everyone. Shipping a dress stateside usually runs around $6-10. Shipping the same dress internationally often runs between $20-30. No one wants to pay that much for shipping, but that is the true cost. If we all paid market rate for shipping, we would be shopping much more in our local economies. This is part of the convenience of shopping online. As a small business, I often have to consume part of the shipping charge in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Time: All of the experiences above cost time. When I break down my labor, I average about $10 an hour. Now that might seem like a steady part time income, but remember, we are running our own businesses, so this is pre-tax money. As an independent contractor, we also pay higher taxes, and can assume that after expenses and deductions, we estimate between 25-30% of our income goes to Uncle Sam.
Bricks and Mortar Shops: I touched on the points of my online business, but don’t forget that Bricks and Mortars have added expenses of rent, taxes, labor, marketing, etc.
I love what I do and I am not complaining in the slightest. I love being able to preserve a part of history, keep items out of landfills, and spread the love of vintage over fast fashion. I truly believe it is more economical and environmentally responsible to deal in antiques and vintage. But I am also slightly offended when I hear comments such as “this is used, gross,” “I can get this at a local thrift shop for just $1,” or “sell me this at 75% off plus free shipping.” I dedicate myself to bringing you the best shopping experience possible, amazing customer service, and the best inventory that I can find, all at reasonable prices. You are not only paying for the cost of the garment, you are paying for the time you save by being able to shop with a professional. And time is money. So next time you think about how easy it is to find and wear vintage, think of all the costs associated with that piece and wear it with pride. Someone cared enough about it to make it easy and fun for you.
Thank you for reading this. I really hope to educate people that what vintage dealers do is hard work. And most of us do it for the shear joy of spreading vintage love. And thank you so much for shopping with Bloomers and Frocks. I hope to be able to continue serving you for many years.