Starting and Running Your Own Vintage Clothing Store: A Q&A

There is this new feature on Instagram that allows your followers to ask questions (when you invite them to...) and I noticed I got quite a few asking How to Start A Vintage Clothing Business or How to Manage Your Own Business...etc I thought I'd answer some of them here!

What camera do you use to shoot your product photos?

I use a Nikon D3100. I got it in 2012 so it's obviously old. It hasn't started wonking out on me, so until it does that, then I'll upgrade. 

How did you start acquiring all the vintage you sell? Where do you find your vintage clothes?

When I was first starting out I would find pieces here and there at thrift shops, antique stores, resale stores, and estate sales. As I got more established I started doing bigger buys at flea markets and would ask the vendors if they would "wholesale vintage" to me... basically if I could get a discount if I bought in bulk. This lead to a few key relationships and some vendors would start setting aside pieces that were very "Adored Vintage" looking.... so anything romantic, feminine, lace, Edwardian, and basically pretty... Then people started hearing about my shop and I would get contacted to do buying appointments. Another source, though I don't really recommend it if you're just starting out... is to source vintage on eBay. A lot of bigger online etsy vintage sellers do this because they're seasoned sellers and can find the perfect things for their shop's aesthetics. You're most likely buying from another vintage seller so unless you're more established and have a bigger buying budget, I wouldn't suggest this route. 

What are the Top 3 Things you've done that have made your business so successful?

I know it sounds cliche, but I never gave up, I work really, really hard, and I stayed true to myself and my aesthetic. 

I'll unpack this a bit more because I know when I hear business women say stuff like "I just never gave up, I just stayed authentic, I just DID the work" I kind of roll my eyes... LOL. So this is what I mean by Don't Give Up, Do You, and Do The Work. 

For a couple of years, like mid 2015 most of 2016 and half of 2017 I was really getting tired of selling vintage clothing. It felt monotonous. I didn't feel inspired anymore. It didn't excite me. I just felt like the joy of owning my own shop was being weighed down by the NITTY GRITTY of being a business owner. I was getting tired of the routine. The kind of vintage I wanted to sell was getting harder and harder to find. And all of sudden everyone and their Instagram cats were starting their own vintage shops. I remember thinking, "Augh, what else can I do? Should I just build websites for people? Do web marketing and SEO? I'm good at that, I know I could make a lot of money doing it..." But you know, NONE of that sounded fulfilling. I'm good at it, but I'm not passionate about it. 

Here's the thing, when you're PASSIONATE about what you do... you'll do whatever it takes. You'll work until 11 PM at night. You'll give up weekends. Social time with friends. Eating decent meals (seriously, at certain points I was eating fast food like x3 a week!) 

Another thing... stop comparing yourself to other people. Seriously, get over it. If you are spending a lot of time and energy focusing on someone else, you're not focusing on you or your business. Now, this isn't to say you shouldn't be AWARE. I am well aware of what other businesses similar to mine are doing, but then I just keep moving forward. Move along, nothing to see here. People are going to copy and mimic what they admire and want to be like. Kind of like that saying that copying is the sincerest form of flattery? I don't think it's sincere honestly, I think it's kind of lazy. When you compare yourself to others you'll find ways to think of your business as not enough or not quite like and you'll wish it was different or more whatever... focus on YOU and YOUR business and work and how to make it stand out. 

There is a vintage seller (Fab Gabs) who does a really amazing job at staying true to herself and what she likes (and she also has amazing vintage!) She has her own aesthetic and has built a following that's specifically her tribe. While it's not an aesthetic I adhere to personally, I appreciate and admire what she does and the content she produces because it's so unique to her and her shop and she's consistent. 

Knowing all you do now, what advice would you give yourself when you started out?

Hire an accountant as soon as possible. LOL. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out their business?

I'm assuming a vintage clothing store... so I'll answer with that in mind. 

Keep your inventory low. I learned the hard way that acquiring TONS of inventory and SITTING on it (i.e. hoarding it) is actually a big No-No in Tax world because you can't write it off as Costs of Goods Sold until you've actually sold them! 

Write out a simple "business plan." I didn't write one, I still don't have an official business plan. I have a notebook with my "goals and dreams" 1 year from now, 3 years from now, and 5 years from now. I also make Pinterest boards for my 1 year plan, 3 year plan, and 5 year plan because I like visuals. 

Is it hard running your own business?

Yes!! I don't think people realize I do almost ALL THE THINGS on my own! Owning and running your own business is NOT easy, if I make it look easy, it's because I'm good at my job :) Is it rewarding? YES. Does it make me super happy? Heck YES! But it isn't easy and guess what, you take ALL the credit and ALL the blame depending on how things go. So you have to build a tougher skin with certain things, there is a lot of personal growth that happens when you're running your own show. A lot of self reflecting. A lot of jumping between dreamland and reality. Some people get stuck in the dreaming stages. You have to be able to balance both. And speaking of balance... life and work balance? Yeah, I'm not awesome at that. I don't know if I ever will be, lol!

Reviews (4 comments)

  • Teresa Miranda On

    Google: Starting your own vintage store and GO: Starting and Running Your Own Vintage Clothing Store: A Q&A
    This shop journal/interview shows up in the top 5 and I click on this one and I am so happy I did. Your answers resonated with me on so many levels! I agree as a solopreneur myself you are on point about running your own business but more so a fashion business!

    I am looking to utilize the talent that serendipitously launched my career in the NYC fashion industry which is possessing a keen eye for special and unique designs esp. Vintage. I am not a scholar or encyclopedia of fashion (although I wish I were) I just have an innate ability to walk in a shop, estate sale, wherever and find the most unique (and most expensive lol) by sight within 1-5 minutes. It’s a blessing and a curse as I am sure you know! Since I was in my teen’s friends, family, and friends of friends have come to me for advisement on what to buy or to help find specifics items. Several people over the years have asked why don’t you open your own store? Which has led me here!

    Like you, working in the digital/social media world it’s fun, but it can be so mundane and keeping up with it… don’t even get me started. Burnout is my middle name! LOL. So I’ve been kicking the idea around about opening a boutique or an online store featuring vintage for quite awhile. However, after working in the industry I am also well aware of the realities and hardships of running a fashion business. Your answers were very honest, candid, and encouraging. I believe the universe led me to this article for a reason. Thank you so much for putting this out there.


  • Rachel On

    So much truth and legitimate application to real world business – really awesome 👏

  • Diana Montanino On

    This is a great post-I was full steam ahead for a good 5 months and then lost my drive-having a full time job, kids AND selling vintage, sourcing was and still is a bit difficult but I am going to do the best I can now because I do truly love it. I also would be thrilled if it can one day be my full time job.

    All the best-Diana

  • Randi Clark On

    I really appreciate your honesty. Because of reading this I buckled down and DID ME.

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