One of the first questions I’m asked when I meet people at events is — How did you manage to start a vintage clothing shop? Well, it’s a pretty serendipitous story actually. I used to have a fashion blog. To further my blogging career I decided to take a social media workshop while I was traveling in Italy a couple of summers ago.
While at the workshop I met a fellow attendee who had recently started a vintage wholesale business marketing to sellers in the U.S. I found what she was doing very interesting, because I’d always wanted to open my own clothing store.
Getting The Idea For a Vintage Store
This new friendship sparked an idea in my head: I could begin to sell Italian vintage online and at pop-up events back home in Austin. So, that’s what I did. It took me three pretty intense months and about $5,000 but I powered through and came out on the other side with my very own vintage clothing shop, Pieceology Vintage.
More on starting a business of your own:
The Fundamental Financial Steps To Open a Vintage Shop
- My biggest expense in starting a vintage clothing shop was sourcing inventory. I had a goal to start with at least 50 items. I relied on a few sources to achieve this. My main source was my vintage wholesaler friend in Italy. Beyond that, I had to do some research. I searched for good thrift stores, rummaged through friends and families closets who would let me, dug deep in piles at estate sales I found on estatesales.net, looked around town (and anytime I was out of town) for vintage shops that were having super sales, and even added some pieces from my personal collection. Keep in mind, you want a return on your investment so make sure the prices you are paying for inventory can allow for that to happen. Over time you’ll find it easier to source products. In the beginning, it can be tough if you’re starting from scratch like I was.
- Brand design is something that many people don’t take the time or want to spend the money to do. I believe that’s a mistake. It’s important and can go a long way when you are out promoting your business. I can’t tell you how many times people have gotten in touch with me because my business cards were memorable. I worked with a graphic designer to create my logo. If you don’t know anyone there are plenty of services online that you can use at reasonable prices. For business cards, moo.com provides great print quality and will mail your cards directly to your home.
- I built my website with help from a friend who is a graphic designer. We used Squarespace which I highly recommend. Even if you don’t have a friend who can help you or you don’t want to pay someone else to do it, Squarespace is extremely user friendly. You can definitely get by on your own if you take the time to learn its interface. Also, Squarespace’s customer support is amazing and should be able to answer pretty much any question you have if you get stuck!
Packaging & Presentation:
- In addition to having a website, I wanted to participate in local pop-up events to build awareness about my vintage clothing shop. I bought shopping bags and clothes tags in bulk at uline.com and most of my display pieces like clothes racks, a table, jewelry stands and miscellaneous decor from thrift stores, Target and on Amazon.
- I did a few things that aren’t necessary but are worth mentioning because they helped promote the shop before I officially launched. I worked with a photographer and models (who were actually not models at all, just friends I asked to help out for fun!) to create a winter lookbook. Then I used those photos when building my website. Then, in addition to my business cards, I had pins made that I handed out at networking events. These can literally be walking advertisements when someone puts them on their jacket, backpack, shirt, etc.
What I Wish I Had Known Then
Looking back now, there are a few things I would suggest you do up front that I didn’t.
1- Set up a business bank account. This will make things a lot easier on you come tax season. You can also use services like Freshbooks to help with invoicing and payments.
2- Include an Etsy shop in your marketing plan. I have one now but wish I would have started it sooner. It’s another great way for potential customers to find you.
3- Create a clear marketing strategy and write it down! This will help guide you in all that you do with your business for years to come. This is something I’m just now starting after being in business for over a year!
4- Make sure to have a business and personal budget. Bravely offers a values based budgeting workbook, which is a great place to start figuring out how to handle your personal finances. But business finances are no joke, and you need to know where all your money is!
More on organizing your small business finances:
What Being a Business Owner Feels Like
Aside from financials, I should mention that I was working a separate full-time job as I built my vintage clothing shop. That job allowed me to fund my launch, but it also meant my time was almost always accounted for.
Launching my shop took up a lot of my personal time. No matter what your situation, starting your own business is a lot of work and you have to be willing to put in the time to see real results. I promise it’s worth it!
April Onebane is the owner and operator of Pieceology Vintage in Austin TX.
Photo by Chelsea Laine Francis