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Instagram Vintage Hounds Are Paying Their Rent by Thrifting

The number of people reselling home goods has exploded during the pandemic—but they say there’s still plenty of stuff to go around.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
February 26, 2021, 1:00pm
A vintage reseller Instagram grid with a computer pointer against a background of clouds
Illustration via Canva, photographs by Jacquelyn Cha
A fresh look at how young people are striking out and pursuing their independent ambitions.

Around a year ago, my Instagram feed started to change. Carefully staged photos of quirky salt and pepper shakers, funky mirrors, and retro glassware—all of which I could simply “DM to purchase”—began to pop up in between photos of group vacations, nights out, birthday dinners, and wedding hashtags. Now, as the one-year anniversary of mass office closures draws closer, these lifestyle porn-cum-advertisements take up more and more space, slotted in neatly next to new puppies, new apartments, new kitchen experiments—new turn to the domestic! Doesn’t a new space, and a new, inward-focused life, demand new-to-you decor to match? 

I know I’m not the only one whose ‘Gram has become suffused with gently used, aesthetically pleasing home goods over the past year. Vintage resale is a full-blown quarantine business phenomenon: According to a piece from Curbed earlier this month, these resellers are running themselves ragged to furnish our homes. 

It’s worth noting that resale, especially clothing, has come into the discourse crosshairs in the past, with detractors claiming that selling goods sourced from thrift stores when you can afford to pay retail prices is equivalent to robbing people with no other shopping options of "nice" things. (The rebuttal, from a mother who thrifts for her family of seven children in this 2016 Vox piece: Thrift hobbyists “form a really important part of the secondhand economy” because their willingness to spend more than the average shopper makes it easier for second-hand stores to “pay their overhead and still sell me children's socks for a quarter.”)

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So who’s stalking the aisles of Goodwill, hopping estate sales, and blowing money on tolls just to make it to their next drop, and why do they do it? VICE spoke to vintage home goods resellers who say there are still more than enough desk lamps, statement chairs, and martini glass sets for everyone—and plenty of people willing to hunt them down. We asked these newly minted resellers (most of whom run their accounts as a full-time, 40+ hours/week commitment) about what drew them to Instagram, what they’ve learned about making their pages pop, and why we’re all so enthralled with resale and secondhand goods right now.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What brought you to Instagram reselling? 

Emily Crist, @7layerhome, opened August 2020: Last February, I finally decided to get into what I was passionate about: prop styling.  After a month of meetings and making intros, it seemed to all be coming together. Then, by mid-March, everything came to a stand still. It was suddenly a terrible time to begin forging a freelance styling career. In the early fall I began doing popup vintage clothing sales with my friends @Lanena_vintage and @good.mystery.wearables, mostly to declutter and just make some cash. After selling some homewares at our sales, I realized that that was my strong suit.

Jacquelyn Cha, @monochrome.haus, opened August 2020: It has been years... It might be more accurate to say hoarding because my apartment has gotten out of hand! Once it got difficult navigating around my apartment, that's when I started selling my items.  

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Ray, @freska.living, opened July 2020: Not going to lie, I transitioned from a collector to a seller mainly because two things happened: 1. I got laid off from my job; 2. I started seeing a lot of people selling vintage on IG and it seemed like both a fulfilling and fun thing to do.

Kaitlin Tokar, @midnighttokarvintage, opened September 2020: I’m a construction worker, and when COVID hit, I got laid off and decided to redo my apartment as a COVID project. As I was doing that, I was just getting super deep into the vintage homegoods world, and I had friends being like, “You’re sourcing for yourself, you could totally make money that way.” It sort of ended up being a little bit of an addiction to thrifting, and then needing to balance it out by making some sort of income from it—sourcing for other people filled that need.

Lisa Zhu, @lazysundayshome, opened May 2020: Last May, I pretty much got furloughed—I used to work in the fashion industry, and it just wasn't looking too great. Vintage and secondhand has always been part of my life, trying to live more sustainably and be eco-friendly. So I wanted to incorporate that into my business, especially after working in fashion, where it's often the complete opposite.

Why do you think vintage resale is so popular right now?

Crist: When you spend so much time inside, the nuances of your home become more pronounced. Right now, experiences in the home are more ritualistic: When you get up in the morning and grab your hair tie or put on your rings, you want to take it out of a cool little bowl that means something to you instead of just grabbing it off your bedside table.

Ray: People are done putting up with their color-uncoordinated homes filled with IKEA pieces that have been falling apart since they were assembled.

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Eloise: We're all seeking community—we're in this time where we're really lonely, and a lot of my customers, they’re like my friends, because it’s such a personal interaction and a personalized shopping experience, especially when I specifically look for things for them. It makes you feel good, buying from a small business; it makes you feel good buying from someone you feel like you know; and it makes you feel good because it's sustainable, too.

What appeals to you about Instagram as a sales platform? 

Crist: The level of entry was so accessible. I didn’t have to build a website or found an in-person venue. The buy-in was simply some inventory. 

Ray: It's social and a two-way street. I get instant feedback on my posts and get to have fun, real-time conversations with my customers. It also has bonus points like being able to befriend fellow sellers and get inspired by things people share. It’s also completely free (unless I want to promote a post) and helps my business get discovered through digital word-of-mouth (shares and DMs). 

Ashley, @curated.objects, opened May 2020: I've met some really cool internet friends. Honestly, that's kind of what's kept me sane throughout COVID and not being able to organically meet people in person. 

OK, we talked about the pros… what are the drawbacks of selling on Instagram? 

Jess McCreary, @shopsometimes_, opened October 2020: Not having a clear e-commerce system adds a lot of work to each transaction. The algorithm is also my worst enemy. It is constantly changing and making small businesses struggle everyday to have their posts be seen by their audience. 

Cha: Since there have been an overwhelming amount of IG vintage shops being born out of this pandemic, there's so many accounts you could purchase items from the last year or so—it's difficult to try to attract customers to your shop specifically. Also, Instagram isn't made for your computer as much as your phone, so there are features that I wish I could manage on my laptop but am unable to.

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Tokar: The drawback is time. Because every interaction that you have is a personal interaction, you're actually talking to people for every sale and that becomes pretty time-consuming. But I also wouldn't really want to give that up, either. 

Ray: Toxic social media behaviors are a thing, even for vintage sellers. People (sellers) get harassed and shade gets thrown all the time and these online dramas can spill over to people’s real lives and have real consequences. I’ve managed to stay out of most of those by staying as friendly, positive and anonymous on IG as possible, but I still fall victim to social comparisons and find myself feeling mildly depressed from time to time after hours of scrolling through other sellers' accomplishments and successes.

How has your perspective on changed over the past year?

Zhu: It's really cool seeing how you don't have to have a physical location to connect with people and for them to trust you as a business. Me and my partner, Robert, do deliveries ourselves when we can, so we get to meet and talk to customers. It's cool to build a little community over Instagram.

Ashley: It's a business and a hobby for me. When I’m not working my day job, which is a typical nine to five, I’m working on @curated.objects—per week, it’s another 30 to 40 hours. I love doing this, but definitely there have been some growing pains; at times, I have felt burnt out on having to spend hours packing these orders when I really just want to sit down and zone out for a little bit. 

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Tokar: I feel like if I put the work in to make it my primary income, I'm gonna like it less, whereas if it's not my primary income, I can focus on sourcing things that I really love, instead of feeling pressured into sourcing things that I know are going to make me money.

Karen Azarte, @peachypnwfinds, opened February 2020: I have to keep in mind that at the beginning of the month, people are paying their rent, so we don’t always see a lot of sales—and we get it, because we pay our bills too, so we try to keep that in mind when we price things. And then there are times when people are doing good, because businesses are back open so they’re being sent back to work. It comes in waves. 

What are some things you do to build an appealing profile people want to shop from?

Tokar: I think it's just finding your personal style. As I got more and more stuff, it just started coming together like, OK, I'm really drawn to these colors. I'm really drawn to these patterns, or I'm really drawn to like this type of art. Once you figure that out, you can just kind of… I don't know... get the vibe!

McCreary: I try my best to make my page look like an e-commerce platform (I am thankful enough to have a full-time job at a local ice cream company, handling e-commerce-related things). I want it to be clean and welcoming, since shopping via DM on Instagram is new to a lot of people. It can be a weird thing to new-comers and I want them to feel safe and that this transaction will be a smooth one.

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Crist: Lighting and props! The more I put into styling, the better things sell. People need to see how pieces can look their best in order to be really drawn to buy them, especially with the proliferation of shops out there. Your things have to stand out and call out to people.

What’s unique about being a reseller in your area? 

Azarte: I’m originally from Orange County, California and I moved to Oregon around two years ago—thrifting here is so different. I live in a small city, and it’s cheaper, you find more authentic vintage stuff, and a lot more older people are donating. Sometimes I have to control myself around all this amazing stuff! 

Ray: I have never been a reseller elsewhere, but I’m a firm believer that nothing can beat being a reseller in LA. My NYC-based reseller friends are always a little jealous of the celebrities and influencers I get to meet. Being an immigrant myself, I’ve also enjoyed being able to support LA’s many small local businesses (like hardware shops, framing shops, upholsterers, cleaning services etc) that are run by immigrants. I definitely can’t see myself running a vintage resale business for long in Cleveland Ohio.

Eloise, @thrifted_homestead, opened August 2020: I moved across the country this summer with my boyfriend—from Charleston, South Carolina to Boulder, Colorado. When I got to Colorado, going from the thrift stores I knew before to here… It’s like the Mecca of thrifts. My house became way over-furnished. 

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Tokar: Everything in [New York City] has pretty much been picked through for the most part. So the further away, you know, you go, the more stuff there is—outside of the city, I source from Connecticut, Jersey, deep Long Island. Aside from that, Craigslist and Facebook marketplace, but that's starting to get pretty picked through and like a bit overrun as well now, because I think people are starting to catch on.

What advice would you give to people looking to get into the Instagram resale game? 

McCreary: Selling secondhand goods isn’t as fun and glamorous as it appears on Instagram. The cute items and beautifully styled posts have a lot of hard work behind them. It’s a lot of late nights, rude DMs, sifting through dirty thrift stores, and putting yourself at risk to try and make a living doing something you love. Every time you walk into a thrift store or estate sale you think: Is this when I’m going to get COVID?

Cha: Source items that you love and not what is "in" right now. I found that once I figured out what I liked and developed my personal style on my account, it felt more natural, and in a sense easier, to wear all these different hats when running the account. 

Azarte: I tell my friend who I run the account with, ‘Make sure that what you buy is also something that you would like to keep,’ because sometimes our items don’t sell, maybe because a trend has gone away, so then we’re kind of stuck with that item.

Follow Katie Way on Twitter.