On Running a Vintage Store on etsy

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I bought my first vintage dress in 2008. I was in love. The fabric! The pattern! The buttons! And it comes to my knees! (After years of shopping at H&M and Forever21, this was quite the surprise).

The love affair ended some time in 2010. It was mutual, no hard feelings. The passion had simply fizzled, and I’d left it to hang unworn, ignored, abandoned. I had many other vintage dresses now, dresses whose fabric, patterns, and buttons I liked even more. (I was very unfaithful, always on the lookout for the next best thing.)

What do you do with a vintage dress when you’ve decided it’s time to part ways? The consignment store that accepts all my impulse purchases from H&M and the Gap doesn’t take vintage. My friends are either not my size or they happily rock their own dress-free style. I could donate it and hope another vintage lover finds it at Value Village and cherishes it like I did. But oh my god, what if they put it out during the Halloween season and someone buys it as a costume?

And so I kept the dress, paralyzed by indecision. And then over the years, there were others, previously loved, now neglected, having a pity party in the dark part of my closet. I remember looking back there one day and thinking, “I have enough vintage for a teeny tiny store.”

Lightbulb! Etsy is a place for teeny tiny stores—for vintage lovers rather than Halloween dabblers.

And so in 2015, a little over a year ago, I launched my etsy store, Hooray Holiday. And this morning, I just made my 29th sale. Is that a lot of sales? No, it’s not. And I’m okay with that. My etsy store is a fun hobby, not my full-time job (I already have one of those). My philosophy: if it sells, great; if it doesn’t, great—I get to keep it a bit longer.

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Here are some things worth knowing if you’re interested in opening up your own teeny tiny vintage shop (or etsy store of another kind).

1. Having an etsy store doesn’t cost that much. I just paid my etsy bill for the month. It was $5.60 USD. But I made two sales this month. Usually it’s about $0.60, because I don’t sell a lot. I imagine top sellers have top bills, but then they can afford to pay those bills because they’re a top seller. The details: it costs $0.20 to post a listing and when you make a sale you are charged 3.5% of the list price. So this morning I sold a pair of vintage boots for $60: it was $0.20 to list them and $2.10 to sell them, so $2.30 USD in total (plus the cost of the actual boots, of course). But it’s obviously approximately a gazillion times cheaper than an actual brick-and-mortar store and approximately a million times cheaper than renting a booth at a market (don’t quote me on the math).

2. It’s easy. I’m adding in this point because every single time I type “etsy” into my word document, it autocorrects it to “easy.” Stop it, Microsoft Word. But it’s right though. Etsy is easy.

3. But it takes a lot of time. My usual process: find something I think is a great piece of vintage. Buy it. Research the crap out of it to make sure it’s actual vintage (etsy will not allow you to sell something that is less than 20 years old). Clean it. Take measurements of it. Take photos of it. Upload photos of it to site and write a detailed description. Price it. List it. If it sells, package it. Take it to the Post Office. I would estimate that all this takes me about 1-2 hours per piece. Sometimes, for a profit of only $10 (but I’m not in it for the money, obviously.)

4. Shipping is the worst part. I always underestimate how much it will cost to ship something because shipping in Canada is more expensive than health care in the United States (not actually true). But on your etsy store, you have to list a shipping price before you actually ship something, and I always worry that if I list the shipping price too high, an item won’t sell. So I lowball it (I like to set the shipping around $10, even though I know it’s going to be more like $15). And then I end up losing some of the profits. My $10 profit becomes $5 (this is why I teach English, not business).

5. You do need some things to run a vintage shop.

a) You need actual vintage, which means you have to know where to look and know how to date things. Luckily there are great online resources for dating vintage. Check out The Vintage Label Resource and Chronologie Vintage’s post.

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b) You need a dress form/mannequin unless you’re willing to model ever single item (I’m too lazy to do my hair/makeup and I don’t have a 24” waist so I do need my dress form; her name is Vivienne if you’re wondering).

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c) You need a blank white or neutral coloured wall against which to take photos, which means if you’ve covered every blank surface of your home in photos/art/shelves to hold knick-knacks like I have, things are going to be difficult and annoying for you.

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d) You need a camera. A phone camera will do, but a better camera is obviously . . . better.

e) You need shipping supplies. Shipping supplies can get expensive. I like to buy bubble mailer envelopes in bulk from office supply stores. I can fit dresses, blouses, and even sweaters in the larger sized envelopes, and an envelope is much cheaper to ship than a box. Shoes/boots are a bit trickier. I save every shoebox I can get my hands on and just use these. Sure, the buyer might get their new vintage oxfords in a New Balance box for size 10 running shoes (I have big feet, okay?!), but hey, I’m recycling. Let’s call it eco-friendly shipping.

Am I an etsy expert? No. Am I even turning a profit? Only the teeniest and tiniest of one. But hey, 42 minutes ago etsy user Ashley “liked” a skirt in my shop. So that’s something.

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