Make A Living Selling Vintage Online
You can make a living selling vintage online. In this article, you will learn the following:
1. Selling Vintage Online
2. Starting A Vintage Business
3. Making Money From Vintage Clothing
4. Best Place To Sell Vintage Clothing Online
5. Ways You Can Actually Make Money Selling Vintage
What if you could shop for a living? No, we’re not talking mystery shopping, or even working as a personal stylist. This job entails shopping at thrift stores, garage sales and even other people’s closets.
Vintage has long been back in style, especially because every piece is so unique. If you find a piece of vintage clothing from the ‘50s, ‘60s or ‘70s, there’s a good chance you’ve found the last one on Earth. And if you learn how to find those one-of-a-kind, highly sought-after vintage pieces in the wild, you can resell them online to make a profit.
Sound easy? That’s not entirely the case. Selling vintage clothing on Etsy isn’t a way to make a quick buck. But when you have a passion for paying homage to fashion of decades past, the work doesn’t (always) feel like a job.
That’s exactly the case for Lora Conrad, the owner of Hungry Heart Vintage. Over the past few years, she’s built her Etsy shop into a profitable business. Conrad sells about 20-30 pieces a month through her shop, as well as a few more through private purchases.
She gave us some insight into how she got started, how she finds and prices her pieces, and how she’s built her Etsy business into a job she loves going to every single day.
Scrounge High and Low
When asked how she finds her pieces, Conrad says, “Lots and lots of scrounging!” Estate sales, flea markets, garage sales, antique malls in the middle of nowhere, you name it. Conrad is always on the hunt for new pieces she can breathe new life into and sell.
One surprising way she acquires new pieces is through private appointments. “People don’t realize that, much of the time, I get my inventory because someone has just passed away,” she said.
“Private buying appointments are by far my favorite ways of acquiring vintage,” she said. “I love taking the time to sit down with people as we go through their old clothes, or more often, their late loved one’s clothes. I get to learn all about the women who wore them, and when I leave I feel like I’m leaving with more than just dresses. I’m leaving their homes with bits of their family history that will live on through others.”
When she first started selling vintage, Conrad didn’t anticipate this would be part of her job. “But it makes me happy when I can help people through that time, even in such a miniscule way,” she said.
Swimsuit season arrived a couple months ago — including in Conrad’s shop. She constantly keeps her shop fresh and lists what’s in season.
That means swimsuits and party dresses in the summer, cardigans and scarves in the fall. If she finds a stellar vintage coat on a summer thrifting adventure, she won’t post it until cooler weather arrives. It’s not just that she can get more money when an item is in season. It also keeps her selling costs as low as possible.
Etsy charges $0.20 for each listing. If it doesn’t sell within four months, it costs another $0.20 to relist the item. By posting in-season pieces that will likely sell within four months, Conrad only needs to pay the listing fee once.
She also runs promotions, especially during holidays like Black Friday. Running a 20% off promotion during the already high-shopping holiday season brings more customers to her shop and moves more product off her virtual shelves. While this entails much more work — more shipping, more back and forth with customers, and more time to keep her store stocked — Conrad finds the extra revenue she makes during this time provides a nice buffer for the post-holiday shopping slump.
Build Your Brand
Conrad doesn’t spend all her time on her Etsy shop. She’s also active on Facebook and has 1,700 Instagram followers, where she shares not only new listings, but also sneak peeks of what’s coming soon and behind-the-scenes photos of her workday and “shop assistants” (a dog and two cats.) This puts a face on Hungry Heart Vintage, so her customers can get to know the woman behind the shop.
Though it’s more difficult to track the value of the time she spends building the Hungry Heart brand, Conrad does occasionally make sales through Instagram.
Conrad also blogs about how to blend vintage and modern style. She’s kind of like a vintage clothing advisor. “Vintage clothing isn’t just for vintage enthusiasts, and just because something is old doesn’t mean it has to be styled that way,” Conrad said in a recent blog post.
Dedicate Yourself to the Details
Glowing reviews attract more people to your shop. And on the other side of the coin, a bad review can turn someone away. The best way to acquire those happy customers, then entice them to leave you a five-star review? Go above and beyond their expectations.
To begin with, Conrad spends a great deal of time preparing clothes for sale. Cleaning and repairing is time consuming. “Some pieces need to be soaked and hand washed several times to get the decades of dirt out,” she said.
Then Conrad gets extremely detailed in how she describes each item. She includes measurements as well as information about fit, material, brand and condition. She always lets customers know about any imperfections and provides a range of photos for each item.
After the sale, Conrad artfully packages her orders and writes notes to thank her customers.
“Packing takes quite a bit of time, but that’s on me,” Conrad said. “I love packing up orders and making them look pretty, so I’m happy to spend a lot of time on that.”
With review after review from her customers thanking her for a pleasant shopping experience, Conrad has built the trust that will bring new customers to her shop.
Develop a Pricing Formula
One of the trickiest parts of selling vintage clothes is pricing. Some pieces are more rare than others, so are worth more. Some pieces Conrad finds for cheap, others she has to pay more for up front. Many require a great deal of time and money (dry cleaning, new zippers or buttons) to bring up to selling condition.
So how much does she make on the stuff she resells?
“It’s hard to say from piece to piece,” Conrad said. “Sometimes you find a treasure on its way to someone’s dumpster or in your neighborhood thrift. Other times, between the cost of purchasing the items, plus the cost of cleaning supplies or having it professionally cleaned, repairs, the mark up is fairly slim.”
Since so much wildly varies in how much she pays and invests in each piece, Conrad doesn’t aim for a certain margin every time. And she doesn’t even bother with trying to factor in her own labor hours. “The only formula I use to mark up items is, L=0. That’s ‘Lora pays herself no money per hour for her labor.’ “
Just like other successful Etsy sellers, Conrad does not deny how much work she puts into finding, preparing and selling her pieces. “I’ve never tracked the hours it takes to see a piece through from start to finish, but I know I’m done when my lower back hurts.”
When she first started selling vintage, Conrad didn’t anticipate this would be part of her job. “But it makes me happy when I can help people through that time, even in such a miniscule way,” she said.
Selling Vintage Online
Vintage clothing has always been a popular collecting field but in recent years it has grown exponentially. In 2013 a hoard of vintage clothing was discovered when clearing an elderly women’s estate worth £100,000. One designer dress was even found up the chimney in the woman’s house.
You never know those clips on earrings your mother bought in 1952 or that dress you wore in 69 may have now doubled or even tripled in price. So how do you make sure you get the most out of your vintage clothes when selling? Below our fashion maven Charlotte outlines seven of the easiest ways to get more bangs for your buck when selling fashion online.
1. Show your clothing on a mannequin or model
This allows potential customers to get a better idea of how the piece would lay on their own figure. Also make sure to get a front and back image.
2. Include the measurements
If clothing included the sizes printed in the dress and the year if possible as sizes have changed over the years, for instance a US 4 UK 6 in 1960 would not be a size 4 in present day. Sizes also vary between designers so it’s important to include that as well, even if the designer is not a well known.
If you are putting it on a model you can also include the dimensions by measuring the fit your- self. If you are selling accessories such as a purse, belt or a ring you should also include the dimensions where possible. For a purse include the strap length and dimensions, for a ring you would need the ring size and
3. Take up close picture of any unique aspects of your items
Are the buttons to the dress intricate? Does your necklace have unique charms on it? Or does the skirt have a unique pattern or texture? You should take a closer up image to show potential buyers.
4. Group items together
If you have some fairly low value items you could group them together and sell them on eBay as a bundle making it more desirable to a broader base. For instance vintage bangles, vintage rings and a grouping of clip-on 1950s earrings. This group would then catch the eye of individuals looking for clip on earrings, rings and bracelets.
5. Note the time of year you are selling the item
During the summer, it is best to avoid the obvious winter items such as furs, gloves, and hats. Vice versa for the winter, bathing costumes, sundress and sunhats.
6. Include them in a theme sale
Theme sales helps to make sure the buyers that are regularly drawn to your piece get the notification. Serious buyers have set up varying alerts for these types of sales and know where to buy.
7. Make your listing stand out
You make your items seem personal by saying things such as “this is the dress I wore when I met my husband- I hope it can bring such luck to some one else” or “ Every time I wear this I get noticed and so will you”.
Starting a Vintage Business
Quite a few years ago now I started my own business selling vintage clothes. It was one of those ideas that you suddenly get and have to act on straight away. Within a day of having the idea I was signing up for an online shop and running around charity shops looking for vintage bargains. It all seemed so straight forward and easy, little did I know what hard work it would actually turn out to be.
I don’t sell vintage clothing so much now. Mainly because I have two children now and less time. Also because I was sick of storing hundreds of vintage clothes in the house. When I started buying vintage it was far cheaper and easier to get your hands on. With the massive rise in vintage’s popularity in recent years the prices on sites like Ebay have trebled. With Etsy becoming more and more popular in the UK it is easier for more people to sell vintage as well.
I know a lot of people start vintage businesses and give up very quickly. There are loads of reasons for this, but here are my top tips for starting a vintage business…
1. Don’t do it unless you really are passionate and knowledgeable about vintage. You need to know exactly what to look out for when buying and you need to accurately date and describe everything.
2. Make a large investment. Although the temptation to start out with cheaper newer pieces is there, I wouldn’t recommend it. There are thousands of sites selling 80s and 90s ‘vintage’. Why not take your time and save a little. Buy a few incredible pieces at auction that will make your business stand out a mile. It’s better to have 10 amazing pieces on your site than 50 mediocre ones.
3. Invest in a beautiful logo. The first thing anyone will see when viewing your brand for the first time is your logo. It’s worth getting a professional to help you out here. Once you have your logo use it on EVERYTHING.
4. Build a strong brand. Make your company stand out by creating a brand. Your logo will help with this. This is another place to spend money. Your name should be on everything – flyers, tags, bags, packaging, business cards, hangers – anywhere where people will see your products it is essential that they come away with a sense of your brand and hopefully your web address. If you are at a vintage event there could be 100 stalls selling vintage, you want yours to be the name they remember.
5. Use PR. The best way to get yourself noticed is to get as much press as possible. I was so lucky when I started my business that I had a friend who knew how to write amazing press releases. I spent hours and hours sending them out to magazines, websites and bloggers and got some amazing coverage.
6. Advertise. Advertising can be very expensive, but it’s well worth every penny. Choose to advertise on and offline in places where they are likely to be spotted by your target customer.
7. Use social media and newsletters – have a newsletter sign up on your site as well as details of all your social media. Let your customers and fans know when you have new stock.
8. Take amazing photos. Another place to spend the money is on having amazing photos of your stock. I’d recommend taking your product photos on a tailors dummy with a plain background. Keep it simple and let the clothes speak for themselves. For your homepage and social media have a professional photo shoot done, with a professional photographer, make up artist and hairstylist working with professional models. Again this is a chance for your brand to stand out, and it’s great to have a stock of images to use on promotional materials
9. Don’t just sell online. There are so many sites out there that the best way to make money selling vintage is offline. Be prepared to give up your weekend and sign up for every vintage fair, market and vintage event in your area. Stalls can be a little pricey. When I sold at vintage fairs I teamed up with a friend who sold vintage jewellery and we shared a stall. It’s also worth looking into local pop-up shops.
10. Don’t expect overnight success, it takes a while to get your name out there. You can build hype for your launch by sending out press releases, working hard to build a social media following and even holding a launch party. Be prepared to put many hours into promoting your new business.
11. Start small. If you’re not ready to launch a full site and everything that goes with it, why not start by selling on Ebay, Etsy or Asos Marketplace. It’s a lot less complicated and it’s a great way of getting experience of what sells and for how much.
12. Keep records. Be organised and carefully catalogue every penny that goes in and out of your business, it makes filing tax returns so much easier. If you feel daunted it might be worth seeking help from an accountant.
13. Don’t buy every piece of vintage you see. It can be very easy to buy every vintage bargain you see, however remember to be selective and only invest in the right pieces.
14. Have somewhere to keep your stock. Vintage clothes need to be stored properly, so make sure you actually have room to store it all. The last thing you need is your business taking over your house.
Make Money From Vintage Clothing
If you’ve got your heart set on auctioning your goods off, try SpecialistAuctions, which has a specific section dedicated to vintage wear.
You can also check out local auction houses, to see if they have any vintage clothing auctions running in the near future. If they don’t have an auction specifically for vintage clothing however, it probably isn’t worth bothering with.
You can reach thousands amongst your target market by displaying your goods on a specialist website. Whereas, a real life auction without your specific audience will attract a couple of bidders at the most.
If you’ve picked up anything particularly classy on your travels, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, (from the website CandySays), describing your items. Include some pictures if possible, and she’ll let you know whether or not she wants it for her online store and for what price.
Of course, to get an idea of value for your items, you could haul them along to your local vintage store and just ask them for advice.
You never know, they might even offer you a nice wad of cash for what you’ve got.
Making a full-time living by buying and selling vintage clothing and shoes isn’t something you should think about unless you’re an expert in the field.
At best, you can expect to earn a few quid by buying an item for a couple of pounds and selling it on for a double figure.
The big money will be made by buying designer wear and big names as an investment. Labels like Chanel, Givenchy and Dior, for example, will only increase in value as time goes by – providing the articles are in good condition.
Best Place To Sell Vintage Clothing Online
A number of other online marketplaces are offering easy to use selling platforms positioned at the vintage clothing sector.
• A Sense of Fashion
• Ruby Lane
• Ruby Plaza
• Market Publique
eBay and Etsy are more expensive, but that’s because they have far more traffic and established vintage clothing scenes. At this point using the other services would be like opening a retail store on a rural side street as opposed to a busy vintage clothing mall downtown.
These newer services also haven’t gone through the buying and selling growing pains as the two big players.
Unless you’re well versed in driving your own targeted traffic I would suggest starting with eBay or Etsy. If you want to move the clothing quickly go with eBay because their auction feature. If you don’t mind being patient, want to maintain a store and see potential in vintage clothing as a continued business, start with Etsy.
What Sells Best On eBay
Selling on eBay isn’t about luck, especially if you don’t want to be a one-and-done auctioneer. If you have any plans for consistency or moderate to serious money making, selling on eBay is all about knowing what sells the best. Logic, in this case, turns out to be the correct place to begin. As you would imagine, there are things that always sell well on eBay, and then there are things that get “hot,” that sell like hot cakes for a couple months and then never appear again.
I’ll break my list of “What Sells the Best on eBay” into these two categories: “classics” and “hot cakes.” Once you know what sells, check out this five-star course to learn how to make money online without spending money up front.
Classics are wonderful because you can rely on them. They also aren’t going anywhere (being classics) so the one draw-back is that they don’t sell as quickly as out “hot cakes” items. But that’s OK. Think about classics as a seller’s bread and butter.
• Clothing and Clothing Accessories
Clothing has always sold well online, but the accessories are the stars of this show. Fine jewelry is practically a guarantee; it doesn’t have to be gold or platinum, either; in fact, better if it’s not. Silver jewelry sells the most consistently, especially if it’s relatively unique (as in the kind of thing you would find at a small, local jeweler). Watches are always in demand, too.
Women’s handbags and purses are a gold mine. You won’t be able to charge exorbitant prices, but you don’t need to. Even at half off these are going to fetch a pretty penny. Nice shoes, such as boots (hiking, cowboy, etc.) or anything designer-made, are also fine options.
Anything vintage or antique is literally and figuratively a classic. Paintings, sculptures, collectibles, coins, perfume bottles, tobacco tins, guns, cars (it might sound crazy, but you can flip cars on eBay for fun and profit), stamps, etc. It doesn’t even have to be relevant: if it’s old and has moderate beauty and/or character, there’s a good chance it will sell well.
• Sporting Equipment
From a famous pair of boxing gloves to a nice set of second hand cleats: sports equipment almost always sells. The exception would be things that fall are old, but not vintage (football pads from the 90s, for example). It should either be old or close to new.
• Stars’ Memorabilia
Actors, musicians, sports figures, comedians. If you have classic movie posters or anything with an authentic touch of fame, it will sell. The world is full of collectors who would open their pocket books to a handkerchief Babe Ruth wiped his forehead on. If that made you excited to sell on eBay, check out this guide to becoming a successful eBay entrepreneur.
Just when you thought the book was dead, it turns out to be a best-selling item on eBay. This is probably due to the fact that it is non-fiction that sells the best. Historical books or books on obscure subjects are excellent finds.
You might be surprised to learn that a large number of the toys sold on eBay are for adults. That’s because older toys, such as collectibles (American Girl dolls, Beanie Babies, etc.), are still being collected. A fool-proof way to get someone’s attention is to sell multiple items that belong to the same collections; your own collection, for example. Legos never go out of style, so if you have some old Star Wars classics, think about making somebody’s day.
Hot Cakes have a narrow window for eBay, but they have two advantages over classics: 1) they sell faster, 2) they sell for higher profit margins.
This one is obvious. The latest or second-latest version of the newest phone, tablet or computer has a good chance of selling almost immediately. Video games, too (this article has some great advice on how to sell video games online). This is due to the fact that people want these items right away, before they get any closer to going out of style. There are even some electronics that belong on the classics page, such as this original Apple computer that sold for almost $400,000.
• DVDs / Vinyl
Movie collections with DVD and BlueRay items have been selling well for the past few years. The newer the movie, the narrower the window for getting a solid price for it. Vinyl has also been selling well recently. Even though much of the vinyl is vintage, I included it on hot cakes because the current prices are sky high and the current culture is obsessed. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this phase die out within the next few years. Here’s some additional free advice on how to sell on eBay and the top mistakes beginners make.
You would think with that since every phone, tablet and computer has a camera on it, that cameras would be null and void at this point. But I think it’s this very reason that is making them hot. Cell phone cameras aren’t as good as they’re made out to be, and you look idiotic taking a picture of the Grand Canyon on a cell phone (I mean, seriously?). Americans are into vintage items, and photos captured on real film are not only stunning, but they offer a classic feel. So even old cameras are selling well. But if you have an “old” Nikon D40, those are solid items too. A quality digital camera is on pretty much everyone’s personal wish list.
While the old Polaroid cameras can be bough for about $5 at your local thrift shop, the film is incredibly rare. So if you have any old Polaroid film laying around . . .
• Trending Items
The truth is, hot cake items are constantly changing on eBay. The ones listed here are categories that are unlikely to change, while the items within them will. You can stay on top of the hot cake items for free with eBay’s Popular Items page. It’s up to date and allows you to search in any area imaginable. Plus it’s full of free tips, such as hot key words, specific models, etc.
Now that you know what’s classic and what’s hot, use this course’s trade secrets to learn how power sellers make millions on eBay.
Ways You Can Actually Make Money from Selling Vintage
Selling vintage is appealing because it doesn’t require you to create new products for your buyers directly. There’s certainly a lot of work in finding the right items to sell, but it’s a very different type of work.
But vintage comes with its own set of costs, which can bring down your bottom line. If you’re going to make money selling vintage, whether it’s clothes, accessories or something else entirely, you need a strategy.
1.Track What You’re Selling
Before you can increase your earnings, you need to know what you’re already making and what’s selling well for you. Track what you earn from each item — which means you need to know what you paid for the item, how long you’ve had it and if you had to reduce the price at any point.
You have to be religious about keeping your records up to date. The information you track is the basis of what moves you can take in the future to improve your business.
It’s true in just about every type of business, but specialization is one of the easiest ways to increase your income. That’s because it’s easier to build a following if you’re offering similar items consistently. If your buyers know that you’re the person to see about vintage furniture from a particular designer or vintage clothing in a particular color, you’re going to be the first seller who comes to mind when they’re shopping for something specific.
As you’re choosing your speciality, keep in mind what’s going to make sense from a business perspective. If you notice in your records that you can easily sell certain items at a good profit, those items should be your starting point for choosing a niche. Of course, you also need to be able to get your hands on such items regularly in order to specialize.
Add in a little of your own preferences, as well. The financial aspect is important, but if you don’t enjoy the niche you’re working in, tweak it or consider your own preferences until you find something that both pays and will be pleasant to work with. At the very least, you want a specialization that you can read up on and develop expertise around without driving yourself mad.
3. Cultivate Your Sources
Especially if you have a narrow selection of items you’re looking for, you’ll find yourself going to the same suppliers over and over again. Build solid relationships with your suppliers: if a particular local shop will call you immediately when certain items come in or a a seller who you usually have to traipse out to the flea market to find will drop off your purchases at your home, you’ll be able to get a more regular supply of items to sell.
You still need to look for serendipity, as well, but make the process of sourcing vintage items as easy as possible on yourself.
4. Have a Backup Plan for Items You Can’t Sell
There will always be pieces with stains you didn’t notice or a pattern that proves impossible to sell. Putting out items that are of a lower quality than your usual supply isn’t going to help you: your customers will get the idea that you don’t always have the best quality and you’ll distract them from the items that will sell well.
Just what you plan to do with your leftovers will depend on your specialty. Repair may be an option in some cases. Some items can be remade, even though the results may not be vintage afterwards — they can still be sold, which will help your bottom line. You may want to create a hierarchy of options on how to deal with different items. But don’t put yourself in a position where you’re indefinitely storing items you can’t sell or you’re throwing them out. Neither option will help your finances.
5. Build an Audience
Just listing items for sale online isn’t enough. You need to make sure that you have potential buyers checking in on what you’re offering on a regular basis. You need a loyal audience. Just how you can build that audience varies, but at the most basic level, you need to build a connection that goes deeper than just making a sale. If potential buyers tune in to read your most recent post about how you choose items or your ideal vintage Halloween costume or any other personal story, you’re going to be more likely to have an ongoing relationship with your audience. Among other benefits, that means that you may be able to sell multiple items to one person.
Think about what you enjoy doing beyond just finding and listing items. You can send out email newsletters, write a blog, post photos and do so much more that it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a good way for you to build an audience based on your interests and abilities.
6. Learn to Take Amazing Photographs and Write Great Copy
If you haven’t already, invest time — and possibly some money — in ensuring that you can showcase your vintage items to their full potential. If you need to take a class to improve your photography skills or you need to hire an editor to work with your copy, do it.
The alternative is hiring someone else to take your photos or write your copy. That’s an expensive way to up your game: a good photograph may significantly increase the amount of money you can earn in a single sale, but it’s not always enough to pay for having a photographer help you.
7. Provide Fantastic Customer Service
Making sure that your customers get exactly what they’re expecting is harder when you’re selling vintage than when you have a whole stack of identical items in the back room. It’s necessary to up your customer service game.
At every step of the process of purchasing and receiving one of your vintage items, your buyers need to feel like they’re being taken care of. While such approaches can improve your customers overall willingness to recommend you to others, it can also reduce the number of returns or complaints from buyers that they got something that was okay, but not actually what they wanted.
8. Reach Out to Your Fellow Sellers
You don’t just need relationships with the people who buy what you’re selling. You also need to network among other sellers. It may be a secondary network — of course, I’d rather spend time with a prospective buyer than another seller — but done correctly, connections with your fellow sellers can pay off.
You can do joint sales, trade items that will sell better with another vendor, get tips on handling difficult situations and so much more. Even being able to shop together with someone looking for different items within the broad category that is vintage can mean that you can buy the bigger items that require some help to move or get feedback from a second pair of eyes before you spend your money.
9. Test Different Outlets
If you’ve got one place that you know you can sell your vintage items without too much hassle, it’s tempting to just stick with it. But unless you test out other venues, you’ll never know if you can charge higher prices or move items faster elsewhere.
Set clear goals for any new marketplace you try out: if it can’t beat the places you’re already selling in within a set amount of time, cut your losses. The same holds true with any marketing project or effort to otherwise promote your vintage stock.
10. Operate Like a Business, Not a Hobby
More than a few people get into selling vintage as an excuse to grow their personal collections — after all, it’s easy to justify buying more clothes, furniture or other items than you can possibly use if you promise to sell at least some of them soon. If you want to earn a regular income that can continue to grow from your vintage sales, though, you need to treat what you’re doing as a business, rather than as a way to extend your own closet.
That means thinking about marketing, accounting and all the other details that go into operating a business. It also may mean letting go of some of the pieces you love, but don’t have room for. The moment you sold your first piece, you started a business. Take it to the next level.