Andy and I have been selling vintage together for 14 years now, a little over three of those years on Etsy. Time for a behind the scenes post!
I was prompted to write this post by a couple things. First, awhile back (a long while back--last August) Maria of Adelaide Homesewn wrote a post about a dress she saved--how she found it in a dank warehouse and brought it back to life with cleaning, mending, and new buttons. It was such a great post, and I've been wanting to do something similar since I read it. Second, I started getting lots of messages--more than ever before--from folk on Etsy asking me to give them deals on items. My prices haven't gone up, and I realize these requests are at least partly due to the economy. Selling vintage is our sole source of income, and things like the high cost of gas definitely affect me and the business, too.
On the left is a lovely dress from Anthropologie called the Ephraim, that retails for $194.00. On the right is a 1950s dress from my shop that is priced at $68.00. I sometimes wonder if the person who is asking me to mark something down for her is willing to pay double or more for a new, factory-made (likely not as well made, quite possibly in sweatshop conditions) dress from a retailer like Anthropologie. I wonder whether the person asking for the discount realizes just what goes into the work I--and so many other fantastic vintage sellers on Etsy--do. (I realize lots of sellers do give discounts on request, and I have no issue with that! Everyone does business differently, and you need to be aware of that to successfully be in business. Most people on Etsy ask politely, and that's entirely fine and doesn't offend me.)
At any rate, I decided I was long overdue to show you a behind-the-scenes look at Small Earth Vintage...how the items in my shop get there, from start to finish.
The first thing a vintage seller has to do is source product. That's a full-time job in itself. And I'm not giving away any secrets, so you'll just have to trust me--it's a constant expenditure of time, work, and money.
Pretty much every piece is hand-washed in a basin of lukewarm water with Woolite, then hung and air-dried. A majority of items also require stain removal--single or multiple spot treatments, and/or soaks in Biz or Oxyclean.
Next--mending. It is rare that I have a dress or blouse in perfection condition with no seam separations that need to be fixed. I can't pass up a great item just because it has flaws, so I frequently have dresses with missing buttons or an unfinished hem. Those are easy repairs that even a non-seamstress like me can handle.
The next step is photographing. This has been one of the most continually challenging (and thus, for me, rewarding) aspects of selling vintage. I started out taking pictures on our deck. There was lots of lovely natural light, but also...lots of wind and snow. (Yes, I did attempt photographing in the snow in the depths of winter.) Eventually, Andy and I set up a photo studio in the only available space, our basement. Unfortunately, it's not filled with natural light, but we painted a wall white, set up some lights and screens, and with the help of photo editing, I'm pretty happy with most of my photos. However, I always feel like there's more work to be done on them and I'm always trying to make them better.
Writing listings--possibly the dullest, but definitely the most important, part of the process. This means doing any necessary research, and then describing every aspect of the garment, measuring it, and writing an engaging title and tags that will make it easy to find on Etsy and internet searches. I used to write cover copy for the books I edited, and never enjoyed that particularly, either!
Marketing. When I first started on Etsy, I'd just list vintage and it would sell. Bing bang boom. Now there is a ton of competition and it gets more and more difficult and time-consuming to stand out. Part of this is keeping the blog, Facebook page, and Twitter well updated without being annoyingly spammy. For me, it also means being on an excellent Etsy treasury team (TeamT International rules!). Not only do we promote each other through our treasuries, but the team has been an excellent resource for me on all aspects of business. And now and then when the company coffers have some extra funds--which, unfortunately, is not very often--I'll pay for advertising on a blog.
And then, finally, at the end of this rainbow of hard work, the pot of gold--a sale! Sold items are carefully packaged and weighed, shipping is printed out on my computer, and packages mailed from our cute little local post office. Yes, that's a ping pong table you see in the photo. I package shipments there, and when poor Andy wants to play some ping pong, it usually involves the removal and relocation of tons of Small Earth Vintage stuff. Just one of the many sacrifices we make! Seriously, Andy and I love this work. I know we both feel very lucky to be able to do what we love for a living. I hope you enjoyed this post, and hope I'm not just preaching the choir (I feel like a lot of fellow vintage sellers will likely be nodding their heads to much of this!).