3 Small Vintage Business Owners Discuss How They’re Working Around Covid

Oct 6, 2020 | Interviews

Could you please introduce yourself and June Flower Vintage? 

My name is Emma Lillian. I started Juneflower last year very casually after finding some great pieces on a trip with my mom and sister that didn’t necessarily fit me but I knew someone would love. I have always loved vintage and one of my favorite parts of my job as a Stylist Assistant was sourcing vintage for shoots. I started a Depop shop and my website shortly after that and since everything shut down in March I have really been able to pour a lot more time and love into it. 

What’s your favourite city and why? 

New York is my favorite city. It is home to me and irreplaceable in my heart! I am lucky to have my family and most of my friends close by but I do think it’s cool that so many experiences you have in New York are individual which I think is unique to this city. There is a lot of opportunity for discovery and spontaneity.  

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from all of this? 

This period of time has taught me to be careful not to mistake being busy for having purpose. I think we are all getting an opportunity to take a step back and think about the impact of the lives we are living and who our work is benefitting. 

What has it been like owning a small business during Covid? 

It has honestly been very liberating! Working on Juneflower more full time has been a big change from my “normal” life and I am loving stepping into the role of curator and business owner. I get to work a part of my brain that doesn’t get much exercise otherwise and it has been incredibly rewarding.

Has the way you sourced your products changed because of the pandemic? How so? Prior to Covid I was sourcing almost entirely in person. I had to switch to doing more of my sourcing online but through that I found some great resources and amazing pieces I might not have come across otherwise. 

Do you have any criteria you use when you’re sourcing for products? If so, what are they? 

I don’t really have any specific criteria for sourcing aside from making sure the item isn’t damaged. In the beginning I felt a lot of pressure to make sure all of the pieces I was selling were authentically vintage even though I often gravitate towards clothes from the 90s – early 2000s. I have since moved past that way of thinking because I think what is most important to me is reducing waste and extending the life cycle of great pieces that would otherwise be discarded. Most of what is being thrown out or given away right now are pieces that would have been purchased in the last 20-30 years so I think it is counterproductive from a sustainability standpoint to only look for the rarest pieces. 

Lastly, what’s the most rewarding thing about owning a small business and what is your proudest moment with JFV to date? 

It has been incredibly rewarding to see people get excited about certain pieces or find something that they love or becomes their new favorite piece in their closet. Vintage is so much about nostalgia and what our young selves thought was cool or wanted to look like so I feel like sharing in that with someone feels special. 

Could you please introduce yourself and Juice Rack?

Hello! My name is Mia O’Neal and I am an 18 year old college student currently based in Southern California. I’m ultimately aspiring to be a creative director. I like to work and explore various mediums such as design, video, and photography and I run a primarily vintage shop on Depop! I started my shop last year with the intention of just cleaning out my closet, but here I am over a year later with over 500 sales lol. 

What’s your favourite song right now?

I’ve been revisiting some older albums lately and I’m really feeling Spiderhead by Cage the Elephant right now!

What’s your favourite city and why?

My favorite city would definitely have to be Tokyo. Maybe its because I am half-Japanese and love the urban scene, but every time I go I always leave feeling empty-handed, like I didn’t see enough of it. There’s just so much to consume— the culture, food, street style and the people. I pretty much think about her everyday and if someone ever wants to have a conversation about it, I probably could go on for hours, haha. My favorite cities within the Tokyo Prefecture are Shimokitazawa, what I consider an edgy and hip version of Harajuku, and Yanaka, a cat town! 

 How would you describe your own personal style in 5 words or less?

My personal style is still developing, but lately I’ve been really into this sort of kitsch, loose-fitting, combination of 90s Harajuku grunge and Mori Kei street look. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from all of this?

Through this pandemic, I’ve learned that I am a pretty independent individual and I value alone time for myself. I’ve learned how to have fun and be content with just being alone, rather than constantly being socially active and relying on others for my happiness. 

What has it been like owning a small business during Covid?

My shop has actually been doing pretty well during covid. In fact, I believe COVID has encouraged me to dedicate more time into curating pieces for my shop and I think without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. However with the pandemic, there’s obviously been extra precautions I have to take. For example, when I am thrifting, I always avoid going in already occupied aisles and frequently use my sanitizer.

 Has the way you sourced your products changed because of the pandemic? How so?

Definitely. I used to source strictly from the thrift stores, but now about 40% of my stock is found from spending long hours scouring through the internet for secondhand gems. I think not having access to thrift stores in the first half contributed to me resorting to this new method. I have also started branching out to garage/estate sales to source, and hopefully when I make enough, I can afford to checkout wholesale warehouses. I think that would be pretty dope.

Do you have any criteria you use when you’re sourcing for products? If so, what are they?

Lately, I have been getting more and more picky with what I pick up as I’ve learned I value quality over quantity. I definitely try to source solely vintage as those pieces tend to be higher quality and last longer, but I do not pick up items just because they are vintage or brand name. While I do believe some resellers value getting their income in over being considerate for others, I think it’s a common misconception about us. People think we all just grab everything high quality and name brand in the store, stripping people in need of ‘good” (which is subjective) stuff. I feel that’s not true for all of us. We often have our own niches and only buy pieces that fit that niche. I’ve been trying to figure out my niche, but generally I pick up things that fit my personal taste. I also try to incorporate a wide range of sizes, which can be a bit challenging at times. Especially when it comes to bigger sizes, you need to find this balance of saving pieces for the bigger sized peeps at the store so you’re not stripping stuff from them, while also keeping your shop as inclusive as possible. 

Lastly, what’s the most rewarding thing about owning a small business and what is your proudest moment with Juice Rack to date?

The most rewarding thing about owning a small business is not having to work a shitty minimum wage job, working under a corporate who could care less about me and gets rich off of exploiting others. It feels good to be a part of a shift away from the corporate monopoly, and work for myself while also enjoying what I do and sharing my appreciation for fashion. My proudest moment has to be qualifying for top seller status. In fact, I actually get my checkmark next Wednesday so that should be fun!

Could you please introduce yourself and Quell?

Hey, my name is Nediva Sokoll-Ward. I am the founder of Quell, a curated selection of vintage and contemporary designer garments. 

What’s your favourite song right now?

I’m definitely an old soul when it comes to music. I’ve been listening to Dreaming About You by the Blackbyrds on repeat for the past few weeks. 

What’s your favourite city and why?

New York City has been my home for the past five years. It’s one of the best cities in the world. Living here has pushed me to my limits in the most challenging yet best ways and has really made me a stronger woman. 

How would you describe your own personal style in 5 words or less?

Timeless, effortless and vintage-inspired. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from all of this?

Running Quell has taught me the importance of owning something. Whether it be a project or business, I think being able to earn money from something that is yours and that you created, is invaluable. Nothing ever happens overnight, but if you keep going you’ll see results. 

What has it been like owning a small business during Covid?

In the beginning, it was definitely difficult and I think for a lot of vintage and second-hand stores, sales declined as people lost their jobs due to covid and needed to save their money. However, I’ve had a lot more time and energy to put into Quell and began to sell on third-party marketplaces like Depop. This allowed me to reach a wider audience and sell a higher volume of products.

Has the way you sourced your products changed because of the pandemic? How so?

I personally love to online shop so I was getting a lot of my products from online sources to begin with. However, before the pandemic, I used to source a lot of my pieces from vintage stores in other states or countries while I was travelling. Due to lockdowns and travel restrictions I haven’t been able to do that, but it has given me more time to find some really rare items online. 

Do you have any criteria you use when you’re sourcing for products? If so, what are they?

My baseline criteria is always that the item has to be in good condition with only minor flaws, if any. Even our very old vintage items need to be in good, wearable condition. And of course, designer items need to be authentic and we authenticate every item before adding it into our inventory. Other than this, I now know which brands and designers customers gravitate towards and the silhouettes have to be relevant. 

I come from a styling background, so I tend to imagine each item in an outfit before I decide on it. We also release items in small collections instead of adding items into the shop one at a time. So when I source, I think about how each piece connects to the other and what will look best together when we shoot the lookbook. 

Lastly, what’s the most rewarding thing about owning a small business and what is your proudest moment with Quell to date?

Owning a small business gives you a sense of freedom that you don’t have when you work for someone else. Everything you do is to fulfill your own dream and not someone else’s. I think that sense of control and ownership is really satisfying. You have the power to make it what you want it to be. 

A few weeks ago, we had our first ever pop up shop downtown in East Village. This was definitely my proudest moment. Until then, we were only an online business, so to bring Quell to real life was really surreal. The in-person response to our garments was better than I could have imagined and we plan to have more pop-ups in the future with the possibility of eventually having a more permanent storefront.