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The last time I was at a mall (regular, not antique!), I noticed something.
It wasn’t that quiet feeling of desperation I now get when I see the volume of newly manufactured products, languishing before leaving for landfill.
It wasn’t that the youth looked bored by the endless options before them, as Kealan Sullivan, owner of 69 Vintage, recently told me.
Nope, it was the signs in the windows.
Two-, three-, often four-feet high at times. Words in big, bold, capital letters, all seemingly screaming at me to come on in and buy, buy, buy.
60% markdown! Buy five get one free! Clearout sale! Save the tax! TODAY ONLY!
I get it. Retail sales are in a downturn: here in Canada, they fell 1.4 per cent (nearly $1 billion) in March over February, according to Statistics Canada. These mall storefronts do what they can to usher people in the door and survive to see another day.
Economic slowdown or not, we see these kinds of sales everywhere, all the time.
Hop onto a website and then somehow an hour later you’ve got an email in your inbox that you’ve left an item in your cart and did you really want it, you did didn’t you, well here’s an extra 10% off if you decide to go ahead, but it expires in 24 hours.
And before you close that window, here’s a pop-up telling you that if you just do x, y and z, you can actually get it for $19.99.
But you’ve gotta ACT NOW.
It all fuels a mindset to keep buying, even if we don’t really need or want the item in the first place.
Shopping from independent vintage and secondhand shops is a bit different. You’re more removed from the retail experience we’re all used to. There’s a human-to-human element that comes with shopping from small businesses that you don’t get at the mall.
Yup, vintage stores are still selling you stuff. Follow a reseller on social media or sign up for their emails and they’ll probably hold a store promotion at some point.
But it’s not the in-your-face thing that we are used to seeing. You don’t stroll into a vintage clothing market only to see a giant sale sign.
You don’t get lured into a vintage shop because there’s a poster on the window telling you that if you buy four rare Pyrex, you get two free.
You don’t expect that there’s going to be a Boxing Day blowout on that Milo Baughman table. (Least of all because there were only 100 ever made.)
The price of vintage is the price — and the price is set because of market value, and the time and labour that goes into sourcing these products.
The price tags quietly hang there. No red marker showing you the “rollback” price. (Unless you're at a vintage market in the hour before the vendors pack up...and that's because they don’t want to pack it all up again!).
Kinda peaceful, isn’t it?
Here’s one reason why: Many resellers are conscious of how consumption has impacted the environment. They wrestle with their desire to divert products from the landfill, their guilt over further feeding consumer consumption habits by selling products...and their need to make a living.
There are some resellers out there who would rather cannibalize their own earnings by actively discouraging their customers from buying too much. That’s how deep this goes.
The secondhand-first mindset is still new for a lot of people. As a buyer, you can’t just get whatever you want, whenever you want. You’re limited to item quantities of one.
With clothing, there’s size availability — if a seller has one size and it’s not yours, you literally can’t buy it. There are not 20 more options in every size and colour.
Most of the time, sellers have so much inventory (which speaks to how much product is out there) you need to go through it slowly and carefully.
Shopping secondhand is not an in and out process. It takes time. You’re forced to slow down and hunt for what you’re looking for.
And that flies in the face of how we’ve always done it as consumers.
I recently touched on the way we consume with Cris Herrera, founder of Naturspired, for an episode of their podcast all about the pros and cons of secondhand fashion, and how the secondhand market is driving innovation in fashion industry. We discussed apparel specifically, but a lot of the insights extend to the entire secondhand market.
In that podcast, I talked about secondhand being a critical part of the circular economy (a reduce-reuse system considered to be a way to combat climate change).
If the idea is to consume less, shopping secondhand is your first step. Search for used items and you’ll quickly see the amount of stuff that already exists.
It makes saying no to those mall blowout signs so much easier.
To listen to the podcast, check out the episode details below.
Does shopping secondhand feel slow and intentional for you? Let me know by replying to this email.
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