With many stuck at home over the pandemic winter and spring, scrolling and shopping on Instagram exploded. Nostalgic longing fuelled an interest in all things vintage, and women-owned Instagram-based shops took off in Sault Ste. Marie.
The market covers a wide swath: Everything from 90s fanny-packs to kitschy wooden dad joke plaques, from vintage Ralph Lauren to brass candlesticks and wicker chairs. Items are sourced, photographed and posted; often promoted organically using hashtags and Instagram stories.
“With the whole pandemic situation—being a mother also, I wanted to make a little extra cash but also do something I enjoyed doing,” says Lauren Moran, who works and attends school full-time in addition to running her shop, Virgot Vintage.
She features classic, preppy and casual looks, and creates her own pieces: “Blank t-shirts and custom embroidery with astrological signs - sun, moon and rising signs.” Her market skews toward 18-30-year-old women.
“With COVID, there was a definite gap with buying and selling,” adds Elise Nelson, who runs Lakeside Daisy Child. “People couldn’t go shop at the store. I had stuff already [sourced], so I started posting more often, and it picked up from there.”
“It’s ideal for mat leave,” says Nelson, who had pockets of time to source items, photograph and post them, and make local deliveries. With a focus on “nature prints, campy stuff, outdoorsy. Anything with 70s/80s/90s nostalgia. It’s been a fun way to make some extra income,” she says.
Jocelyn Orr, a long-time vintage seller, has seen increased interest in the local vintage market; particularly housewares. “Everyone is spending more time in their homes, so they want to make them comfy, and more their style,” she says. “Before the pandemic, you’d spend eight hours a day at work . . . your surroundings weren’t that important . . . Now people are renovating, refinishing, and learning to enjoy the environment around them. So home decor in general got a boost because of the pandemic.”
“Vintage can appeal to everyone; but my buyers are a fairly similar demographic to myself: younger moms to late 30s. They’re at that point when they’re starting to — I know for me, I lost my identity when I had my kids — now that they’re getting older, I’m finding [my identity] again, and I’m decorating my spaces around me to reflect more of that. I think it's a common age to start feathering your nest with the things that make you happy; you’re not worried about toddlers pulling things down.”
Orr sources items from all over Ontario, but prefers selling locally, rather than shipping things off. “I prefer the local connection of [dropping off]. It's really important to me that people are happy with what they’re getting.”
Originally from London, Ont., Deanna Finley worked as a product procurement coordinator for Habitat for Humanity after moving to the Sault. She was astonished by the gorgeous vintage pieces she regularly came across at the ReStore. “I knew there was a need for more vintage up here,” she says. “I thought: I’m going to give it a go.” She now runs Blooming Bohemian Vintage full-time. “I do this because I love it. It helps pay my bills but it helps fill my soul.”
Finley specializes in collections; like ‘In the Cabin’, or her latest, Wicker Wonderland: “The amount of wicker I keep is insane. My 88-year old grandmother can’t believe that wicker is back in style and people are buying it ‘on purpose’,” she laughs.
She loves the flexibility of the Instagram selling model, and wouldn’t dream of opening a brick-and-mortar at this point. “I like to travel. With a store, you have to really be settled. It wouldn’t be worth it for me.” Even without a physical location, she still enjoys the connections she makes. “I love meeting people… chatting with people on the front porch when picking stuff up from an estate sale or whatever. And I learn that this came from someone’s dad who used to hunt and fish all the time; I learn the story behind it.”
Nelson notes that her (mostly younger) clientele are moving away from disposable, fast fashion and want pieces that are memorable: “that have a story along with them; they [want to know] where it's from, where it was made,” she says. “It’s not just another piece of clothing that’s made overseas. You can do with less - a few meaningful items in your wardrobe, instead of having more crappy items. People care about the environmental impact; they’re not buying new every time.”
Vintage appeals because “the quality tends to be better than the stuff you find today,” says Orr. “And you have a better chance of finding something really unique and a little bit different.”
“I really love the feeling of rehoming a piece, and people being very satisfied,” adds Moran. “People posting photos of themselves in the items I’ve sold them; it brings me great joy. For someone with hoarder-ish tendencies,” she laughs, “I like knowing this is going off to a good home, where someone is going to love it for the rest of its lifetime.”
On Instagram, Finley has seen a lot of support for small businesses in the Sault. And with the growing interest in pre-loved treasures, there’s more than enough to go ‘round: “Women support other women here; it's a big draw for me,” she says. “I love being able to tell my customers - I don’t have that but I know someone else might - check out their shop,” she says. “I really like the feeling of cooperation rather than competition.”
“I’m 45 now. I started this when I was 42. I want other women to know that you can just start something brand new, on your own. I build this from nothing. It’s not easy all the time. But I love it and wouldn’t change it for anything.”