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When I won those shoes, I inducted myself into the sometimes secretive, but not-so-secret community of Instagram vintage shopping — which, if you hadn't noticed, is having a moment.
Intrigued by my new favorite shop, I did a little digging. Na Nin has two locations in Richmond, Virginia and a gorgeous website stocking independent brands like Seaworthy, Nu Swim, Samantha Pleet, and others I hadn’t heard of. But the boutique’s vintage is only available in-store — and on Instagram.
"When I first started Na Nin, we only sold vintage," said founder Kate Jennings. "But over the years we've shifted our focus a bit — focusing on fragrances and collaborating with other designers and makers."
An avid traveler and vintage buyer, Jennings said that at one point, her basement became filled with her one-off vintage finds. There simply wasn't enough time in a day to shoot it all, edit the photos, and give each item a detailed description the way she does for the contemporary labels and hand-mixed fragrances sold on the shop's website.
"When we saw how immediate Instagram was and that people were literally selling their entire closets on there, we decided to make an account. It's been so fun to revisit and focus on vintage again," Jennings said. Since launching its vintage-only Instagram account in January, the Richmond-based boutique has already amassed a loyal following of over 5,700 followers.
That immediacy, as well as the relatively light lift required from both sellers and shoppers, is why Instagram has become the platform du jour for vintage, rather than sites like Etsy or eBay.
According to Kate Anderson Fort, co-owner of Oakland-based shop Mercy Vintage, it’s the best place to sell one-of-a-kind pieces.
"Sometimes things will come in, and if it works, it'll be up on the account within 15 minutes," said Fort. "It doesn't make sense to put all this work into a piece that's going to sell extremely quickly — it's not like we have two or three units of each item."
The no-fuss quality of the photos doesn't hurt, either. At Na Nin, Jennings and her business partners venture the streets of Richmond with an iPhone or a point-and-shoot camera about three to four times a week. Lucia Zolea, who started off as a model for Na Nin, is in charge of the Instagram; she’ll take photos of herself or her friends wearing some of the pieces. "We try to keep it simple and not worry about the pressure of having everything look extremely staged," Jennings said.
But the benefits of the straightforward platform go two ways — it’s not all about the seller. According to Grace Claire O'Neill, a photographer form the UK who has been following Na Nin for a few months now, having an item pop up on your feed is easier than browsing through a whole site. "I rarely browse a whole vintage store, so if I'm just flicking through Instagram and it's there, then it's more convenient and appealing," O'Neill said.
The rules of buying on Instagram are simple, and generally stick to some version of the following: The first person to comment with an email under an item of clothing will receive an invoice and will have to pay for said item within the hour. If you miss your chance, the item will go to a back-up commenter. And most sales are final, so you better choose wisely.
"I think it works because it's like checking out eBay and every single item is a ‘buy it now’ with thirty seconds left," said Beverly Ragon, the co-owner of Brooklyn’s Fox & Fawn — one of the first shops we noticed selling vintage via Instagram. "It takes that unique thrill of finding a killer secondhand score and amplifies it because shoppers are so competitive. You see something? You want it? You'd better not hesitate or it will be gone in a flash."
Comment sections turn into rapid-fire bidding wars the second an item is posted, with comments that range from, "Can you DM more photos?" to "I WANT!!!" and "Add me as back-up if that falls through!"
Which leads me to the final, unspoken rule of Instagram shopping: You don't talk about it. Not with your coworkers, your friends, not even your family members. Because the more commenters that are bidding, the less likely you'll be to score that one-of-a-kind piece you would have never found on your own.
Lauren Perez Burt, a hair and makeup artist for fashion and film in California, said she wants to keep Na Nin’s account under-wraps for this very reason. "I really wanted to keep it a secret because I know it will be so hard to get stuff from [Jennings] after she's blown up," Burt said.
Despite the sometimes competitive spirit, the platform also allows for a level of interaction just not possible on an e-commerce website. "The communication and relationships we've formed with the vintage audience is a lot more intimate compared to when people just buy off of our online shop," Jennings said. "We're honestly just having so much fun doing this."
Shoppers like me are having fun, too. Long gone are the days of digging and scavenging through racks and racks of stuffy, old clothes. Na Nin and similar high fashion vintage shops provide a virtual goldmine of affordable, on-trend pieces that can be yours for little more than a quick comment that frantically reads, "OMG, is this still available? RING ME UP!"
I have to admit, I'm getting pretty damn good at playing the game myself. (Pro tip: If you turn on post notifications for your favorite accounts, you'll be rewarded). But there's probably zero chance I'll be a winner for much longer — especially since I can't seem to keep my own shopping secrets to myself.