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Caroline Mills had never been one to collect things. She didn't have a Pokemon card or a Spice Girls sticker collection growing up. But now the 26-year-old Bushwick resident and native New Yorker is in possession of somewhere between 160 pins.
It all began about a year ago, when Mills starting picking up vintage pins from antique stores in upstate New York and at Oriental Trading Company during a trip to San Francisco. Then she went to the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 and pin collecting turned into a slightly unhealthy obsession.
"I liked that I could own something that an artist I liked created without having to spend a lot of money, and I could wear it all the time, as opposed to just having it in my house," she told Racked. "What made me obsessed with it was being able to own a piece of small art."
Plus, $7 pins are probably the most affordable art out there to collect. "I like that they're cheap because otherwise I would be really broke because of my addiction to them," Mills said.
It makes sense that Mills would collect art in any form: her career involves going to galleries, pop-ups, trade shows, and art fairs. She works in Design Partnerships at Target, meaning she helps Target link up with cool designers like Marimekko and Lilly Pulitzer to create collaborations.
It's a dream job for Mills; and it's something that she never knew existed. Mills grew up in Tribeca and went to Laguardia High School —the "Fame" School — for Visual Arts while dancing ballet seriously until the end of college at Vassar, where she majored in media studies. She always wanted to work in fashion and she got her start interning for magazines like Interview and T Magazine and working for brands like Pixie Market and Joe Fresh. Now her day-to-day work for Target includes the things she loves doing, like trend and brand research, and scrolling through Instagram in search of the next big thing.
But Mills's own Instagram is pretty great. It's a mix of the art installations and fashion shows she visits for work, as well as shots of her pin collection and crafting adventures.
Her photos are little slices of happiness and color. "I love kitschy things, I like things that make you laugh and smile," she said.
Mills's pin collection is bright and kitschy and fun, but it makes a statement too. "I am a very open and honest person and I like to make my opinions and passions very clear — for example, I am a very vocal feminist. With flair I can literally wear my heart on my sleeve while supporting artists that I love," Mills told Racked.
Hence her collection of birth control and maxi-pad pins. "Definitely you see a lot of feminist pins. I think that this goes with the trend of being a very open and vocal feminist that's going on right now," she said. "I definitely lean toward feminine, feminist pins. I also just love pink. I'm a big lover of pink."
Mills can confirm that pins are a natural conversation starter. She doesn't wear them every single day, but when she does wear them, she gets a lot of comments on her pins. "I think probably I get comments on my pins more than anything else I've ever worn," she said. "It's all the time. Which admittedly is part of the reason I like them."
Pins are an easy way of to customize your outfit too, even if not everyone gets it. Mills said she wore pins on a leather jacket to the dentist recently. "He asked, 'Aren't you ruining that leather jacket?' Yeah, but it's mine! I can do what I want with it."
Mills prefers to add to her pin collection by shopping in person, although she shops online too — mostly on Instagram. NYC is starting to pick up in the pin scene compared to LA, Mills said, with the opening of the planet's first pin store, Pintrill.
In New York, she recommends Bushwick boutique Friends, which sells pins from a number of pinners. "It's a really good store to find pins, and one of the only ones I've found to sell more than five pin makers," she said.
Mills also recommends shopping at pop-ups and fairs, like the Brooklyn Zine fair, Renegade Craft Fair, and Alt-Space Brooklyn. "Basically any fair that has the word zine in it has pins," she said.
She supplements her pin shopping with vintage shopping, because what better way to display pins than this Louis Vuitton multicolor monogram purse purchased on super sale at a consignment shop in upstate New York. (That nylon Prada bag is a hand-me-down from her mother who bought it in the early aughts.)
Collecting is often about more than just stuff, and Mills said that a "pinner community" has sprung up both on Instagram between pin makers and pin fans. "People feel a weird connection to other people who are wearing pins because you can automatically see them and you're like, ‘Oh, I love that pinner as well.'"
"But I also think because it is this fringe culture, similar to zines, similar to Dungeons and Dragons fans, people who like these things and people who are obsessed with them connect," she said. "You get obsessed with something and then you want to know other people who are also obsessed with it. "
Mills is about to get even deeper into pinning too. She just started making her own pins — her first batch are fuzzy pink handcuffs. Look for her just-launched Etsy shop called Baby Face Press, where she'll sell her feminist embroidery too.