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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email email@example.com.
This week we spoke with Naomi Kelsey, an instructional designer in Denver, CO, by day and the proprietor of Neither/Nor Style, an online vintage shop that stocks women’s sizes L and up — which can be tough to find when it comes to true, high-quality vintage.
Salary: “I make $72,000 as a base salary [at my day job]. And then I usually get a performance-based bonus that ranges. Last year it was $6,000, so my total comp was $78,000. [From my business], it’s pretty small. I would say maybe $200 to $300 a month, at most.”
Rent: “About $1,700. I live with my boyfriend, but we don’t split it. He’s a full-time student, so he gives a token contribution.”
Transportation: “I don’t own a car by choice. So I use a combination of public transportation and Lyft. It costs about $250 per month. I lived in Asia for three years, and my license expired when I was over there. And I didn’t realize that if you let it expire for more than a year, you have to take the driving test all over again. I hate the DMV, like many others. I kinda kept putting it off. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll get it next year. I’ll get it next year.’ And it’s been four years now. I haven’t driven a car in seven years.”
Clothing: “I would say maybe $150 a month, give or take. But that line is a little blurred because I fit the range of sizes that I stock. So occasionally I’ll buy something ‘for the store’ that somehow finds its way into my wardrobe.”
How did you decide to start your own clothing business?
I worked in the vintage retail space for many years. I worked for a couple different vintage clothing stores. My mother was a costume mistress, as a volunteer position, and she was also a docent at a film preservation society where she would dress up as some of the characters. She would spend hours scouring thrift stores and costume racks and things like that. That was something that we did when I was in my teens; she used to write me excuse notes to get out of school so we could go to church rummage sales and things like that.
And then as I got older, I enjoyed doing it on my own. The vintage clothing... there’s something about when people put it on. Like, the expression on their face is so different than clothing that they would buy from the mall. It’s like they have this sort of special moment or a connection to history that they didn’t expect. And it’s really rewarding to see that. This article sparked the idea many moons ago.
Darling...don't get mad, get *everything* in this pussy bow feather print 80s blouse. #vintagefashion #forinbetweens #yourehere #neithernorsyle #303style #plusvintagefashion #vintageseller #vintageshop #plussized #bodypos #fashionforall #retrostyle #60s #70s #60sfashion #70sfashion #etsyseller #etsystore #etsyshop #secondhandfirst #thriftsakindofmagic #thriftsisters #303fashion #rertrolooks #retrostyle #plussizeclothing #fashion #ethicalfashion #sustainablefashion
What made you want to focus on cusp sizes in particular?
I love vintage clothing, and I myself am, like, a [size] 16, and I’m also 5’10”. I just have so much trouble finding anything that’s above, really, honestly, an 8.
And one of the other things, too, is that we don’t have those very serious supporting undergarments that they used to wear, either. I’m certain I could squeeze myself down to a 10, but I couldn’t breathe.
The vintage market right now tends to favor a more petite body type. I know the feeling of going into a boutique, a vintage boutique, and nothing fits. Or there’s one item and it’s, like, a beach caftan.
I started out selling general secondhand, but that market’s very crowded, it’s very noisy. It’s hard to differentiate yourself. If someone can go to Target and The XX, why am I selling the same item online, right? So I pivoted the business, probably two months into it, away from contemporary secondhand clothing and completely focused on vintage. And it is very difficult. I definitely squeak some ’90s stuff in there for sure. It’s hard enough to find any size that’s in good condition and is fashionable. I mean, can I sell you a 1987 boxy floral blazer? Sure. Are you gonna wanna buy that? No.
And we then have to overcome another barrier, which is that a lot of women that are size L and larger, they don’t want to call attention to themselves. They don’t want to sort of appear to be too confident, if that makes sense. But the customers that love it, really love it.
And so how did you even go about starting the business in the first place?
I got a work bonus, and it had been a hobby for couple years where I would just clear out my wardrobe and sell things on eBay. I had been wanting to do something, for lack of a better term, more positive, almost on a political level. I wanted to contribute to a conversation about feminism and eco-friendly clothing, sustainable clothing, women’s-led and women-friendly businesses, and I wanted to do it in a positive way. So I had a pretty substantial bonus from work and invested in a blog and some inventory, things like that. I was able to get enough pieces at the same time so I could have, like, 50 items on eBay.
I’ve now switched over to Etsy just because Etsy’s a more friendly platform for vintage; I feel like on eBay, people aren’t really looking for vintage. Etsy’s so much more competitive in terms of presentation, so it took me quite some time to get my photography to the level where it wasn’t grainy and embarrassing.
What tips would you give to someone who wanted to start out in this business themselves?
I would say having a niche is very important — the marketplace is very saturated. And connecting with similar sellers, partially to see what they’re doing and the techniques that they’re employing for success.
And I think the big thing is that you really have to love it. I mean, you have to eat, breathe, and sleep it. And I do. I mean, all my favorite blogs are fashion blogs. I love classic movies. I own lots of books about fashion and clothing and stuff like that. It has to be something you would gravitate toward if you weren’t getting paid to do it, which is such clichéd advice, but it’s absolutely true.
The other thing that we don’t see is that for many of these “overnight successes,” there’s actually an incredibly long runway of trial and error. I mean, I was doing this for three years before I decided to do it in any official capacity. And I’m still extremely moderately successful. It’s certainly not any kind of hashtag girlboss situation here.
Do you have any hopes of growing the store, making it your full-time hustle?
I’m happy for now, although I have a long-range plan. I’d love to do, like, a subscription plus-size vintage box, but I don’t know if the stock is there.
But the other thing that I would personally love to create is an item that I can locate in thrift stores occasionally, or online. It’s a divided slip, so it’s basically slip shorts made out of slip material. Sometimes they’re called “pettipants.” They only come in white, nude, or black, generally speaking. Very occasionally you can see, in an XS or S, a super cute printed floral or paisley or Peter Max design. So what I would love to do is buy up old deadstock fabric and find a manufacturer and start manufacturing vintage fabric pettipants in print for size L, XL, 2X, 3X. And in [other skin tones] — no one’s skin is marble white naturally. The vintage marketplace is limited, and I need a product and a service that is theoretically unlimited.