Vintage goes social: Instagram-based second-hand shops on the rise

A new generation of vintage lovers are ditching dusty antique stores and scouring for hidden gems on their phones.

Instagram-based vintage shops are becoming increasingly popular, allowing customers to scroll feeds to purchase second-hand housewares and clothing from local buyers in their communities.

Bridget Van Wart started the Halifax-based Holy Roller Vintage last January and since then has amassed more than 7,100 followers. 

“It’s just blossomed into this huge community,” said Van Wart, who sells housewares and furniture from the 1930s onward.

“I think that people are just becoming really aware of how they want to spend their money in terms of sustainability and shopping local.”

Van Wart stores many of her smaller finds for Holy Roller Vintage in a closet in her small bachelor apartment in Halifax’s south end. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

Van Wart, 27, runs her shop from her well-kept bachelor apartment in the city’s south end, often using her own decor as a backdrop for the items she photographs and posts to her feed.

She includes a description of the piece, the price and asks customers to send her a direct message to purchase it through e-transfer or cash. 

Van Wart then sets up a time for the buyer to pick it up in the lobby of her building, or ships it to the customer.

Van Wart compared the process to that of buy-and-sell websites like Kijiji. But she said Instagram allows shop owners to develop an aesthetic and express themselves creatively.

“The visual aspect of it is huge,” said Van Wart, who works as a freelance graphic designer and operates Holy Roller on the side.

“You create this space where you can go onto somebody’s profile and immediately see the type of wares that they’re selling and get a feel for the eras and products they’re interested in.”

Van Wart said the photo-sharing app makes buying vintage more accessible. She said thrifting has also become more popular in recent years, as people aim to shop more sustainably and save money.

She believes the vintage community — which has traditionally been dominated by an older demographic — is shifting to the younger generation.

Van Wart photographs a vintage pink vase using a makeshift backdrop in her apartment. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

“It’s been a community that can be intimidating,” said Van Wart, who acquires her items through auctions, estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores and sellers who reach out to her directly.

“I think it’s really amazing to see how many younger people are interested in this whole scene and maybe finding their place in it through Instagram.”

Lesley MacKay, owner of Bloomfield Vintage, said the number of Instagram-based shops in the region has grown from a handful to a few dozen over the last year.

Lesley MacKay started Bloomfield Vintage in April 2019 after deciding to sell off some of her own vintage items in her apartment. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

MacKay, 26, said Instagram allows her to build a following in a way she doesn’t think would be possible through a website or storefront. 

Her followers — typically women between the ages of 20 and 40 — are able to easily engage with her through comments and messages, and the use of hashtags allows her to reach more potential customers.

“It works really well for this type of business. It’s a very accessible way to sell these items and gain a good following,” said MacKay, as she hunted for items at Mission Thrift Store in Lower Sackville, N.S.

MacKay says one of her favourite items to source and sell is wicker furniture. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

MacKay said it’s also an easy-going, tight-knit community. Shop owners often cross-promote each other’s pages and send each other customers.

“If one of us isn’t selling, it could be a sign of things to come. So we want to make sure that people stay interested and that people want to continue buying local and thrift,” said MacKay, adding she tries to keep her prices affordable for that reason.

Like most Instagram shop owners, this isn’t MacKay’s full-time job. It’s something she does for a bit of extra spending money and because thrifting is her passion.

“It curbs my thrift shopping addiction by being able to just sell it again after I buy it,” MacKay, who works in public relations, said with a laugh.

“Starting my own shop to help others find joy in it was simply the next step in furthering my passion.”

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