VINTAGE FASHION IS A HARD BUSINESS BECAUSE IT’S HARD TO SCALE ONLINE
At Seladex, we’re focused on helping apparel and accessory showrooms succeed by helping them stay organized, better manage their showrooms and increase sales through the use of our Showroom CRM (Customer Relationship Manager).
However, we go beyond the use of technology as a means to help entrepreneurs in the fashion industry grow. We’re big believers in education, so from time to time we bring in fashion experts from around the world to help educate you, our blog readers, about the various ways you can grow your fashion empire.
Today, Seladex had the opportunity to speak with the team behind PASSPORT, a vintage clothing shop location in Austin Texas. We have an exciting interview planned for you today, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
Hi and thanks for joining us today to chat about PASSPORT Vintage. Can you kick off the interview by telling us a little bit more about how you got started? What was it that pulled you into the world of fashion and never let you go?
Yes, we both met while working at American Apparel and our history in fashion retailing starts there. To be honest, the Etsy shop was started as a pure hobby and it grew organically from there. For Ryan, he was always into clothing (vintage in specific), and from the age of 19 on, his entire career path was in fashion retailing.
We have both been wearing vintage clothing from our early teen years, so it was a market we always knew well. Ryan and I also both have family involved in the second hand and antique selling so I guess it was natural for us from that perspective. At the start of PASSPORT selling vintage was the natural choice because the clothing already existed and we didn't have to focus on design and manufacturing which can be very costly and time and skill intensive.
In the Spring of 2014 you opened up as a vintage shop on Etsy. Tell us a little bit more about your early experience on Esty as a fashion vendor. You opened up a physical store two years later. Therefore, I'm assuming you experienced strong growth on Etsy? Can you tell us a little bit more about your Etsy years?
The Etsy years were the foundation of PASSPORT. Those years are remembered by endless hours spent taking photos and listing items on Etsy, endless hours! But also there was a lot of freedom involved and fun traveling to discover new sources for vintage all over the U.S. On the flip side it was very isolating and lonely at times, especially coming from working in a space with so many co-workers, the community aspect of a work environment was very much missed.
Using your growth from Etsy, you propelled yourself into the next stage of growth, which was to open up a physical store.
Yes, from the start it was always the plan to open a brick and mortar shop for PASSPORT simply because that is the easiest way to sell vintage clothing. The opportunity to open up a storefront in Austin, Texas was serendipitous, a space literally made itself available to use via an Instagram DM and the rest is history.
You also have a website to compliment your physical store. How important has your website been as a tool for sales and awareness?
The website served as a landing page for us while we still sold exclusively on Etsy, but now we are transitioning it into our primary sales funnel online so it has become a lot more important for the business. As far as awareness, Instagram has really been the most valuable virtual asset we have had. So far IG has trumped the importance of our website.
What are the three hardest parts of running your company and why are those your biggest challenges?
Vintage is a hard business because it is very difficult to scale it online. Every item is completely unique, so when you photograph an item and put it for sale online all of that work needs to be re-done completely every single time because we are never selling multiples. Also, vintage inventory is limited, so having access to it at the volume we need for PASSPORT poses a lot of challenges at times. Thirdly, selling vintage is accessible to most anyone, so over the past few years there have been a lot of competition from rpart time sellers.
You also run a vintage market. Tell us a little bit more about how this fits into your business structure. When did you launch this and what have been your biggest takeaways from this experience since you started it?
Laissez Fair Vintage Market, which we started with another vintage shop owner, April Onebane of Pieceology Vintage, was created to fulfill that need for community we felt missing amongst vintage vendors from our Etsy days. It was launched in the Spring of 2017 and we were coming up on our 8th market this Spring before we had to cancel it due to Covid-19. Hopefully we can safely re-schedule a market for 2020 as things settle. The biggest takeaway from Laissez Fair is that both vendors and attendees love it, so we will continue to do it as long as we can.
Let's talk a little bit about growth now. What have been your three primary drivers of growth over the years?
Focused delivery of a positive customer experience, having a high-quality selection of vintage, a welcoming and unique in-store shopping experience and consistent branding through our social media channels. You have to strike the balance of keeping up your quality and brand identity while still evolving and keeping things interesting for customers to always have something new to experience.
If you had to double down on just one growth channel, which would it be and why?
The best sales channel has been the brick and mortar shop because selling one of one unique pieces online is very time-consuming.
Lastly, knowing what you know now about running a fashion store, what three pieces of advice would you give a younger version of yourself who was just starting out today?
The biggest lesson learned from PASSPORT is thinking about the scalability of the business from the start. Also, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and be your unique authentic self. People will recognize that you're genuine and it will help you grow authentically. Thank you for taking the time to chat with Seladex blog readers today about your experience in the vintage fashion space. It’s been inspiring learning about your history and ups and downs. To our fashion blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about PASSPORT you can follow them on Instagram or head over to their website here.
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