- There's a thriving underground community of vintage housewares sellers on Instagram.
- The community has ballooned during the pandemic as people seek to decorate their homes.
- Sellers say it's an exhausting but rewarding job, like "a huge yard sale with all of your friends."
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
In early April, I was wasting time on Instagram when something stopped me mid-scroll.
It was a vintage lamp, about three feet tall, with three glass bulbs in the shape of giant flowers attached to it. I had never seen anything like it, and I had to have it.
Luckily, buying it was easy: All I had to do was direct-message the person who posted it, Venmo her the appropriate payment, and schedule a time to swing by her house to pick it up. Less than a week later, I was the proud owner of an unusual vintage lamp - and I had also made my first foray into the thriving, underground world of vintage housewares resellers on Instagram.
It's a community that has ballooned during the pandemic, when we've spent more time at home than ever before and have become acutely aware of how our homes look, not only to ourselves, but to our coworkers over Zoom. At the same time, home decor has begun trending in a distinctly vintage direction, millennials and Gen Zers have started to place more emphasis on sustainability, and ongoing global supply chain issues have made it difficult to buy anything new.
It's led many people - myself included - down the vintage home-goods rabbit-hole.
Vintage resellers who spoke with Insider described a hobby born of genuine passion that's morphed into a nonstop gig. While the sheer amount of work it takes to keep their shops operational can get overwhelming, they said, they're also been surprised by the supportive community that's sprung up of both sellers and buyers on Instagram.
"It's like doing a huge yard sale with all of your friends all the time online," Reed Van Dyck, the owner of a Denver-based shop called Good Chance Goods, told Insider.
'Things are just so much better when they have a story'
Vintage resellers have been offering up their wares online on sites like eBay and Etsy for years. But recently, some of those sellers - many of them millennial women - have set up shop on Instagram, where they've built their businesses on the back of the social media site.
The four sellers I spoke with for this story have all followed the same playbook: They've sourced furniture and home decor from thrift shops, estate sales, and sites like Facebook Marketplace, built Instagram accounts stocked with stylish photos of a highly curated selection of furniture and home decor, negotiated sales over DM, and handled payments using third-party platforms like Venmo or PayPal.
But while these beautifully photographed and highly curated pages may seem effortless, they take an enormous amount of work and require sellers to be almost glued to their phones.
When sellers post an item, they ask buyers to comment "Sold" on the post in order to claim it, and then move to DMs to handle the rest of the sale. But as these sellers gain followers, buying becomes more competitive. Van Dyck said that she sometimes has as many as five people trying to claim an item at the same time.
"I have to look at, you know, one was [posted in] 11 seconds, and one was 10 seconds, and I have to message the person that was nine seconds," she said.
Van Dyck pointed out that Instagram is "not set up to be a seller's business tool," which means that sellers have to sift through dozens of DMs, remembering who bought what, in order to get items shipped out. The "always on" nature of the business can be exhausting, she said, especially since she's balancing her shop with a full-time job at a startup.
"I felt like I would be on my phone for hours, just staring at my phone, just not wanting to miss a message or miss a comment," she said.
Van Dyck said she recently gave herself some time off from vintage selling after feeling like she was getting burnt out and got a lot of messages of support from her community of followers.
"I think that right now we're all kind of collectively going through this, 'What matters to us?' kind of phase in our lives," she said. "This is something that really matters to me, but at the same time, it's still a job."
Jessica Ferrandino, the owner of The Curated Vintage, an Instagram-based shop she operates out of her home on Long Island, New York, told Insider that after she was furloughed from her job as a social worker in February, she decided to set up a shop on Instagram because there are no overhead costs.
Plus, she likes how personal it is: "Instead of a customer just dropping an item into their cart and checking out, we get to converse," she said.
Ferrandino's shop is full of items like wine coolers, book ends, and coffee tables in marble and glass, and she said that while she does extensive research on trends and designers, her final question while she's hunting for products is always whether she'd keep it for herself.
"It's definitely led me to putting down pieces that I'm sure would have sold, but that's OK with me," she said. "It means more to me to remain true to myself, and I hope the customers feel that."
If you're wondering, yes, Ferrandino's house is very full.
"Inventory from the shop is just literally all over our house," she said. "We have it in our in the office, in the living room, in the dining room, even in our bedroom. We're constantly moving these heavy tables from room to room."
Jen Lavigne, who owns a Richmond, Virginia-based shop called Boho to Go, started to resell vintage furniture and housewares on Instagram as a side business in 2018 - by late 2019, it had grown so much that she was able to quit her full-time job as a registered nurse to focus solely on Boho to Go.
She now has a showroom in Richmond that's open on the weekends, but she still conducts most of her sales online.
As the popularity of vintage has grown, thrift store prices have become higher and people have become more aware of the quality of what they have. It's made buying products to keep her shop stocked more challenging, Lavigne said.
"Do I spend $5,000 this week? Do I spend $500 this week? And will that money come back to me next week, or will it come back to me in the next three weeks?" she said. "I feel like I'm gambling sort of in a way."
Lavigne said she spends Tuesdays and Thursdays every week on the road, driving up to four hours to buy vintage goods. For some items, extensive cleaning, repairing, and refinishing is required, which Lavigne said she learned how to do entirely on YouTube. She then sets aside two full days to photograph the items, upload them, and craft the perfect captions.
"I work seven days a week," she said. "People don't understand why we're not open every day of the week, and it's like, 'Because I can't just order in more vintage.'"
Anna Hartzell, the owner of Buffalo, New York-based shop Botanics & Ceramics, has been operating her shop since 2019. Hartzell sold me my vintage lamp, and I attest that her products often sell instantly - I've turned on Instagram alerts for her posts and people still almost always beat me to the punch.
Hartzell said she has a core group of customers who like knowing the person they're buying from, but at the same time, she's received her fair share of skepticism about her business model.
"I've had a few people come at me like, 'Oh, you're just going and buying stuff from [thrift store] Savers and reselling it,'" she said. "And it's like, OK, well, you go and do it. Anybody can go out there and thrift, their stores are open for everybody. But it's hard for a lot of people to not only take the time to go and do it, but it's harder to search for things than people realize."
Still, Hartzell said she's seen a shift since starting up her shop two years ago, one that accelerated during the pandemic: Customers increasingly want products that will hold up over time, and have become more aware than ever of their environmental footprint.
"There's nothing wrong with saving up for a piece of furniture from Ikea or Target that you love, that you've been eyeing forever," but, she said, "things are just so much better when they have a story."