When it comes to vintage clothing, there are three types of buyers: Cherry pickers, Bulk Buyers, and Container Buyers. Understanding how the industry works, is beneficial to knowing what type of buyer you are and how to make the most out of your business venture.
Much like contemporary fashion, vintage fashion has paved a course that caters to all types of styles and subcultures. From Rocker shops that focus only on 40’s and 50’s attire to modern shops that focus on 90’s and early millennial pieces, the term vintage can come to mean a lot of different things depending upon who you are talking to.
Over the past 20 years of working in the vintage clothing industry there was a lot to learn about the different types of buyers that the industry attracts. Each year a plethora of new vintage entrepreneurs come into the market ready to take on the world with their unique taste for recycled fashion. Maybe they made a profit off a rare item they sold on ebay, or just finished taking their final exam in fashion school and are ready to become the number one seller on Etsy, either way they will need to start sourcing clothing.
They will soon learn that sourcing used clothing in bulk is much different than sourcing new merchandise. They will also learn that their is no magic supplier or clothing fairy that get them a steady supply of rare pieces with ridiculous markups. This unfortunately is a rude awakening for some buyers entering the industry and for this reason we thought that we would put together a Vintage Buyer Guide to find out what type of buyer you are.
Before we discuss the different types of buyers, it is important to understand where most of our vintage clothing comes from.
Vintage clothing is apparel that is used, what makes it vintage is relative to the buyer. In most cases we like to think that vintage items are a minimum of 20 years old, but as the industry has evolved so has the definition.
In the old days a buyer would source U.S. vintage clothing at flea markets, estate sales and thrift stores. They would find rare items and mark them up as much as possible, generally in shops overseas like in Japan or Paris. As the market grew so did buyers strategies. Today most vintage clothing comes from Reclaimed Textile Factories, otherwise known as a Rag House.
A Rag House is where all of our donated clothing ends up. The term Rag House comes from when recycle textile facilities use to turn our old clothes into whipping rags. Although today, many of them do not process the clothing into rags any more but instead ship them overseas to underprivileged nations. Weather you throw your old duds into a donation bin or drop them off at the local Goodwill. Most of these products will never see the light of day in a retail location but instead get sent to a Rag House.
Rag Houses generally pay pennies on the pound for credential grades, grades that have never been touched or picked though. They then break down the items into different categories. Sometimes denim, linens, cotton, leather, household etc. Each category is baled into large bales and shipped to a foreign market for a markup.
This is the reason you might look through a National Geographic Magazine and see a little kid in an Sudan refugee camp wearing a 1979 Joy Division shirt. In the late 90’s vintage buyers who were looking to source bulk product began to work with Rag Houses directly and teach them how to set aside vintage grades. These grades were never good enough for shops as they needed to be filtered even more, this is when the Vintage Wholesale Industry began to take form.
From Seattle to Philadelphia a new style of Vintage Store began to pop up in hip neighborhoods. Somewhere between a thrift store and a mall store with plenty of cool old clothes mixed with new clothes to choose from. Unable to manufacturer a vintage piece a new concept was born. At the dawn of the new millennium, wholesale buyers that started to work with Rag Houses directly developed new grades and a way for buyers to source bulk products for this growing market. From that point on the vintage clothing industry would never be the same.
As the industry began to expand into world-wide markets companies like Dust Factory started to create a way for ‘bulk buyers‘ to keep a steady supply of vintage available for their fashion conscience market. These are not to be mistaken as Cherry Pickers, or buyers that are looking for the rarest pieces that they can sell on eBay or Etsy, but buyers with and established market and need for a steady supply of goods.
Over the years three different types of buyer styles began to take shape: Cherry Pickers, Bulk Buyers, and Container Buyers.
Understanding how the industry works and what type of buyer you are is important if you plan to make any money in the used clothing industry. It will also help you learn how to source for your limited or growing market.
1. Cherry Pickers
The cherry picker, also known as the hand-picker, is someone who looks for their rare items to sale for maximum markup. They have a limited market that caters to an exact style and in many cases size. This type of buyer became popular in the 80 & 90’s when rare denim was all the rage in Japan.
As a cherry picker in the 90’s it was not uncommon to climb through vans and trucks at 3am with a flashlight on your head in hopes a finding a rare item before the dealer ever took it out of their car. The demand for rare vintage pieces was so high in Japan that it was well worth your time and money to be a cherry picker, to find that perfect pair of Jeans or Rock T-shirt.
As the market changed, so did buying styles. Buyers who already had established markets in New York and LA remained cherry-pickers, sourcing the hottest labels and designer pieces from the past. Most Japanese and US buyers switched to buying in bulk.
Today online sellers tend to be cherry pickers. As they enter into a saturated market they need to make sure each piece is exactly that they are looking for. They generally are looking for the same items that the other online shops are sourcing as well. This makes it very difficult to make a profit as a cherry picker today.
Cherry-picking can be very profitable if you have a way to source rare items. Often times you see a 1k-3k markup on top products.
Cherry pickers have a very limited market. Since the clothing is so difficult to source they often do not stay in business for very long. Cherry Pickers spend most of their time sourcing their clothing. Often handpicking from thrift stores, estate sales and garage sales. Cherry pickers generally make a living out of traveling the US, processing thousands of pounds of clothing to find the rare items they are looking for.
ARE YOU A CHERRY PICKER?
- Do you only have a store online?
- Are you looking for a specific style or size?
- Do you find it hard to find the pieces you are a looking for?
If you answered yes to more than two of the questions above you will need to find away to hand pick items.
*PRO TIP: IF YOU ARE A CHERRY PICKER DO NOT USE A VINTAGE WHOLESALER TO SOURCE CLOTHING. YOU WILL WAIST BOTH YOUR AND THEIR TIME AND MONEY.
2. Bulk Buyers
Bulk buyers entered the Vintage Market in the mid-90’s when vintage clothing became more mainstream in the US, AU and EU markets. These buyers are different from cherry pickers because they purchase vintage clothing in bulk and make a profit off of a grade and not an individual piece. As vintage stores became more popular, buyers began to change their strategy and focus on buying product in bulk to cater to a larger market.
Larger stores began to open in popular markets carrying a large quantity of goods, over a few random pieces. The days of the mom & pop vintage store were over, and so were they days for cherry picking. Instead of carrying a plethora of random items, stores began carrying specific grades with multiple selections. If they carried tshirts, they would offer over 1000 pieces for their customers to choose form. The same went for Levis, jackets, flannels, or whatever item was currently in demand.
A bulk buyer looks at entire grade instead of an individual piece. They will look at a 12pck of t-shirts and break it down into three different price points. Three of the shirts might retail for $39 in their market. Six of the shirts might retail for $28 two for $18 and one at cost. This also helps them with markdowns and sales. They invest $120 into a pack of tshirts and retail them for around $320 (nearly a 300% markup).
Knowing what items are worth and developing a large enough market for a bulk supply of products has made vintage clothing stores a very profitable investment for many bulk buyers today. It has also opened the door for many people to work and shop whit sustainable clothing and ethical fashion.
Bulk buyers need to an established location and market. They need to have the ability to establish different price-points and schedules. They also need to donate non-usable product at the end of a cycle. Often for more seasoned buyers and markets, not for online buyers.
ARE YOU A BULK BUYER?
- Do you have a brick and mortar location?
- Do you have retail experience?
- Do you have an established market?
If you answered yes to more than two of the questions above you may be a bulk buyer.
*PRO TIP: IF YOU ARE A BULK BUYER TRY TO PLACE ORDERS TWO MONTHS OUT TO SECURE THE BEST STOCK.
3. Container Buyers
Container buyers are the ‘BIG DADDY’S’ of them all. These are often Vintage Wholesalers, or buyers with a chain of stores or outlets to retail products. A container buyer does not purchase by the piece nor the grade, but instead they purchase by the pound. They often work directly with rag houses or dealers and order up to 2k pound of each grade.
Container buyers generally get a a decent markup on their product. They deal with so much quantity that they tend to be very profitable.
The container buyer has a larger market and often only uses 50% of what they are purchasing, depending upon what type of grade they are purchasing.
*Some cherry pickers turn into container buyers as a way to source the rare items. They can generally use 3% of what they purchase.
ARE YOU A CONTAINER BUYER?
- Do you have over three brick and mortar locations?
- Do you have an established market?
- Do you have established distribution channels?
If you answered yes to more than two of the questions above you may be a container buyer.
*PRO TIP: IF YOU ARE A CONTAINER BUYER LOOK AT SOURCING CLOTHING SEASONS AHEAD.
At Dust Factory we work well with bulk buyers and container buyers around the world. If you are a cherry picker or someone that needs to hand-pick their products we totally understand and wish you the best of luck as you source your product. Don’t get caught ordering from vintage wholesaler because you will most likely be disappointed until you can grow your market.
It’s never to late to grow your market and learn how to order clothing in bulk. If you would like to find out more about how to Own and Operate a Vintage Clothing Store check out the resources available at FACTORYVINTAGE.COM
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