A Virtual Vintage Market

The changing face of vintage and its success in the wake of Covid-19

Words by Millen Brown-Ewens

For many small businesses operating in a physical space, the past four months have been pretty precarious. With high street giants such as Topshop and Debenhams closing stores, cutting pay and seeking bankruptcy protection, the outlook for boutiques and independently owned stores has been rather dim. However, for the vintage lovers among us; those who get giddy at the prospect of a pre-loved treasure and practically salivate in the thrill of the hunt, you can allow a sigh of relief. Thanks to Georgina Roberton and Emily Sturgess, founders of Instagram platform A Virtual Vintage Market, the Aladdin’s cave which is the world of vintage can now be experienced virtually.

With many traders losing access to their static trading space due to lockdown, the aim of the virtual market is to bring together these sellers with those working exclusively online to curate a unique shopping experience where people can browse, discover and rejoice in their finds from the safety of their own homes.

“Over the years Instagram has become a real treasure trove of vintage clothing, with traders from all over the world using the platform to sell their pieces and grow their brands,” says Sturgess. “The pandemic has meant physical traders have turned to the platform to advertise and sell, more so than usual. This has further broadened and diversified the available vintage for customers which is fantastic. There is a real demand for virtual markets and fairs from both traders and customers alike, which has enabled our Market to establish and grow very quickly.”

In the past six weeks, the Virtual Vintage Market Instagram page has amassed over 8,000 followers with its first two markets held in April and May roaring successes.

Image courtesy of Kapada Vintage (@kapada.vintage)

So how does it work? On the day of the market, A Virtual Vintage Market reposts images via its stories to spotlight the stores and sellers trading. Sellers are then also encouraged to utilise their feeds as a shop front, taking videos and discussing their items on their own stories. Buyers can make their purchases through individual stores just as they would a real market. The only difference is that A Virtual Vintage Market does not take any buyers or traders fees. The Market, at present, is completely free and doesn’t charge commission on sales, promoting a message of support rather than profit in a time of uncertainty.

Roberton muses on the positive feedback that they have received: “The response to the first fair was completely overwhelming in such a great way,” she says. “Customers and people who participated said that it was so much fun to tune into, and that it enabled thousands of people to access vintage that they wouldn't be able to before. We were blown away by the positivity from both traders and customers.”

The zeal and abiding sense of community that the virtual market has fostered in recent months is in many ways, rather unsurprising. The market for vintage and its myriad of fairs, stalls and pop-ups in particular is one that stands the test of time. It would seem that for the avid collectors out there, this is a hunger that cannot be stunted, even as the world comes to a halt.

Image courtesy of Mary's vintage (@marysvintage_mv)

If the idea of being flooded with heaps of beautiful florals, smock dresses and loud shirts sounds a bit too tempting, verging on financially detrimental, fear not, you’re not alone. Roberton and Sturgess have kept a close eye on their favourites, dipping into their own purses when the time calls.

“I can’t help myself!” says Sturgess. “I’m really into prairie dresses which luckily for me are really popular at the moment so traders always try to stock them!” Roberton is thankfully quick to justify their (and our) lusting eyes; “The beauty is that we all promote a circular fashion economy, so can buy and sell and swap and keep and enable things to be moved around and really taken care of.”

Being sellers and shoppers of vintage themselves, Sturgess and Roberton bring to the platform an understanding of the market manifested in a dedication to the stories to be told and the pieces to fall in love with. They are conscious of the need to reimagine the physical buzz of a market in new spaces and are making efforts to do so by encouraging traders to introduce themselves and show their faces on their own profiles throughout the day.

“Even though lots of preparation and work goes into the event beforehand, the event is in live time and therefore it is completely different to simply posting static images onto an Instagram feed or stories,” says Roberton. “We all prepare our shops and stalls during the day and show people tuning in our rails and set up.”

Image courtesy of Squirrel Vintage (@squirrelvintage)

On its website, A Virtual Vintage Market has also created a weekly ‘Show & Tell’ feature where individuals delve into their own wardrobes and discuss their favourite pieces, the stories behind them and their styling tips and tricks. “Our guests are fashion figures and bloggers who mix vintage with contemporary clothing. We feel this is not only representative of most vintage customers but also makes vintage more accessible to shop,” says Sturgess. Previous guests include vintage and sustainable fashion influencer, Pip Jolley as well as journalist and author Lauren Bravo.

What these women have created seemingly goes beyond just a market. It is a hub of fervour, linked by an appreciation of clothing that has history and plays a key role in conscious consuming. The Market has highlighted the importance of not only this, but of supporting small businesses in their hour of need.

The virtual markets will continue to take place once a month for the foreseeable future, providing a new outlet to accompany the beloved marketplace. To see when the next is scheduled click here.

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