Amanda Baumann is a pro.
She doesn’t go to a thrift store without filling her vintage leather Coach backpack with the essentials: spray hand sanitizer (lavender-scented); a measuring tape; a few reusable nylon tote bags; headphones; store member cards and coupons; a snack and some gum.
“It can be overwhelming at first,” she said. “But I think you just need to take your time: aisle by aisle, rack by rack. Think of it as a treasure hunt. Put on your headphones, listen to your favorite music, and get lost in the hunt.”
That’s what Baumann does, sometimes at 10 stores a day, when she’s thrifting — searching for gems amid stuffed racks of used clothing and housewares she then sells through her Tandem Vintage business.
Right now, Baumann is looking for fabrics such as linen and cotton, dresses in floral prints and high-waisted denim.
At the Savers in Columbia Heights, she recently grabbed a Gap jacket from the 1990s (now considered vintage) and a pair of pleated jeans in a black acid wash. “Straight out of ‘Saved by the Bell,’ ” she said, referencing the sitcom.
That’s what her customers are looking for, especially the many college students who frequent her shop inside the Findfurnish storefront in northeast Minneapolis.
“I love the fact that I am saving these pieces from the landfill,” said Baumann, who left her job in communications five years ago to run Tandem Vintage full-time. “I love that I am not supporting fast fashion. I feel good knowing that I am doing a small part to keep these pieces in rotation by helping them find new homes and new closets.”
Shopping for secondhand clothing is on the rise. In fact, thrifting is so hot in Minnesota that Baumann and fellow vintage professionals Dana Logan and Mady Lipkin, who run a resale business called Kollektiv, have started offering classes for beginners on how to shop.
The interest is being fueled, in part, by the surge in closet clearouts inspired by Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up” show on Netflix.
Resale shoppers also say buying used is better for the environment and more ethical than buying the latest fast-fashion outfit, which is often made under difficult working conditions, creating textile waste and water pollution.
A new GlobalData survey commissioned by the online resale site ThredUp found that 64 percent of American women have bought, or are open to buying, secondhand. That’s up from 45 percent in 2016.
Many secondhand shoppers are happy to pay a little more for the curated, cleaned and organized finds that vintage and resale purveyors sell in stores, pop-ups such as the monthly Minneapolis Vintage Market, which started last June, or through Instagram and Etsy.
Some, however, want to try their hand at the hunt.
Arc’s Value Village is introducing new thrifters to the world of resale via “thrift stylists” who do the digging and put together outfits during free, 75-minute personal shopping sessions. At the Arc’s in New Hope, stylist Melissa Hernandez-Erickson recently found gems including a $7.99 pristine Marc by Marc Jacobs cardigan and a $9.99 J. Crew blazer.
She said Kondo-inspired decluttering has created lines of cars more than two dozen deep waiting to drop off donations. But it’s not only the number of donations that have gone up, she said: So has the quality. “We’ve seen a huge jump,” she said. “The last couple months, the quality of stuff has really gone up.”
Treasure hunting 101
The women behind Tandem Vintage and Kollektiv have started teaching classes for would-be thrifters. Students at the $60 “Beginners Guide to Vintage Shopping and Thrifting” course typically want to know which Twin Cities thrift store is the best. But there’s no one best store.
The thrifters are able to stock their carefully curated collections only by regularly hitting estate sales (they find them by checking estatesales.net) and church basements as well as various thrift store locations every single week.
They also take road trips to check out stores in such places as St. Cloud, Brainerd and Eau Claire, Wis.
There’s luck involved, but a lot of hard work, too.
“The reason I find so much vintage and have such good luck is because I am out there every day,” Baumann said. “I may find a huge haul one day at one specific shop and the next week find nothing.”
Once inside a store, Baumann is sure to check the short racks at the end of each aisle, where workers stash the newest arrivals before hanging them with similarly sized items. At the Savers in Columbia Heights, she scanned every section — finding a vintage Faribo blanket made by Faribault Woolen Mill Co. in the bedding aisle, and in women’s sleepwear, a pink silk dressing gown that she knows will look great over jeans.
Using clothing clues
Kollektiv’s Lipkin doesn’t have time to flip through every item on the racks when sourcing goods, so she has developed a method she calls “the scan.”
Demonstrating it during a recent shopping expedition at Unique thrift store in New Hope, she walked down an aisle of women’s shirts, eyeing them all but reaching out to touch only the ones in her preferred color palette that looked like they might be silk or linen.
She flips to the tag to look for clues about when a piece was made. Tags that say “Made in U.S.A.” or “Union made” usually indicate that clothes were from 1980 or earlier.
Once she gets her finds home, the real work begins: soaking, washing, drying, steaming and tagging every item. Like most vintage sellers, Kollektiv’s Logan and Lipkin base the price of each piece they resell on its popularity and rarity.
Lipkin and Logan’s vintage ware is Scandinavian-inspired, so they’re always on the lookout for wooden housewares from Denmark, Swedish clogs, hand-carved spoons and hand-knit sweaters or blankets.
At Unique, they headed first to men’s denim, looking for old-school Levi’s, Rustler and Wrangler jeans. Logan pulled out a pair of Levi’s with the orange tab that was first introduced in the 1960s, and dropped them into her cart with a smile. (Red tab Levi’s with a capital E were made only before 1971 and are also a rare find, she said.)
Lipkin couldn’t resist a hunter-orange snowsuit, adding it to the cart, even though it’s off season. In housewares, she nabbed a midcentury modern ceramic wine decanter amid the clutter of chipped ceramic egg cups and kitchen gadgets still in their original packaging.
“It’s just really about the hunt, looking over and finding that rare gem,” Lipkin said.
And into the cart it went.