In prehistoric times thrifting was limited to brick-and mortar shops. Second-hand shopping was frowned upon because of serendipity. It was a “stumble-on” economy in which some people were more fortunate than others. The present tense of “thrifting” includes Poshmark search terms and Depop “influencers” certificates. The whole process of resale seems to be a calculated one. Lucy Bergstrom, a veteran thrift dealer, says that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
She says that thrifting was something uncool when she was young. “I can remember feeling embarrassed that all my clothes were second-hand. It feels like we’ve completely flipped that notion on its face in recent years. And in a large way, social media is to blame.”
Bergstrom, despite her youth reticence, grew to enjoy the process of looking through thrifted clothes. When she was in her twenties, Bergstrom fell in love with the process of combing through thrifted clothes. So, “Moby Thrift” was born. It is a roving thrift shop that Drew Bergstrom and she owns in an RV in Utah.
In 2005, IRL thrifting was the norm. There was no Facebook Marketplace, there were no “Depop Girls” – and while vintage stores were using Instagram as a marketing tool, on the whole, they weren’t using their social media platforms to actually sell their products. Bergstrom pointed out that this was a missed opportunity. “The point of being mobile as a store was to reach as many people as possible, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many more people we could reach online – so we started selling on Instagram,” she says. “Our house became a shipping container. Under all the vintage clothing, you couldn’t see a inch of it.”
Bergstrom and her husband formed a partnership with local influencers in order to get their clothes sold. In exchange, they offered to take over their Instagram shop. Moby Thrift would package, ship, and sell the clothes in exchange for being promoted on their feeds. “We’ve never paid for an ad, but those influencers alone earned us tens of thousands of followers right at the get-go – and we realized we really could run a thrift store on Instagram.”
The shop’s current operations have changed slightly. You can shop Moby Thrift’s products in a dedicated brick and mortar location in Provo, Utah. This is one of the first vintage retail locations in Utah. And while they’ve run out of time (and space) to hawk influencer’s clothing, they have added some new features to their inventory: Beyond second-hand goods, they’ve also been customizing vintage T-shirts and adding creative detailing to repurposed garments through the use of their trusty, beloved Cricut smart cutting machine.
As if that’s not enough, in 2020, Bergstrom also found the time to launch a second business on the side: Retroflect. The new venture was born out of the same sustainability goal. It is about making vintage mirrors into art. Bergstrom creates custom Cricut stencils and paints, draws or illustrates on the mirrors. And in the vein of marketing, she’s found a new digital platform to boost sales: “TikTok has been a major help with Retroflect,” she says. “As we were just getting started, I uploaded a video of my process – and it instantly went viral. It was instrumental in driving so many sales. Now, I just want to keep the momentum going.”
As our social media landscape continues changing, we also see changes in our methods of buying and selling vintage clothing. We sat down to talk with Bergstrom about the future for thrifting. Learn more about TikTok marketing and customized vintage.
What are your sources for the products you sell?
We started by buying bulk items from thrift shops, either in person or via Craigslist or eBay. We would buy huge quantities of stuff and spend hours per day searching through large stores to find what we thought our customers might be interested in. We probably did this for around a year before we began accepting large amounts of our inventory from influentials.
Drew does most of the purchasing for Moby Thrift. He’s now a part of a thrifting group. He trades with other resellers or sources vintage-forward items through the Facebook Marketplace. We also attend estate sales occasionally. We also customize pieces for our clients.
What kind of custom pieces do you make?
Of late, we’ve started recreating vintage style T-shirts. We created a vintage-style Princess Diana shirt last year by silk screening second-hand T-shirts. It was so popular that it sold out multiple times. We are mainly adding custom tags to garments using our Cricut machine. We also design labels for baseball cards and add little bits of color or stitching to pieces that we feel passionate about. We leave our mark.
Then, in home goods, I take vintage mirrors and paint or draw onto them using homemade Cricut stencils. I made these giant, ’70s-style mirrors that have rainbows running across. I absolutely love how they turned. This has been a great way to express our creativity while still adhering to our sustainability goals. We just love bringing that individuality to people’s homes and wardrobes while also taking care of the planet.
Despite that, scaling something at a custom level is difficult when you have a small operation like ours. We’ll often have these ideas but not enough production to meet demand. We don’t want to lose that vintage feel, regardless of how things turn out on the custom side. While we still want to bring back the old, we also want to give it a personal touch. We’re still in the trial and error phase of doing that.
How was it like to open a brick-and-mortar shop?
We actually opened during the pandemic – in December. We were nervous about opening during the pandemic, but we knew that we would follow all precautions and that we’d be making steady income through the quarantine period. Since we are a social media-first seller, we had always made a steady income. And we kind of felt like it could be a nice soft start – we could see how it went having the physical space without getting too overwhelmed, since we’d only been online for years.
But, it was something we wanted for a long time. We’ve been doing a lot of pop-up shops over the years – nearly every month. This is where the majority of our sales came from. Our entire house was stuffed with inventory. It was nice to be able to move our entire inventory into the new space. We don’t want this space to be open 24/7. To keep that pop-up feeling, we want to be open only two days per week. We felt that we had to take this space last October when we found it. We couldn’t pass up this chance, even though it was during the pandemic and we weren’t making as much as we used to.
Are you still selling on Instagram?
We still use Instagram to sell – and that’s where most of our sales come from. We have a website as well, and we sell plenty of things in stores, but we can just reach so many more people online. We will have an IG story sale once a week where we just put a few clothes up and people can message us if you want to buy. Our website is mainly for collector’s items that are rarer and more expensive. We don’t expect these items to be sold in casually on Instagram or in stores. And this applies both to our clothing and our home goods. It’s a completely integrated enterprise.
Could you please tell me about your experiences using TikTok in marketing, as well as Instagram?
It has been a long journey and I am still learning. It certainly has its ups, and downs. The first Retroflect TikTok post I made blew up, and I got 6,000 followers instantly, and that drove so many sales. Then, I felt like my pace was slowing down. It’s difficult to produce TikTok content on the same platform as you do on another.
Although I have not yet achieved the same level of success as that first video, it was a great reminder that people enjoy this content, that they like this idea, and that they like what I do. That particular video was all about walking through my DIY method, from the initial Cricut processes through the final product, so I know that works. In a broader sense, this has allowed me to refocus my attention on video. Because I believe video is the future of social media, I spend a lot more time making Reels and giving IGTV a try. We have to embrace it if we want to keep up. It is a lot of trial and error. But, virality can change your life. However, I can say that TikToks could become a full-time, full-time job. It’s insane. It’s amazing to see people make such great stuff look easy.
Is this a positive change in the long-term? Are you positive about the future of vintage shopping?
It’s funny, in a way, I feel like thrifting in its current mode has developed the opposite stigma it had while I was growing up. It used to be sort of uncool and now, there’s this narrative that resale is actually becoming too privileged. I see a lot of girls posting pictures on Instagram with their thrift hauls. Sometimes they resell them. There are certain parts that aren’t perfect. Influencers should not source from places that are for low-income families. However, there is no shortage of clothing in the world. This is impossible because of the fast fashion industry. The more people who are able to recycle and resell, the better. It’s a great idea to slow down things. Anyone who resells fashion is contributing in some way to slowing down the fashion industry.
Of course there are things we should change. It is imperative that we are responsible for where our sourcing comes from. People can get a bit too crazy about their prices. A basic, second-hand shirt does not have to be $50. However, overall, I believe that social media has done so many amazing things to help people feel comfortable buying second-hand clothing and extend the garment’s lifecycle. In the end, it is the best defense against fast fashion.
Do you have any suggestions for the social media thrifting landscape?
As people with public-facing fashion websites, I believe we must be more democratic. While there will always be vendors selling designer or rare goods, I believe social media offers a great opportunity to reach different audiences with curated thrift. It’s something I love about Utah’s rare thrift stores – we feel like we are drawing in a special crowd. In the future, I hope that Instagram will create a similar platform to Facebook marketplace. This would allow you to sell and buy exciting used goods without having to be “in the know” or have a large following. For most of Gen Z, it seems like Facebook or Craigslist are kind of lost relics, so I feel like we need that kind of service on Instagram.
I would also love to see us spend more time in education. It’s easy to get misinformation from all sorts of brands. I believe we would all be more aware consumers if we understood the fast fashion industry. This applies to everything, including your mattress, appliances, utensils and more. And if people really understood how easily they could purchase everything second-hand, I think they’d be doing it way more.