When I first started this blog and was trying to get the word out to anyone with ears, I can’t tell you how many people recommended that I go check out Zuburbia. And I completely understood why. The site, and it’s amazing founder Mary Kincaid, are all for the eco-friendly movement, and as I have said before, vintage is a huge part of that. Some people may see a vintage skirt as cute, while others see it as a great utilization of old resources, something that has not gone to waste. My favorite parts about the unique site are the weekly newsletters with Mary’s favorite eBay clothing and home picks, as well as the “Vintage Pick of the Day” (the awesomeness of that really doesn’t need explanation). Mary was nice enough to take time and answer some of my burning questions, and here is what she had to say:
WoodstockWardrobe: Have you always had a passion for vintage clothing?
Mary Kincaid: I wish I could say I came out of the womb chanting “Gucci, Gucci, Gucci” but the truth is that I didn’t really embrace vintage until I was well into my 30s. It took me that long to realize that, as a petite gal, vintage clothes fit me better and were often a much higher quality than modern clothes. Plus I just liked the unique fabrics and designs in vintage clothes so much more than the current trends that were displayed in the department stores in the Midwest. So I started trolling thrift stores and vintage shops in my spare time and slowly amassed pieces that I absolutely LOVE!
WW: How did Zuburbia come to be?
MK: As I was trolling those thrift stores, I started finding great pieces that wouldn’t fit me but that I just couldn’t bear to leave on the racks. I started buying them and sharing them with my daughter and her friends. It wasn’t long before I moved from that to offering items on eBay. And that eventually led to the e-commerce site.
As for the Zuburbia blog, every business consultant at the time told me I was crazy to feature my competitor’s items there. But I didn’t start the blog to focus on me and my business. I knew that the very nature of vintage meant that my clients would never be shopping exclusively with me. And I knew that exposing more women to the thrills of vintage clothing would help ALL vintage dealers. I knew that talking about all the great vintage on the Web would be good for the industry as a whole and, because vintage is such an eco-friendly choice, it would also benefit the environment.
WW: Does the name have any special meaning?
MK: Yes! I’m often asked how I came up with the name. I had been brainstorming for quite a while desperately trying to come up with the perfect name. Then I read a marketing book that was talking about all the companies that had recently been formed that had names starting with letter “Z.” So Zuburbia came from me taking the word “suburbia” and changing the first letter to “Z.” I was living in suburbia at the time and always felt like I never really fit there. So for me, Zuburbia represented suburbia with an edge.
WW: Describe your process for finding the vintage goods you list in your email newsletters, is there a specific criterion you follow?
MK: I always strive to have a mix of styles and price points in the eBay Roundups and in the VPODs, and every week, there seems to be at least one, and often several, new dealers featured. And yes, I really do sit at my computer and page through thousands of listings of each week!
Good quality pictures are super-important! I’m always sad when I find a great item but it has a picture whose quality won’t meet modern media standards–too fuzzy, bad lighting, improper styling, busy background, etc.
In general, I’m attracted to great design that transcends decades, iconic pieces that would be of interest to collectors, and interesting or unusual pieces that stand out from the crowd. And for every piece I feature, I can always picture in my head the modern woman who will be buying it to wear or collect.
WW: What designers, if any, do you tend to gravitate towards?
MK: I’m always more concerned with the design of an item than the designer of an item. Even great designers designed some rather ordinary pieces. On the other hand, there are loads of unknown labels affixed to some truly unique, extraordinary pieces.
For my own wardrobe, I have no loyalty to any particular designers but gravitate to items that make my heart sing and that touch something deep inside me. Also, for a short time I wanted to be a textile designer so I tend to pay very close attention to fabrics.
Plus I rely heavily on a three-word style statement that acts as my Fashion GPS and guides all my purchases. My Style Statement is Classic|Polished|Edge. And I know it when I see it!
WW: Have you found that any particular pieces or eras are more popular than others?
MK: Vintage items that are similar to current fashion trends are always popular. For instance, lace has recently been seen on fashion runways so similar lace dresses from decades past are more popular on eBay and command higher prices this year than last year. Books, TV and film also have an influence. Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men created demand for fashions of their respective eras. And iconic designer labels–like Chanel, YSL, Ossie Clark–are always popular.
WW: What are your goals for your website?
MK: I’m currently in talks to offer a unique vintage shopping marketplace on Zuburbia.com that I hope will appeal to both vintage buyers AND vintage sellers. Final details are being worked out now and I hope to launch this Fall or early next year. It means Zuburbia can continue to offer vintage items for sale without me being directly involved and it will allow me to do what I think I do best which is promote great vintage from other dealers.
As for the blog, it will continue to offer my vintage and style Roundups as well as essays, articles and interviews. I see it as a place to share my unique point-of-view along with the people, ideas, and products that inspire me on a day-to-day basis.
WW: Describe the editorial portion of your site, do you write it all?
MK: Absolutely! I believe very strongly in transparency, honesty and authenticity. I write all my own tweets and articles and do all my own curations. People would be very surprised to learn how many people on the web don’t actually create their content themselves, and I wish this truth was disclosed more often.
WW: How do you think online vintage sellers compare to brick and mortar vintage stores?
MK: I really see brick and mortar vintage stores and online vintage sellers as two very different businesses. Local stores are community-based while online selling is global and this requires very different marketing strategies.
And while it’s easy to be a generalist and offer all kinds of items in a brick and mortar store, the way clients find you online means it can be helpful to specialize in an era, a demographic, or particular products or labels if you want to grow a strong following on the Web.
Also, some items that would fly off the rack at a brick and mortar store will often languish online because they just don’t photograph well. So I think inventory acquisition is also different.
Of course, regardless of whether you sell online or in a store, you always need a good eye, you need to understand your customers, you need to provide exceptional service and you need to differentiate yourself by bringing a whole bunch of YOU to your business.
WW: Where do you ultimately see Zuburbia going?
MK: It’s hard for me to say right now and that’s very exciting. I’m going through a regenerative phase. I’ve taken off my entrepreneur cap and replaced it with an artist’s cap. Currently, I’ve been spending my days working on an autobiographical solo show that I’m writing and will be performing. It’s such an amazing self-growth process and I know I won’t be the same woman at the end of it that I am now!
That being said, I hope Zuburbia will continue to be a resource for women who appreciate great style and design, who are committed to living healthy, eco-friendly lives and who are seeking to fully express their unique, authentic selves to the world.