Maya Lowder of VintageWise has a knack for finding lovely vintage dresses, accessories and sewing patterns. She started out seeking dresses as presents for her jazz musician sister, Meschiya Lake; Maya discovered a new love of vintage shopping and quickly had too many items to keep to herself. She opened her vault to offer a sneak peek of upcoming items and share some vintage-hunting tales.
Does your love of vintage items come from the thrill of the hunt, the history or the collecting?
Oh goodness, it’s hard to choose! I love them all, but I’m most smitten with the history. If all my vintage hunts were thrilling, I’d pick that – but in reality, there’s an awful lot of running around and many days where the pickings are slim. The thrill of the hunt has its moments; I love that feeling of excitement when I’m exploring someone else’s home at an estate sale and wondering why they’ve held on to that certain something for so many years. There are many weekends where I don’t find anything. Although I love helping others add to their collections, I’m not much of a collector myself. The history part is unendingly delicious, though – there’s always another corner of history to discover, untold and forgotten stories, and lovely memories that linger on. That’s definitely the biggest draw.
You mention a stash of items in the “vault” that you have yet to photograph and list. Can we get a sneak peek?
Hmmmm… maybe I could show you just one dress (pictured) – isn’t she a beauty? I have a super-cute 1950’s blue eyelet swimsuit/romper soaking right now – that’ll be in store soon, along with a darling pair of novelty print 1930s feedsacks, more 1950s glamour dresses, and some 1940’s dressing gowns.
Do you have a favorite place to search for items?
I hit estate sales and auctions as often as possible, that’s where most of my inventory comes from. My favorite place to visit is a little town in North Carolina about an hour’s drive from here. I don’t always find something spectacular, but it’s a fun mini road trip for me and my daughter; now that she’s a teenager, there aren’t too many things she still likes doing with mom. She was six the first time we went, and we’ve gone a couple times a year for a decade now. It’s a quaint little town near Pisgah National Forest with beautiful mountain views along the way.
Our first stop is the Humane Society Thrift Shop. The lady who works there is so nice, and my daughter gets to cuddle the little kittens and puppies they have waiting to be adopted. Afterwards, we stop at an old-timey soda shop for ice cream cones, and then we go to Safe Attic, a thrift shop that helps victims of domestic abuse. I’ve found some amazing things in that town, but it’s definitely the experiences that I treasure most. I hope my daughter never outgrows it!
I imagine that after being in the business for so long, you need to go outside your area to find new old things. How far have you traveled to find items?
Actually, this place is pretty big and growing all the time! There’s constantly something “new” to discover. I’ve made friends with some of the people who run estate sales in this area – they give me a heads up if something good is coming up, especially vintage dresses. They know what I love! I haven’t had to travel very far to find things. Although when we do travel, I always come up with an excuse to slip away and shop for a while. Luckily, my hubby is pretty understanding and supportive about my vintage addiction.
Are you a solo explorer or do you have a partner in crime?
Definitely a solo explorer! I’ve tried going to estate sales with friends and family members – I love my friends and family, but I find it too distracting to shop with someone else. I don’t like to be rushed. I’m known for being a bit poky when it comes to estate sales – I’ll contentedly search for what seems like minutes to me but hours to them. It’s best for everyone if I shop alone. The one exception is the occasional mountain town road trip with my daughter, or if we just happen to drive by a thrift store on the way home.
My favorite part of your shop is your dresses. Do you have a particular favorite?
Oh, the dresses are my favorites too! I love something about all of them. This black silk dinner dress is so lovely, much more exquisite in person. It has such an air of elegance, and the construction was especially fascinating. There were lots of hidden underbodice layers and seemingly endless rows of hook and eye closures. Along with the beading and embroidery it must have taken hours to create.
I wish I’d kept this 1940s dress – I mean really, polka dots, a ruffled halter top, a super-full long twirly skirt. Seriously amazing.
Have you considered narrowing your focus?
I can see the business sense in filling a niche, but my love for vintage knows no bounds. It’d get a bit boring if I limited myself to just one sort of thing. Now, it’s like a lovely little adventure – being out and about without having any idea what I’ll find that day. A big part of the fun is the anticipation of all the neat things I have yet to discover. I’d have a lot of unsuccessful shopping trips if I narrowed my focus, which would make the thrill of the hunt far less thrilling!
I could narrow my focus by having multiple shops, offering vintage books in one and housegoods or clothing in another, but that’s not for me; I like to keep it simple! I feel I’m able to offer the best service and shopping experience for my customers, yet still have plenty of time for my family, taking care of my home, and enjoying life in general. That’s why I’m not on Twitter, I refuse to Facebook, and I don’t do much advertising or marketing for my shop. My focus isn’t on making as much money as possible, it’s about sharing what I love and having fun with it. I make enough to feed my family, help out with bills – and of course buy more vintage!! Thus the lovely cycle continues. So no, I don’t feel the need to narrow my focus. I like how it’s working out right now.
Could you choose one item from your shop and tell us the story behind it?
This wedding dress is dear to my heart. It was part of a clothing lot I bought at an estate auction – had it just been offered by itself, I would have passed it up because of the poor condition it was in. It sat neglected in a hot, dirty attic for decades and was this dreary dark shade of grey. It was in such a state of disrepair that I didn’t have much hope for it. I knew if I donated it, it would surely end up in the trash, so I gave it a go. After a lot of time, effort, and Oxyclean, I had the immense satisfaction of seeing it come back to life. I sent it to a lady in New York who wore it for her wedding. How lovely is that?
Another nice thing for me is that I have a photo of the dress’ original owner. She was a school teacher who never married or had any children, so there wasn’t anyone to pass the dress on to. She has a soft, kind look in her eyes; I feel that somewhere she was happy to see her dress a sparking beauty once again.
What has been your biggest challenge selling on Etsy?
The mundane business-keeping. All the receipts and mileage and such to keep up with for my taxes. That was the biggest challenge at first, but I’m used to it now. Also taking great pictures – I’m better than I was, but there’s still room for improvement!
My main challenge in running the shop is staying on task when I’m researching something like this suitcase. Trying to figure out its age led me to the suitcase project on Jon Crispin’s blog; before I knew it, I’d spent more than an hour looking at all those old suitcases and the stories they contained. A lovely diversion, but a diversion nonetheless. Far too often in the course of my research, I end up on Youtube looking at kittens – how does that even happen?! Totally not relevant. I could market my shop more, but to be honest I’m happy with the pace of it now. It’ll be nice to see where this takes me. Most important is that I’m having fun along the way.
Maya’s Etsy shop is a treasure trove of hand-picked historical items, a whirlwind tour of fashion and culture from the 1920s through the 1970s.