On a gloomy wet winter evening, warm yellow lights shine from the newly-opened Orange Velvet Crush on 12th Street. Inside, rows of thick flannel jackets, shawls and woollen sweaters make up one-half of the store, and shelves filled with used books the other half.
The store is an extension of its co-founders’ interests — Surrey-based Shawna McLellan, a clothing designer, curates the vintage garb, and Burnaby-based Slay Spencer, an avid reader, handpicks the books.
'Thrifters' from when they were young, the store is their dream come true.
Ironically, though, what led the couple to pursue their happiness, was a not-so-happy incident five years ago.
It began as an Etsy store
Orange Crush Velvet was registered on Etsy in 2017 — “We started it because Slay was injured and we needed a work-from-home-type job,” said McLellan.
“I was no longer able to do the job I was currently doing, which was managing apartment complexes downtown. I needed something for income while working from home. So, we had to get savvy, get creative…,” said Spencer.
Which was when they came up with the idea of selling vintage clothing online on Etsy — banking on McLellan’s decade-long experience working at Community Thrift and Vintage, C’est La Vie Boutique, F As in Frank among other thrift stores.
“I've always collected vintage clothing, right from when I was young. And we've always been thrifters since we were young as well,” said McLellan.
So, the duo thought: why not make some money picking and selling clothes online?
What started off as a simple experiment “got more serious, progressively,” said McLellan.
“We just started steamrolling, and got popular…” added Spencer.
Soon, Orange Crush Velvet pop-ups started showing up in Vancouver, and drew people in from different cities.
But it still wasn’t the ideal business set-up for the couple — mainly because, as McLellan said, “Slay's real passion is for reading and books. And he really wanted to open a full bookstore."
The solution was simple: a real store that combined both their passions, books and vintage clothing.
So, they went ahead and made their virtual Orange Crush Velvet a real one in New West.
Opening the brick and mortar store has made a world of a difference for the two — seeing the joy on someone’s face when they find their special piece of clothing, or find a book that they had been searching for, was more rewarding than getting a five-star review online, they said.
Curating a vintage clothing and book collection
At the store, you’ll see a mix of vintage and contemporary clothing.
“I feel like the modern vintage shopper is a person who wears modern clothes and vintage, and not just 100 per cent vintage. People like to mix and match contemporary styles and vintage,” said McLellan.
To cater to this clientele, the store's “super picky” collection includes unique items that Spencer and McLellan have collected by scouring the internet; going on road trips to the United States; and buying from a wholesale vintage clothing shop (weekly by the pound); besides some “mall clothes” like those of brands such as Forever 21, Zara and Carhartt.
Each piece of apparel that comes into the store is cleaned, mended (if it needs a mend), and steamed. McLellan rarely reworks the clothes — “I enjoy the authenticity of the pieces on their own and I don't like to mess with it by changing it too much.”
The goal, she said, is to have things that you can’t commonly find at the mall or at Value Village — and no piece is priced above $300.
As far as the books are concerned, about 75 per cent — 3,000 or so — of what’s in the store is Spencer’s personal collection. The rest were bought wholesale or from people who were selling their collections online.
“All my book prices, even rare items, are up to 40 per cent cheaper than what you would find online because I don't really buy into a lot of that online inflation prices. I don't think it's fair,” said Spencer.
Keeping vintage within the area
Though less than a month-old, and launched in the midst of winter, McLellan and Spencer are happy with the reception their fledgling business is getting in New West. What they find especially interesting is the fact that more young customers (some younger than 17 years old) are checking out their collection.
“Young people today are just really on top of the whole vintage thing. When I was younger, I was probably one of the few people in my group that knew what that was,” said Spencer.
“You can always get vintage jeans for less than new jeans, and the quality is so much better. Vintage knitwear quality is so much higher than the new ones that are so cheap and bad — the fibre content is terrible, all the plastic clothes just disintegrate in washing machines and end up in the ocean," said McLellan. “When I was younger, I didn't consider that the clothes were just going to end up in a landfill.”
"But today, young people are aware of it because of social media, because of being connected to the internet.”
Besides promoting sustainable fashion, McLellan and Spencer also want to encourage locally-made clothing, and keep the vintage within the region — which is why, though they still have the online store, they prefer selling vintage items in person.
“Some of the stuff, when you put it up online, sells really quick; and then we won't have it in the store and people won't see it; and it’ll be shipped somewhere else,” said McLellan.
“Since I've been doing this for a while, I've been thinking more about keeping the vintage in the area. Because if everyone's reselling online, all of the vintage that's from here will go away. And then the vintage will dry up; there will be less and less stuff coming through the thrift stores, and people will find less of them because of that reason.”
But McLellan hopes their store gives people a platform to appreciate local vintage clothing.
“And when they're done with it, they can bring it back into another store or a place like this, and we can buy it” — so that the vintage never dries up in New West.
Orange Crush Velvet is located at 611 12th St., and is open Tuesday through Sunday.