A lot of people think ‘vintage’ means old and outdated, or a niche fashion style. It’s interesting because the idea of vintage fashion has transformed into this type of stereotypical subculture of manic pixie girls with pastel pink hair, Doc Martens, stick-and-poke tattoos, and oversized grandma sweaters. While it’s true that individuals who like this type of style enjoy buying vintage stuff, vintage clothing garners hesitation from people that are not so into that lifestyle.
What a lot of people fail to recognize is that fashion repeats itself quite well, and classic fashion styles that hold up to the eras exist no matter when the piece of clothing was created. I think the idea of going to thrift stores also displeases some people who view clothes as a status symbol, or don’t want to ‘lower’ themselves to that standard. I don’t have any basis behind that claim, but I do think a lot of society is based upon these types of preconceived notions of wealth that show itself in simple things like buying clothes and daily necessities. In a fast-fashion world, marketers prey upon these types of people who are unconcerned about what their purchases truly mean in the scope of society and sustainability. That’s not to say that these people are bad people. It simply indicates what modern societies value.
On this issue of Shop Well, I interview Stephanie Mathena, founder of online vintage collective Iola Vintage, to learn more about how she gives back to the community through a circular fashion economy.
ISM: What motivated you to start Iola Vintage, and what was the inspiration behind the name?
Stephanie: There’s this gap between fast fashion and slow fashion, and I think vintage fills that gap pretty well. You can buy a piece and get it tailored to hug your body just right at a reasonable price without sacrificing quality. It’s a more time consuming process, which is why I think it’s great that these curated vintage shops are popping up making it easier for people to shop.
I also really love the vintage community. Nobody’s competing against each other because we’re all selling one of a kind pieces, so it’s just this awesome community of women helping each other out. It’s really motivating.
ISM: When curating items for your shop, what do you look out for? Is there a certain style or aesthetic you aim to achieve with your brand?
Stephanie: Skirt suits and wrap dresses are the first things I look for. They look flattering on every body type and are super versatile. I love anything silk too.
ISM: Your brand donates 50% of the profits. Can you give us a little more background about that and why donating profits matters to you?
Stephanie: I didn’t start the shop to make money and feel like the money I make from it belongs in more hands than my own, sort of like the clothes. There is so much wrong with the clothing industry – exploitation, toxic chemicals, waste. I want to do something positive with it. These next 3 months, I’ll be donating to the American Refugee Committee, an international nonprofit here in Minneapolis that provides aid and relief to displaced people.
ISM: What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned through founding Iola Vintage?
Stephanie: I’m still very new to this so I have a lot to learn! I’ve already made mistakes on packaging (yikes) and have learned a lot from other sellers on Instagram. I’ve also found that building inventory is a slow process, especially when you’re being mindful about sourcing sustainably.
ISM: Buying vintage is a great way to keep clothes out of landfills and give them new life. Do you think buying vintage is simply a trend, or do you forsee it truly becoming part of a society’s shift toward more sustainable practices?
Stephanie: As long as we have sellers sourcing vintage for people, I think it’s going to be here for awhile. Instagram’s been amazing for this and has really helped in the resurgence of vintage. I’d encourage anyone to not only buy vintage whenever possible, but sell it too. 🌱
Follow Iola Vintage:
It’s amazing to find pieces that are so high quality and classic in vintage stores like Iola Vintage. I decided on this 100% leather Mario Valentino skirt and found it very easy to work into a professional and classy wardrobe. Stephanie sent out the parcel quickly and I loved how well-kept the item is!
Although I’m a penchant for more odd and interesting pieces, this skirt’s shape really highlights curves by the way it’s tailored. Very feminine and classic! With vintage items, I always try and imagine who wore the item before me. I like to think that a very elegant woman wore this skirt!
I paired it with some simple silver dangle earrings and a black turtleneck.