Years ago I ran an online vintage shop called onefortynine vintage, maybe you’ve even heard of it? It grew quickly, scored some influencer/celeb clients and made me enough money to buy a modest house and stop living paycheck to paycheck. My shop was born at a time when very few people were selling vintage online and so it became a big (or at least a medium sized) fish in a small sea. But as more and more vintage shops opened around me, mine slowly dissolved into obscurity, and looking back now I can see exactly why. I had tried to make my shop something for everyone else and that was my downfall.
When out picking, I would grab whatever I thought someone else would like. My collections would look like a rummage sale pile; leopard pants, gunne sax dress, 50s gown, silver lame’ shirt, 90s space boots, it was a crazy beautiful mess, and could have been amazing if that was actually my aesthetic, but it wasn’t. My basement was filled with inventory that I would never even wear and my sales began to slow to a trickle.
I would post outfits to IG and immediately get unfollows. It was a constant sinking feeling of what was I doing wrong? In fear, I stopped using ‘the gram’ altogether and missed out on some of the best years of organic growth. Looking back its clear that the people who had followed me for my 50s dresses weren’t there for my 80s pantsuits, and people shopping for 90s athletic gear wanted no part of the boho pieces I would drop. Rather than unapologetically just showing up as who I was and offering clothes that I loved regardless of the follows, I was constantly chasing my tail. My brand had no identity and stood for nothing.
Today, as consumers, we are blessed with so much choice. (Almost) anything we want can be ours at the click of a button. So naturally we’re becoming pickier about the brands we chose to buy from. Not only do we want a clear aesthetic, we want our brands to stand for something. This is why big name retailers seem to be loosing their footing while small fashion labels are rising up out of no where and becoming giants in their own right.
Can you imagine if a gluten free bakery chose to occasionally sell cakes made with conventional flour? Not only would they lose a whole lot of celiac customers, the people who eat wheat would probably not even go there to begin with. They are at the bakery down the road specializing in chocolate, or LGBT baking, or cakes shaped like celebrity faces. There is so much choice for the modern consumer that trying to be something to everyone will just make you nothing to no one. The riches truly are in the niches.
Now, I unapologetically stock my shop with lots of earth tones and neutrals, there is very rarely a print to be found, and I choose natural fabrics as much as possible. I’ll often pass on great pieces if the fabric is bad because synthetic fabrics are terrible for the environment and being eco-friendly is something I stand for both as a consumer, and as a brand.
My growth has been slow but steady and completely authentic. Many of my customers come back to order more and I’m building lasting relationships with those beautiful humans. I completely refuse to play the follow/unfollow game as I can’t imagine a less authentic use of my time. If people want to stay updated on my offerings, amazing, if not, buh-bye! I now view every unfollow as a blessing, one less person in my space who doesn’t want to be there is a good thing and it helps me show up even more authentically for those who do.
I know my shop is not for everyone and I’m ok with that. Its actually way less pressure on me and I loooove what I do because it is so authentically me.
How about you? Have you ever struggled to grow or found your growth stalling? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by trying to capture too wide of an audience or are you trying to create a product with everyone in mind? Do you feel like you’re trying to do too many things so that you can provide an offering to everyone? If you are struggling to niche down your own business I suggest first and foremost asking yourself this question:
Who are YOU as a person?
Deep down in the very fibers of your being, what makes you tick? Who is inside of that skin suit working the controls? A lot of people will tell you to design your ideal avatar (shes a mom, with three kids, and a parrot and she takes salsa lessons etc.) This can be a useful exercise for established entrepreneurs, but I think it can be too broad for someone just starting out or stalling out. The most authentic way to design your avatar is to use yourself as a mood board. You know yourself better than anyone, you can dig really deep and understand the way you think, the way you feel and the way you spend your hard earned cash.
What turns you on and what turns you off?
What are your favorite colors?
What are the last 5 things you have bought for yourself?
What is your dream house and where?
What are your values, at your very core?
What are your hopes, dreams and goals?
How do you want to show up for the world?
What are your ultimate deal breakers?
What makes you smile?
Imagine yourself as your ideal customer and you will find the ability to be so empathic that it would be impossible not to build a brand that has an authentic voice. Be true to yourself first and let the chips fall as they may. Your brand may be small but it will be mighty. You will serve the people you were designed to serve and you will be able to do so with such impact and authenticity that you will not easily be forgotten.