Returning to the SoWa Vintage Market for a second year, Melody Fortier runs the internet-based Tangerine Boutique out of Gardner, MA. She specializes in vintage clothing and has written a book, “The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping” published by Quirk Press two years ago. It was translated into Korean last winter.
Patch: How did your enthusiasm for vintage clothes begin?
Melody Fortier: I remember going to an ‘old clothes’ shop called Shaky Jakes when I was in high school in the early ‘70s. They had the best old ski sweaters from the 30s and 40s. Just before going to college I raided my grandmother’s closet and wore her old 1940s dresses and suits until they were threadbare.
Patch: At what point did it become a career?
MF: In the 80s I did alterations in a dress shop on Newbury Street. After that I was REALLY hooked and went on to open my own custom dressmaking and millinery business in a shared studio on Waltham St. in the South End. Eventually, I moved my business to South Boston where I opened a little storefront on the corner of G and Broadway. To supplement the sewing I began to sell vintage clothing and started a vintage website which developed into a physical storefront for seven years. Now I sell online and at shows and markets.
Patch: What's the most difficult aspect of your line of work?
MF: Selling vintage is more work than you can possibly imagine—a real labor of love. A successful vintage dealer needs to stay on trend but has no trade shows or sales reps to supply us with fresh, ready-to-wear product. We deal in older clothing that often needs some sort of TLC before it can be sold. Most of us hunt high and low for our merchandise. It is not unusual for me to travel hundreds of miles in a week, and estate calls can bring me as far as New Jersey.
Patch: How do you deal with the hagglers?
MF: In order to survive, my mark-up has to be substantial, which can make it difficult when I try to negotiate with the people I buy from. Customers, on the other hand, don't always understand this and haggling for lower prices can get a little unreasonable at times. I must say though, the vast majority of my customers are very empathetic if I just take a minute to explain.
Patch: How have you stayed afloat during this nasty recession?
MF: If you are making a living at this, it is impossible to rely on just one or two selling venues. Even the shops in the best locations are now supplementing with websites and attending vintage markets. It’s been a rough few years and I’ve had to put more irons in the fire to stay afloat. For the internet business I maintain a blog called ‘A Vintage Ramble’ and I try to keep up with my social media. I’m a regular vendor at the major east coast vintage shows, but before I take on a new endeavor I carefully assess the cost and the time it is going to involve. I’m certainly willing to try new things, but with some caution.
Patch: Is it hard to persevere sometimes?
MF: I run a micro business that, I’m proud to say, makes me a modest living. My business survives because it is a personal passion—I eat and breathe vintage and work almost every day of the year…I’m obsessed. My idea of fun is to brew a pot of tea and sit for hours reading through vintage fashion magazines and old sewing books. Sometimes running my business feels very difficult and there are moments when I think I must be crazy but that never lasts long. As long as the passion stays alive I believe my business will thrive.
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