Thrifting Awesome #5 (It Pays To Look Around)

So, as I was flipping through the shirts at my local GW store, I made an interesting find. And I’m not even talking about the Bill’s Khakis shirt and Paul & Shark Yachting shirts that I picked up. Those were nice, but the better find illustrates one of the key fundamentals of thrifting successfully.

One of the biggest keys to thrifting for profit involves looking around. It involves not just looking at what you’re looking at, but noticing things. Don’t get pigeonholed into thinking, “I’m on the shirt rack, I’m looking for shirts!” to the detriment of seeing what is truly there.

This is how I’ve spotted really cool vintage GoreTex jackets (see the post a few back about vintage outerwear), it’s how I’ve spotted Paradise Found “Magnum PI” shirts from across the store, it’s how I found a brand new in box triathlon wetsuit in the electronics department. Tom Brown, Jr., a survival expert, referred to a concept called scatter vision. You take in everything, not just what’s directly in front of you. This is me in a thrift shop, it’s a survival instinct. I will find the good stuff…

Anyway, back to my local GW store… I was cruising the shirt rack, not finding a whole lot worthwhile, when something catches my eye on the rack above the shirt rack (which is filled mostly with hats). I wasn’t looking at it, but the texture of what was there was what caught my eye. My first thought was, that looks like old school cordura nylon, the sort found on cool vintage outdoors gear. When I looked up, my jaw dropped. It was a pair of expedition down mittens. The same model, in fact, that was used by the first American Expedition to climb Mount Everest back in 1963. As it turns out, the material that caught my eye wasn’t cordura, but aramid (Kevlar is the trade name you likely know this wonderfabric by).

So yeah, a pair of expedition weight goose down filled mittens from probably early to mid 1970s! In mint condition, and in my size (like that’s going to keep me from selling these!). And I would have missed them if I wasn’t using my version of scatter vision in the thrift shop tonight…

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Ethics and the Art of Thrifting For Profit

Yesterday, a particular user took to the message boards of Styleforum to brag about return something to a retail store that he had purchased at a thrift store. As this sort of thing normally will, this incited a lively discussion of whether or not such a practice is legal and/or ethical.

Since a lot of people who read this blog are thrifting with an eye towards reselling for profit, I thought I’d add my twopence here for posterity’s sake.

Here’s the original post (name of stores involved removed, since I don’t know for certain that this wasn’t an entirely fictional scenario. Also, in an earlier post, this particular user had mentioned buying this coat at “Company A”.

Went to “Company B” and returned that Pal Zileri coat. Love their return policy [$1,087 onto my AmEx, paid $30]

Now, to me, this is a pretty cut and dry case (at least under California law -and I assume most states would have pretty much the same laws in place) of consumer fraud. Buying something from one retailer and returning it to another is consumer fraud. The scale of this particular case could lead to grand theft charges since the amount stolen from “Company B” was greater than $1000.

Much confusion ensued as to whether this action constituted fraud, whether it was ethical, and whether the scale of it made any difference.

To me, again, this is a pretty cut and dry case of consumer fraud/theft. This guy bought an expensive coat that still had a retail price tag on it at a thrift store. He then took it to the store where the retail price tag was from and returned it, representing himself as the original purchaser of the item. He knowingly lied (whether implicitly or explicitly) to that company to get $1000+ from them. Whether he actually told the employee of the retail store that he had bought the item or not should be immaterial to the case.

As to whether or not this action was unethical…

Company B is well known for having a lax return policy. Their mission is to satisfy their customers and they work with customers on a case by case basis rather than having a specific return policy.

Having such a return policy requires that customers have a certain amount of decency in their dealing with Company B. Customer abuse of these sorts of return policies leads to many problems. I’ll use the example of Company C, where I worked while was in college. They also used to have a very lax return policy and were forced to change this practice in the past year because of excessive abuse by customers.

Company C recently change their return policy from lifetime to one year. The reason for this is because too many people were returning items to the store that they had used for years or even decades. While most customers expect wear and tear as part of the life of an item, some people were using it as grounds for returning items that were well used. Even items that were lasting longer than expected were getting returned for a full refund. If you walked 2,000 miles in a pair of boots or ran 500 in a pair of shoes, would you consider that normal? Or would you desire to return them for a full refund?

Also brought up was the scale of the company involved. Would this scenario be different if the company involved was a small mom & pop operation than having been a large nationwide company? To me, the answer is unequivocally no.

In my opinion, too many people in our society feel that getting ahead by any means is perfectly acceptable. These are the same people who are quick to forgive drug cheats in sports, saying that “Everyone else was doing it.” This logic is used by people to justify their own cheating. If everyone in a given profession cheated, the playing field would be level for them. But what about the people who would like to be in that profession but refuse to cheat? Aren’t they hurt by the actions of those who cheated?

Cheating another individual, group, or corporation out of their property, dream, freedom, or whatever is entirely wrong. It doesn’t matter from an ethics standpoint whether we’re talking about $50, $1,000,000, freedom of religion, or anything else under the sun.

A civil society needs rules to be equally enforced across the board. It also requires a certain amount of decorum and decency from everyone in order to function properly and to be sustainable.

Going back to the case at hand. Every time someone cheats a retail store, it hurts everyone. It hurts us all in the form of higher prices, tighter security, etc. Higher prices at one level of the consumer chain leads to higher prices across the board. It mostly likely will lead to inflation. If you don’t see the problem with inflation, consider that starting wages at a particular store I used to work at have not gone up in over 20 years.

Thrifting Awesome #4 (Jean Shop New York)

Yep, another denim post.

Jean Shop jeans were actually one of the very first high end denim jeans I ever found in a thrift shop. They are now also the most recent, as I came across another pair earlier today.

The attention to detail on all of their products is excellent. This pair is no exception. From the Riri zipper fly to the exclusive orange selvedge ID, these are pretty sweet. Fortunately, they aren’t my size -I might have been tempted to keep them.They’re the Rocker Fit Lightweight Chambray jeans.

Here’s the product information page for this actual model of jeans. At $260, these are getting close to the upper tier of American-made jeans.

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e-Thrifting Awesome #1 (Roy Denim)

This post will mostly be pictures and video. These things sort of speak for themselves… The pictures are mine, I took them earlier today before wearing these jeans for the first time. I acquired them in a trade with a fellow Styleforum member from Brooklyn.

Roy Slaper makes every pair of Roy Denim jeans at his studio in Oakland, CA. The attention to detail on these things is mind boggling. They’re only available for sale at Self Edge (online, or retail stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Portland). Retail price is $345, I won’t mention my actual cost on these. It wasn’t massively cheap, but was a great blockbuster trade that you only find on places like Styleforum.

So yeah, these were actually thrifted in an actual shop. Keep your eyes peeled for quality denim!

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Thrifting Awesome #3 (Vintage Outdoors Gear)

Some things we encounter in life stay with us (in one way or another) for years and even decades. One thing that certainly hasn’t changed for me over the decades of my life is my magnetic attraction to being in the outdoors. Even now, listening to the sound of rain falling on the roof of my house, my mind wanders to rainy days over the years when I’ve gone for hikes in the woods of Castle Rock State Park (my favorite local haunt) in the rain and enjoyed the dry comfort of a cave while reading a good book and enjoying a coffee.

Outdoors “fashion” hasn’t really changed much over the years, at least not the years that I’ve been around. A classic 60/40 “mountain parka” would not look out of place on the rack next to a $600 GoreTex jacket by Arc’teryx. But what has changed is where that gear is made.

From the 1950s through the early 1980s, a handful of companies dominated the outdoors clothing scene. Some area familiar household names now (North Face, Sierra Designs, Marmot, Patagonia, REI, LL Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, etc.). But the ones that are no longer around are the focus of my peculiar obsession.

This trend started, you guessed it, in a thrift shop. I happened to spot a particular shade of burnt orange on a rack from across the store. A shade of burnt orange that brought to the surface a long-forgotten memory of one of my uncles wearing a parka in that same color. Long forgotten, because I was probably a couple of years old when that memory occurred. I recall nothing more than a flash of color and a view of a rushing creek (which I’m fairly certain was Yosemite Creek at the foot of Yosemite Falls).

Back to the thrift shop, what I spotted, and honed in on, was a pair of circa 1981/82 Trailwise GoreTex parkas. Now, you may not have ever heard of the company, but Trailwise was a prominent player back in the day. It was an offshoot of the old Ski Hut outdoors’ store in Berkeley, CA. It was their in-house brand, and stood on its own as one of the best of the best. These two parkas were in immaculate condition -one women’s and one men’s. Obviously a husband and wife had held onto them for many years before finally donating them to the GW. And there they waited for me. I pondered holding onto the men’s one, as it fit me reasonably well. But being the good capitalist that I am, I sold both, profiting to the tune of $149. Not a bad turnaround for a small investment!

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Fast-forward 10 months to November of this year. As I wandered the aisles of a thrift shop in the suburbs of Denver, CO; I happened upon another iconic brand jacket, in a similar vintage of GoreTex. This was from Class-5 (proudly declaring itself “The standard of the world”!), yet another Berkeley, CA based company. This parka was again in the classic mountain parka pattern, in GoreTex, and in mint condition. I picked it up for $3.49+tax! And yes, it did sell… For $99.99.

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Lest you think I don’t care about companies from outside the Bay Area, I bring you my final show and tell for this evening. Holubar Mountaineering was started by Roy and Alice Holubar in Boulder, Colorado in 1946. They made some of the finest gear available until selling their stores and product lines to The North Face in 1981.

This final piece on display here is notable for several reasons. First of all, this thing fits me like it was made for me. Secondly, It’s a 33+ year old down vest that is as close to perfect condition as I can imagine such an item being in in 2014. I bought this one off of Ebay for quite literally, a song ($16.35 shipped if you really want to know). The third reason? Remember the color I was waxing poetic about a few pararaphs ago? Yep, this late 70s/early 80s down vest is in that most iconic of outdoors colors, burnt orange!

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So yeah, that’s the briefest of introductions to the world of vintage outerwear you might encounter. Here’s a brief rundown of my favorite vintage brands, including ones I have not yet stumbled upon.

  1. Trailwise (Berkeley, CA)
  2. Class-5 (Berkeley, CA)
  3. Holubar (Boulder, CO)
  4. Chouinard Equipemnt (Ventura, CA -precursor to Patagonia)
  5. The North Face (brown label and older)
  6. Sierra Designs (Berkeley or Oakland label)
  7. Marmot Mountain Works (Berkeley)
  8. Frostline Kits (Boulder (oldest label), Broomfield, or Denver, CO)
  9. Early Winters (Seattle)
  10. REI (Seattle)
  11. LL Bean (Freeport, Maine)

And yes, there are many others… If it looks cool, speaks to your soul, is built well, and is Made in America, chances are it’s something worth keeping if the price is right!

Luxe Menswear, Part Two (Charvet)

In terms of brands I hadn’t heard of before the past couple of years, Charvet looms large in my mind. I’ve come across Charvet ties and shirts in the thrift and discount stores. But the ties certainly are their most lasting contribution to the world of men’s fashions.

I’ve handled a good number of high end silk ties: you name it, I’ve seen it and felt the texture and quality: Tom Ford, Kiton, Hermes, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci, Setafano Ricci, Robert Talbott, Brioni, Duchamp, et al. But the Charvet woven silk ties are arguable the finest ties in the world.

I picked up a couple at NMLC today. One of them stands head and shoulders above everything I’ve come across: and I did check out some Tom Ford and Kiton ties while I was in the shop, so yes, this is the best. The heft, the thickness, the feel and the look of this tie speaks volumes as to why some guys can get really into high end fashions. It’s just very nice, and very obviously well made.

You can read more about Charvet at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charvet_Place_Vend%C3%B4me. I won’t bore you with too many more words, but I will let the pictures speak for the tie. The retail price on this thing was $235.

Certainly keep your eye out for these, as some can do very well for sale.

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Luxe Menswear, Part One (Isaia)

Lately, I’ve been stepping up my game, as the saying goes, when it comes to finding stuff to resell. With that goal in mind, I’ve been scouring the racks for high-end menswear of the sort that you’re more likely to find on the streets of Paris, Milan or London than on my back.

The first brand I’m going to look at in this series is my personal favorite, Isaia of Napoli (Naples, Italy). Italy has long been known as the goto place for luxurious menswear. From what I understand, Isaia is considered one of the top brands from Italy (others being Kiton, Belvest, Ermenegildo Zegna, Borrelli, Attolini, et…). I tend to appreciate their styles more than other makers.

But then, I like bold plaid patterns, and Isaia excels at those. The red coral icon stands out as well: if you see that in a thrift shop, zero in on the item!

I’ve picked up 12 pieces from Isaia recently. The first was a sport coat that I actually thrifted for a very reasonable price. It hasn’t sold yet, but it’s only a matter of time… The retail price on these can be upwards of $2500!

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More recently, I’ve picked up a tie and some pocket squares. These would make perfect gifts for Christmas, hence the speed at which they were listed after being acquired!

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I aim to grow my business by selling more new products online. It’s just easier than dealing with used (and often smelly or dirty) clothing. And the margins can be higher if you play it right. Of course, the investment is higher, so do proceed with caution!