By Teri West
Hillandale, Maryland’s, Value Village and Unique thrift stores are two separate entities housed in one building big enough to contain approximately 500 elephant herds, but they don’t overwhelm Drew Darden. His thumb flick through the hangers is an efficient maneuver of muscle memory. He’s already quickly sifted through nearly every rack of interest: jerseys, t-shirts, and some jackets and sweatshirts, though they’re going out of season so are less of a priority. He even glanced at the shoes.
Finally, on a rack that he claims will conclude his visit, a red tank catches his eye. There’s a Nike logo stitched on the chest. Darden pulls out the tag. It’s gray.
“That’s how you know it’s from the ’80s,” he says.
Darden is a student at this university and a professional thrifter. He specializes in name-brand athletic gear from the ’80s and ’90s, which he advertises on Instagram under the moniker “spkupthrifts.” He’s one of a growing number of individuals who have an eye for what’s popular in vintage fashion, know how to capitalize on a digital market and enjoy scavenger hunts.
When Aaron Marshall created the Naptown Thrift Instagram page in 2015, he said he felt like he was the only vintage curator in all of Indianapolis. Now, the 22-year-old said he sees one from the area pop up every week.
“It’s hot, and it’s what everybody’s doing,” he said in an interview. “Everybody wants to go out and … find something cool because they see other people doing it and other people profiting from it.”
Fashion is known to occur in cycles, which inevitably refresh after a few decades. With those cycles come people hungry for the authentic items rather than those on Urban Outfitters mannequins.
Naptown Thrift’s Instagram accounts are typical of vintage curators. Colorful crewnecks and sneakers are accompanied by a flurry of broad, searchable hashtags like #vintage and #90sfashion.
Darden’s most recent post features bright red University of Maryland t-shirts from bygone eras. Some feature muscular cartoon Testudos clenching a crushed basketball hoop, boasting this university’s 2002 national championship victory. Both Darden and Marshall’s account bios request direct messages for sale interest.
Marshall buys most of his items for one or two bucks and can sell them for at least $10 or $15.
“Our most expensive stuff we’re typically buying is probably in the $8 to $10 range, and that’s on the high end,” he said. “That’s for something we know we can flip for probably $30 to $40 at the least.”
Marshall’s parents took him thrifting when he was younger, and by his freshman year of college he had acquired quite the vintage collection. His friends started asking where he got his clothes and if they could buy some. That, plus some thrift businesses he saw online including Richmond-born Round Two made him realize that he could profit off of his hobby, and he started running Naptown Thrift with his parents.
Darden also cites Round Two as the vintage brand that made it big. East Coast thrift enthusiasts have been trekking to its original store for years. Darden would make a trip out of the two-hour journey by pairing it with a visit to Kings Dominion.
Now, Round Two is an international empire whose clients include artists selling out arena tours. Co-founder Sean Wotherspoon even partnered with Nike to release an Air Max shoe with a style plucked from the ’80s.
On the women’s fashion side, Sophia Amoruso, who founded Nasty Gal in 2006 as a vintage store on eBay, has inspired many to test the waters, said professional thrifter Monica Reyes.
Reyes said she has always been involved in fashion one way or another, whether working retail or in college studying it. Now, “gladragsmarket” is her main hustle.
The Los Angelite sells most of her clothes on Poshmark, a website and app in which users can create their own “closets” to sell from. One in 50 women in the U.S. sells on Poshmark, according to the company, many of whom sell clothes from their personal wardrobes.
For Reyes, she said having her own business is freeing, and she finds it satisfying “if you put in double the work you’ll get double the results.”
But, she warns, to really make the business thrive, you have to commit.
“Even if it’s a trend, only the strong will survive,” Reyes said. “At the end of the day it does feel like a job.”
Both she and Darden said they hope to open their own clothing stores in the next few years. Marshall is already in the process of making his happen.
Naptown Thrift is currently housed in storage units decorated with posters and knickknacks where locals can arrange to shop by appointment.
“People come in, and they’re saying, ‘Wow, Indianapolis would benefit so much from a store like this,’ and I hear that over and over again,” Marshall said. “You can only hear that so many times before it gets in your head that that’s the only thing that’s going to happen.”
He’s been channeling profits to the storage unit rent but has been saving the rest toward opening a physical store. Marshall and his parents will open it after he graduates from Butler University this year, and he plans to commit to the business full-time.
Marshall said he’s addicted to the search for gems. Reyes said it’s her creative outlet. Darden said he values the sustainability in finding new people to cherish old clothes.
On his last stop of the day, the smaller Value Village just a five-minute drive from this university’s campus, someone else sifting through the t-shirts catches Darden’s eye.
“He’s looking for the same stuff,” he whispers. “I can tell.” Then he adds, “I like his hat.”
Though Darden beat his competitor to the rack, there is nothing to be found. He leaves the store empty-handed, but has relentless energy.
“I’ll probably come back here tomorrow to see if they have new stuff,” he says on his way out. “It’s really just the thrill of the hunt.”
Featured Photo Credit: Drew Darden, who runs @spkupthrfts on Instagram, says his favorite clothes are his father’s old shirts. He has been gradually and secretly transitioning them into his own closet (Teri West/Bloc Freelancer).
Teri West is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.