Vintage clothing not only accounts for a sizeable portion of the retail market—according to Thred Up, the resale clothing business is worth $20 billion—but it also often assumes an altruistic motive. Quelling over-consumption habits by opting for gently worn clothes seems like a smart and responsible decision considering the non-stop pace of fast fashion and the strain it takes on environmental resources. But vintage seller Subrina Heyink is calling bullshit on the suggestion that buying secondhand clothing is all about doing good. At least, in part.
“The whole, ‘I’m repurposing’ [motive] is BS because, if I’m being honest, it’s not the driving force of my business,” she says. Heyink, a Kansas-City based stylist and image consultant, is the creative behind Subrina Heyink Vintage, a site and inspiration-filled Instagram account that’s been on the radar of fashion insiders for the past couple of years. Though Heyink herself may be a poster child for conscious shopping and upcycling vintage pieces, she points out that being decent to the planet is a symptom of her deep appreciation for clothing, not the cause of it.
“It started when I was pregnant with my son,” she says about her now full-fledged obsession with vintage. “I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know how to dress my new body, so I ended up wearing my husband’s clothes the whole time—all his button-down shirts and jeans.” Once Gap’s men’s department no longer spoke to Heyink’s new aesthetic, she says she turned to vintage for similar tailored pieces. In turn, she discovered sellers like Na Nin Vintage and started engaging in shopping sprees in order to explore this new avenue of personal style.
“In the beginning, it wasn’t the mentality of ‘I’m doing the right thing,’” Heyink explains regarding vintage’s ethical appeal. “It was cheaper and it looked better on me. By the end of 2016, I had so much clothing I wanted to sell it.” In the spring of 2017, Heyink’s shop released its first collection.
Without any formal fashion background—she studied chemistry in college—Heyink might not seem like the most obvious expert when it comes to hunting down and building a unique wardrobe of gently worn gems, but she credits her skills to a few different factors, including her upbringing in Nigeria. “For Nigerian women, it’s not uncommon to have their clothing made,” Heyink says, citing her mother and grandmother as some of her own inspirations. “This impacted the way I wore clothing because I wasn’t so detached from the process of the way clothing is made.”
This said, Heyink’s curation on her site is steeped in impeccable fit—construction ranks much higher than a famous name on a label (even though you can find Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Hermes, and more), and an item’s styling versatility is much more important than its trending popularity. Yes, Heyink has an incredible eye, but she says there’s one skill she credits to being a great vintage shopper: her fervent approach to research.
“I think it’s the academic side of me—my family, my culture—that says ‘if you’re going to do something you’re going to be the best at it,’” she says. “I do a lot more research than the buying of clothes because the buying is easy once you know what you’re looking for.”
As far as other advice for fellow vintage shoppers or those aspiring, Heyink suggests getting honest about the reason you’re buying a vintage piece—Is the fabric in pristine condition? Does it make you feel powerful? Is it too rare of an item to pass up?—before making a decision. “From a stylist’s standpoint, I think knowing your style and what you love is so important,” she suggests. “Vintage is not cheap, especially when you’re buying designer vintage, so instead of wasting money and buying things you’ll get sick of, sit down and think about what you want to wear and what you love wearing.”
It’s because of this thoughtfulness that Heyink suggests shoppers carefully consider the motives behind their vintage purchases. “There’s a privilege with it,” she says of selecting a vintage item over a brand new one, “where I can afford to buy something that’s not made poorly, that’s not made from Zara or H&M. I’m not putting people who shop there down because some have no other choice, but I try to take responsibly because I can.”
As for what’s available in her store today, the offerings speak very much to Heyink’s own point of view. She tells us that customers are especially quick to purchase from her curation of tailored suits from the ‘80s and ‘90s—“menswear for women that’s not trying to be feminine”—wrap silhouettes of all kinds including tops, dresses, and skirts; as well as quintessential ‘90s slip dresses and skirts. However, up next, Heyink is scheduled to take a small step back. Instead of presenting her own collections for the next few months she’s enlisting women she admires to collaborate on collections that reflect their style—Karla Deras is up first at the beginning of February. “I want to regroup and decide what direction to go down,” she says with consideration, “because vintage can really wear you down.”
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