Editor's Note: This story first appeared on our Seller Community page.
Stylists and designers around the world look to Malena Martinez for fashion inspiration and it’s no wonder. Her shop boasts a coveted selection of vintage clothing that honors the past with an eye to the present. Selling to clothing companies like Free People as well as period-related TV shows and feature films, she uses her background working in fashion in New York City and the knowledge gained from running her brick-and-mortar shop to reach a global community on eBay.
Get to know Malena in her own words, and visit Malena’s Vintage Boutique:
A love of vintage fashion by way of NYC
I started collecting vintage clothing and jewelry when I was about 12. I would go to thrift stores with my mom and find amazing pieces from decades past, from colorful dresses to bold jewelry. I loved the history, the romance and the research that went into finding out when they were made and who made them.
By the time I was in college for fashion design and business at the Pratt Institute in New York, I began buying and selling curated pieces from times gone by. I worked at vintage stores in Brooklyn and New York City, thrifted a ton and learned how to make my own clothing while in school – from pattern making to embroidery to applique.
Opening up shop on eBay
After graduating, I moved back to my hometown, near Philadelphia, and opened Malena’s Vintage Boutique in 2003. We sold mostly vintage clothing and jewelry from the 1800s-1980s. We bought items by appointment locally and sourced from theater companies, charity thrift stores, dealers, estate attorneys and professional downsizers.
My journey with selling on eBay started three years later in 2006. By then I had acquired some wonderful things that hadn't found forever homes yet. A woman in her 70s had sold me her parents' costume collection with some great antique clothing from the 1880s-1920s. So I opened an eBay store, and it just took off. And here I am more than a decade later, still selling on eBay with thousands of items in my store.
With eBay, our shop is now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re able to sell things when I'm asleep, which is fantastic. We sell everywhere from Estonia to Illinois.
We’ve become known for our curation on eBay, so now people come to us when they’re looking for unique vintage pieces. We sell to shoppers looking for fine things that maybe need love or are ready to be worn out to that perfect event. We also sell to designers and stylists at companies like Urban Outfitters and Free People as they seek out inspiration.
We’ve sold a few vintage items to big TV shows and feature films set in a particular period, like: a pair of roller skating shorts from the ‘70s for a tween horror show. A 1920s lingerie piece for a bedroom scene in a period drama. And a fantastic antique tablecloth for a big Italian movie where unfortunately they had to spill wine on it.
Being on eBay has allowed us to get in front of these stylists and designers and connect so that they know how many items we truly have and what else we have to offer.
Growing her sales and her staff
The success we’ve had on eBay has really changed our lives because I'm able to run the front of the shop and find lovely things while my husband takes photos and works on eBay listings with our incredible staff. We have over 10 people employed here now at the store. So my husband and I are able to work together every day in this wonderful, sustainable way.
As our sales have grown on eBay we’ve been able to hire more people. Our employees range from Gen Y and Zers to Gen X, from age 16 to 50, and everybody loves finding their own niche of vintage and listing their items.
Creating a community of fashion enthusiasts
The eBay community I most often engage with stems from my local community. People come into our shop in the Philadelphia area all of the time saying, “look what I found on eBay” or “I was researching this on eBay.”
Some of my friends in the theatrical and drag realms find great things on eBay, and we love swapping information back and forth. My friend often buys large rhinestone jewelry, loose stones and feathers to complete his looks, and we like to look at detailed listings with references together to identify items.
Being part of this community is like having an extended family. Especially when you're in the niche world of vintage clothing and jewelry and antiques. Having a shop on eBay allows us to share that love and converse with people all over the place.
Her top tips for sellers
A little tidbit of advice that I would give to new eBay sellers is to stick with it. Add as many photos as possible, any sort of descriptions, and always offer to answer questions that a buyer might have.
One of the things that makes eBay so unique and special is that you're able to upload over 20 photos and a video to the listing, pointing out any condition issues or interesting details.
My top productivity hack is to involve my amazing team in the process of listing on eBay. Everyone has their own specialties and we utilize the drafts feature a lot in case they're not sure of the item’s value. We also create templates for specific kinds of items so that when we relist, a lot of the work is already done for us.
Donating a percent of sales through eBay for Charity
Since opening my shop on eBay 17 years ago, 10% of my sales have gone directly to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The most important person in my world, my husband, has cystic fibrosis. So being able to donate a portion of my sales through eBay for Charity has been very important to me.
Doing what she loves
It feels really rewarding to be able to do what I love. Our efforts are divided between the brick-and-mortar store, social media and our online sales, but finding beautiful things and giving them the homes that they truly deserve is very fulfilling.
I’m consistently inspired by the people I meet who have held onto vintage items – caring for them, loving them and maybe moving them from place to place. It's humbling that people who have held onto things longer than I've been alive are entrusting me to find them a new forever home.
I think young Malena would look at my life now and be pretty happy with her achievements. I get to travel, I get to buy what I love. I get to work with all different kinds of people. And I still really enjoy going to work every single day.
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