We’re absolutely ecstatic to announce that we are partnering with Classic Loot, a secondhand clothing store/boutique located in Japantown in San Jose, CA!
You can shop their store here: https://letsthryft.com/classic_loot
Tam, the owner of Classic Loot, was kind enough to offer her time to chat with me about herself, her business and more! She’s given us permission to publish the transcript from that conversation. If you’re interested in thrifting & small businesses, we think you’ll love to hear her story.
Sam: So first, could you just tell me a little bit about yourself and maybe about your store?
Tam: My name is Tam, I’m the owner of classic loot. We started in 2012, selling on eBay, Etsy, you know, all the online platforms … was not very successful at all. So I started vending and doing like small events locally in San Jose. The first event I ever did was a Christmas event, I made $300. And I was so excited. And it was actually a boost for me to quit my adult job, I was a graphic designer at a real estate firm. And that 300, which was not even close to my salary at all, really made me want to just quit and start on this, this endeavor of mine that I’d been doing, and it started out, like me just going to like garage sales, flea markets, finding like cool, cool stuff. And just posting on Instagram. And this at that time, I think Instagram, I only had like 10 friends or something and like two likes, but I was like, so gung ho about it, I was like, it’s gonna happen (laughs). So I did more events. And eventually, I actually found a food truck type of truck. And it was gutted inside, it was nothing inside. And I turned it into a boutique on wheels. And I took that truck everywhere. In the Bay Area, Oakland, San Francisco, I did all the events. And it got a lot of good feedback from people just because it was such a new idea at the time. So we did that for a couple years, and eventually landed a storefront three years ago in Japantown. And we had to relocate after our lease ended. And now we’re here at a new location that’s at least four times bigger than the last one, during a pandemic. So yeah, that’s where we’re at right now.
Sam: Awesome. So what’s been the hardest part about running this business, or, I mean, maybe it’s maybe it’s the pandemic, or maybe it’s before that anything like that, what challenges have you faced?
Tam: During the pandemic, or just in general, I think in general, was just finding a place a storefront location that has decent traffic, and that was affordable. I think that was the hardest part, I’ve done so many pop ups, just to kind of get a feel in other people’s stores. But nonetheless, there was nothing available for us. And if it was, it was very limited. And very expensive. So the spot that I got on the other side (of Japantown) was like because I knew somebody that knew somebody. So I think opportunities are very scarce. That was my problem. And after when I lost that location when lease was over, I was searching for at least a year and a half … did not find anything for a long time. And then the struggle during this pandemic in the past two months … I would say it’s a struggle now. Being open in the middle of the pandemic is such a learning curve with everything. (to customer: Hi, there, welcome.) It’s such a learning curve. I’m just trying to figure out how people are spending their money. If people are still wanting to come in. And just trying out the online platforms, again, mean that I wasn’t successful at it before. So yeah, it was a learning curve and a lot of adaptation to Yeah,
Sam: Yeah. So have you learned anything about your customers? Have they changed over time? Or … who are your customers?
Tam: We’ve changed our style and our our product offering quite a lot, but I think what we’ve always stuck out for as being like the unique store that has a lot of one offs, right. Um, we did start selling only vintage. And it wasn’t for everyone. And we started doing more handmade and then introducing new stuff, and just kind of forgot what stuck and what worked. And it’s interesting now because I’m bringing back the second hand part in the past year, and it’s blown up so big. So it’s like super trendy for the kids nowadays. So yeah, it’s more often, in many ways.
Sam: That’s interesting. So you mentioned you started off selling vintage. I think I want to ask a little bit more about … the start. So what really got you into doing this business? You know, was that anything that inspired you … a mission or anything?
Tam: what really inspired me … I was just a thrifter since I was in high school. I’ve never really had a specific … like I didn’t look at like magazines and stuff to see what the style was. The style was kind of like whatever you can roll off. That’s your style, you know. So me finding these vintage items, one of a kind. And I was always drawn to that. And I was trying to kind of have that offering to people and trying to sell that style. But it didn’t really click around. People were not really into it. And I think with social media nowadays, everyone wants to be different, you know. Before everyone wanted to be the same. So I think now it’s like easier and easier to kind of show that eclectic side. Right.
Sam: I see. Yeah. Yeah. So I guess this is kind of tying into what you’re doing now, but how would you categorize your style? Let’s say someone who didn’t know anything about your store? Like, how would you describe it?
Tam: I hate that question so much, because I don’t have an answer for it. So if you look across all my platforms, it’s like, what are you? I’m just a dope store. That’s what I put, like, I don’t really know, like, someone left a review on Yelp saying ‘it’s like Kawaii meets badass’ and I was like, hey, Okay, I get it. But like, there’s no real sense of like, one direction that I’m going for. And I always tell people it’s just basically sh*t that I like. So yeah.
Sam: I see, I see. So what do you think makes you or your store unique? Like, let’s say, what differentiates you from Goodwill or other consignment stores?
Tam: I think our prices are fairly reasonable. We are a lot cheaper than a lot of the competitors around us. Even sometimes close to Goodwill’s prices, now that Goodwill prices are so expensive, right? And we’re a curator. So you don’t have to dig that hard to find something cool. But still very affordable.
Sam: That’s great. And, you know, I kind of want to dig a little bit deeper into your inspiration. So were there any like fashion icons for you either growing up or now … or influencers?
Tam: I would say there’s this old lady that I found on Instagram a while ago, her name is Betty Winkle. I don’t know if you know … she’s like I think 80 or something. She dresses like a young teenager, and she’s so badass. But I just think like, it doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter what size you are, what age you are. But if you can pull things off like that’s, that’s super cool to me.
Sam: Cool. Is there anything else that you wanted to share? Or maybe, is there anything you would say to folks who are looking into starting their own thrifting business, whether it’s at your scale, or at a smaller scale? Or any other type of small business, really, because I think you could be a great role role model for them.
Tam: I think, with social media, with all the information that’s out there, it seems like everyone always shows the very glorious side of being a small business owner or being your own boss. I’ve always wanted to get to the point of success where I can kind of talk back at, like, ‘these are all the trials and tribulations I’ve gone through’. And it’s not always great, right? So you know, I’m not saying like ‘don’t start a business’ … but also do be very realistic about everything. There are times that, you know, that it’s not gonna work, or it’s gonna, you know, kick you in your ass. And you just got to keep going, like, look at different perspectives. But yeah, it’s a whole learning process. I never went to school for this. So you know, I’m still learning. When I hire people, sometimes I’m like: ‘is there anything you want to teach me?’ So it’s still very much a learning experience for me. So if there’s anything that I can help with, with anyone … I actually just posted today on Instagram that we’re looking for an intern that has no job experience, because I want to be able to utilize them, but also at the same time, teach them something. So they can use this as experience for their resume, because I know when you’re trying to look for work, everyone’s like, ‘experience required’ but you’re like, how do I get it if no one’s giving it to me? So I get it, too. So I hope I can help in that kind of way.
Sam: I think it’s awesome of you to do that. Because, I mean, that’s kind of what we’re doing right now. We’re kind of running a small business.
Tam: And I think it’s so awesome what you’re doing. Thank you.
Sam: Thank you! Well, that’s everything I had for you. Thanks so much for your time and I’ll send you a copy of this before we publish it.
If you enjoyed this, we have plenty more of these coming! Follow us on Instagram @letsthryft, and follow Classic Loot @classicloot. Let us know what you want us to ask our partner stores next. And check out Classic Loot’s awesome products on Thryft at https://letsthryft.com/classic_loot