After spotting a lack of affordable and sustainable clothing brands that cater to plus-size women, NC State graduate Mariah Collazo began selling gently used vintage clothing on Depop, eventually branching out to her online storefront Vanilla Vintage.
“I noticed it was kind of hard to find sustainable clothing that was still trendy, like fast fashion brands like H&M or Fashion Nova, that were still young and fun,” Collazo said. “A lot of the sustainable clothing brands I saw skewed more towards neutrals and basic shapes, which I understand because they want something that's kind of timeless, but I just saw an empty gap there in the market.”
While attending an NC State class on entrepreneurship, Collazo decided on the name “Vanilla Vintage,” citing catchy alliteration and a tie-in to the store’s branding.
“I wanted to emphasize neutrals, so I used the tagline ‘anything but plain’ just to show that sustainable fashion is still interesting,” Collazo said. “It's still trendy, even though it is neutral and it is timeless.”
Collazo describes her customer base as diverse and wants all women to be able to identify with Vanilla Vintage’s brand and story.
“I want the clothing to vary for different events, from work to nighttime or vacation, all the seasons,” Collazo said. “Overall the women I mainly cater to are young, anywhere from 18 to their early 30s, located in mid-sized to large cities.”
Collazo’s publicity strategy depends largely on word of mouth and social media.
“A lot of women, they're kind of not seeing themselves in the other vintage fashion brands that are on Instagram and TikTok and all that,” Collazo said. “So when they come across my page, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Like, ‘Finally, I see myself in this brand.’ So a lot of it has just been Instagram and then converting people who shop with me on Depop to my website.”
With more publicity since her feature in The New York Times, Vanilla Vintage experienced an uptick in new customers. The store has a 25% to 50% returning customer rate and Collazo works to retain customer loyalty through individualized experiences and one-on-one marketing, not to mention excellent customer service.
Collazo is currently working to find more vintage designer inventory, including items from brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Recently, she has taken an interest in refurbishment, learning cobbling and leatherwork for simple repairs.
Of course, Collazo is also looking into expanding her brand, adding more sizes and styles, accommodating new customers and even planning a potential pop-up shop with other curated thrift stores in the Triangle. Collazo wants Vanilla Vintage’s impact to center around representation for women of all demographics.
As a former student in the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State, Collazo knew the importance of sustainability in the textile industry and wanted to avoid fast fashion without sacrificing affordable, trendy pieces that fit well.
“I've really enjoyed being able to give other women sustainable options in clothing,” Collazo said. “That's what I want the impact for Vanilla Vintage to be, that you don't have to shop at fast fashion brands to find clothing that suits your lifestyle. I love helping women develop their own personal style and confidence in seeing themselves as stylish and interesting and worthy of fun clothes that are gonna withstand trends and not just go out of style next month.”