The first word that pops into your head when you see Erin and Stefanie and their vintage shop, Oh So Lovely, might be "cute." Every item, be it a flirty retro dress, a 60's mod knick knack or a pastel kitchen utensil, just screams the word. Frequently clad in patterned dresses and seemingly never without a swipe of lipstick, the ladies themselves fit that description. Yet spend some time with these two driven women, and you'll come to know the smarts and business savvy behind that lovely exterior. Erin and Stef have been working together for over six years now, and their business has seen several reincarnations. They started out as a mobile shop touring festivals in a vintage 50's trailer, and shared a space in the Exchange with Vintage Glory owner Doug under the name Rhymes With Orange for the past three years. Since closing that storefront back in January, the women have returned to their festival roots. Their mint-green stand drew eyes and shoppers at Wildwood Rose Vintage Market in the Exchange last month, and they'll be back for Wildwood Rose II in West Broadway on July 18th.
FULL: How did the two of you meet and begin working together?
Erin: We met fifteen years ago. Our boyfriends at the time were in a band together. I was working at Para Mix in Osborne and hired Stef. We worked together for three years, and then started thinking about doing something, just the two of us.
Stef: The owner there was starting to get less involved and leaving us in charge of the daily business, so we got a handle for it with that and decided it was something we could do own our own. Then we started to hatch different ideas as to what would be the most financially feasible way to start.
Erin: We were totally broke. So we thought, let’s get a trailer. It was something we had always talked about. We found one in Minneapolis. Stef’s dad was down there for a vintage car show and he hauled it back for us. We never even got the chance to see it first, and it was pretty water damaged, so we got together family and friends, did the work ourselves, painted it, put in hardwood floors and shelving to make it into a little shop on wheels.
Stef: It’s a 1956 can trailer.
Erin: We were among the first in Canada to have that kind of shop. There were maybe a few others, but we wound up at the beginning of that trend, and we lucked out that way. Later, we were out of town travelling separately and got an email from Bust saying they wanted to do a photoshoot. We were freaking out.
Stef: This was before we had even launched the shop and were just promoting it on our blog. We came back, finished up the trailer and did the shoot. That was our first exposure before we even had an event.
Erin: That snowballed things for us.
Stef: It jumpstarted the whole thing.
Erin: So we were busy that summer doing a bunch of festivals. We did Summer in the City in Steinbach, the Niverville Fair, Canada Day on Osborne, Fringe Fest.
Stef: It was great exposure. During the Fringe Festival we were parked outside of Vintage Glory (it’s old location on Albert Street). The owner, Doug, his wife had recently passed away and she had done the women’s clothing for the store, so he approached us and asked if we would want to partner with him.
Erin: We had known him for years, shopping Vintage Glory at its different locations and we knew his wife. He liked us and we got along well. At the end of the summer, we hadn't really known what we were going to do. We’d quit our jobs and were kind of freaking out, but he told us we could start moving in within a week. So it worked out perfectly. We moved into Vintage Glory and things started to take off. We needed a bigger space and our lease was up, but that turned into a bit of issue with paperwork. Two weeks before our lease ended, we were scrambling, and then the location on McDermot that became Rhymes with Orange became available and we jumped on it. We barely read the paperwork, we just knew the size and location where what we wanted.
Stef: That was at the beginning of 2011. We opened in January with a three year lease.
Erin: Toward the end of the three years, we started having problems with upcoming increases in rent, so we decided not to renew. Our last month was probably our best month ever. Things skyrocketed. Before that, we were struggling a bit. There were some personal issues going on in our lives, and we fun was almost sucked out of it. But that last month made us feel differently. It reminded us that we do know what we’re doing.
So when the lease finished, we closed up, took a little breather, redesigned our blog, started an online shop and did pop-ups. That took a lot of pressure off, because there’s no overhead.
FULL: Most of what you see is pop-ups as a kind of promotion for a new business. So what was the goal with your pop-ups?
Erin: It’s a model that works well for us and we make good money on, because we have a good eye for setting things up. We work really well together with that and our styles complement each other.
Stef: Shifting to pop-ups also helped us to downsize and streamline. Erin has this apartment now, and we use the second bedroom as our workroom. It saves us a lot of money. Being downtown ran us into all these expenses just to have a room and a space to work in.
Erin: So we’ve been doing pop-ups now for a few months, and have been so overwhelmed by the reaction. Especially the last Wildwood Rose in the Exchange - which we’re doing again in West Broadway - there were 3,000 people there. And we had no idea that’s what would happen. We just felt so excited to be doing this again.
Stef: I think it also helps that Wildwood Rose just focuses on vintage vendors. All the clientele is looking for the same thing. It’s a much better venue for us than other kinds of street fairs.
Erin: We aren’t bringing the trailer. We’ve built a new set up, which we used at Wildwood Rose in the Exchange, and people responded really well to. It’s not just a clothing rack, it’s something colourful and eye-catching.
FULL: For the upcoming Wildwood Rose, what should people expect to see from you?
Erin: We have a lot of different stuff. Some of the clothing we get from Thailand is new, but it’s made from vintage fabric, and newer clothing with a vintage feel, as well as true vintage clothing. We like to have a mix of everything. And then we’ll also have housewares and little knick knacks. I’m excited for the next one, because it can be a bit unpredictable with street festivals. There are a lot of factors that go into how well it does. But I think it will be great.
FULL: What are you planning for Oh So Lovely after Wildwood Rose?
Erin: Afterwards, we’ll be doing the Goodwill Traders on August 30th, and we have a few other possibilities for upcoming events this summer.
Stef: We’ll be keeping an ear out, because now there are more and more events, particularly in the summer, and we’ll jump on the things that make sense for us.
Erin: It’s also good not to plan too many events, because then it becomes less exciting for people. When we keep it around once a month there’s a reason to come out and we’ll have new stuff.
FULL: Are you thinking the storefront model is something you’d like to return to eventually?
Erin: We have been talking about it more again lately, but it’s definitely still in the early stages. We would like to have another storefront in the future.
Stef: Especially for winter.
Erin: We’re also going to be relaunching our online store, which should get us through the fall, but winter or spring at the latest, we’ll be moving more toward that again.
Stef: A small space would be great for us. Rhymes with Orange was 1400 square feet, it was big.
Erin: Too big for just us on our own. It was great with Doug, but we want to go smaller now.
Stef: It gives off a different vibe too. The smaller, more intimate space is what we’re keeping an eye out for now.
Erin: We’re lucky to live in Winnipeg, where we can afford to have a storefront. We couldn’t just do this in any city. So I feel like we should take advantage of that.
FULL: Are there any challenges about doing this kind of work that you didn’t expect?
Stef: I think the most challenging thing is adjusting to being self-employed. You don’t have the stability of a regular paycheque. Different months fluctuate.
Erin: Come February, you go, “Okay, guess I’m eating rice for all my meals.”
FULL: What first got you into vintage shopping? Was there ever that one vintage item that made you go “Woah” and opened you up to that world?
Stef: My first memories of being exposed to vintage objects was through my dad. He had a classic car.
Erin: Same, my grandpa had an old car. It started for both of us with cars.
Stef: You see this really cool car with fins, and it looks like the Batmobile. My dad educated me a bit on that, and from there, I just became fascinated with the culture. I watched old movies from the sixties, and I loved their flared pants as a kid.
Erin: And the colours, the patterns. I remember going thrifting with my aunt. She lived in Texas, but anytime she came out she would take me. She was the thriftiest lady I ever met. At a young age, I was fascinated by this magical world where you could find these treasures. We both love the hunt; it’s so rewarding.
Stef: So satisfying to find that piece you’ve been looking for for months.
FULL: Where do you source most of your items?
Erin: A big chunk of it comes from Thailand. There are great vintage markets in Bangkok. When factories in the States started closing, many items were shipped out there, so a lot of what we get actually has North American tags, which is kind of crazy. We still go thrifting here too. MCC is a big one for us. I used to volunteer there.
Stef: So many good treasures there.
Erin: It’s lot of fun. We are lucky to do what we love.
You can see more from Oh So Lovely by attending Wildwood Rose in West Broadway this Saturday, reading their blog, shopping from them through Instagram, following their Facebook page for news about upcoming events, or following them on Instagram @ohsolovelystef and @ohsolovelyerin.