When I was walking around asking people in line if they’ve ever been to a ThriftCon before it was split 50/50 down the middle on the answer given. Some had gone in 2021 and couldn’t wait to get back. Others had no idea what they were in for. One younger woman wearing a distressed Disney tee had gone before. She had three of her friends with her who’d only seen the event online. When they answered no, she simply smiled and commented on the shoes they decided to wear.
She was a seasoned vet already, prepared for the biggest event in the industry. With close to 200 vendors under one roof for only 8 hours, it isn’t always easy finding what you came looking for. The search goes far and wide. Choosing sensible footwear is only the beginning.
As with every city, when 9 o’clock hits it’s like a slow burn of early bird attendees trickling through the doors. This is never really an issue, but Houston had a particular obstacle we hadn’t faced yet that staff was worried about weeks ahead of time. The region was in a disgusting heat wave and it would have been pretty messed up for us to make people in line wait out in the suck. Even though it was still early in the morning, the sun and humidity was relentless compared to the modern comfort of the already paid for air conditioning inside.
Luckily for us, we were able to station everyone indoors while our team ran through the line, pre-checking everyone and stamping hands for a smooth transition. Same with the 10 o’clock General Admission tickets. We decided to send that line as far back as we possibly could within the NRG Center hallway as people showed (some over an hour early for the best spot in line). By the time doors opened for GA the four lines of ticket checkers plowed through the crowd with ease. Our mission was to keep people waiting as little as possible and get them in vendor booths as quick as we could. It worked.
So then the event is popping off. For the uninitiated, it’s easy to see how overwhelming it can get. On one side of the venue sits dozens of large booth activations, each with towering racks of clothes. On the other side, same thing: smaller booth sizes but just as much inventory to rifle through. That isn’t the end of it though, not even close. Because the backside comes with even more vendors, even more things to look through and even more aisles to maneuver around.
We don’t call it the largest traveling secondhand and vintage market just because it looks good on social media.
If you don’t know what you’re wanting to find soon as you enter, my advice is to always walk a loop-around first. Get a sense of what the vendors brought to the table. Find a couple that grab your eye. But if you see something you like don’t take the gamble on it, chances are it won’t be there when you get back. Buy it. Move on. Though the event venue comes fully stocked with tends of thousands of pounds of gear, you’re not likely to find the same thing twice.
I've been part of ThriftCon in every capacity possible. First in 2019 as a shopper. Then a vendor for at least a half-dozen events around the nation. Now I'm the media and vendor manager full-time. What I've seen and enjoyed most in just a few short years is how extra the vendors have become. From small pop-up tents and broken tables as displays to shipping in entire storefronts.
While most of them brought out their own style of retail, vendors like Vintage Packs, Mania! and Illusion Vintage catered the best. No lie, it was difficult not to at least wander into their shop every time I passed by. That's exactly how retail is designed and if you're one of the smaller stores or just starting out, always take notes and do what the big kids do.
This year though, my goal was to make Houston’s floor a little more special for attendees. I personally spent several weeks reaching out to specialty vendors to fill a few reserved booths: toys & collectibles, womenswear and vinyl. No one bit on the vinyl, which is pretty crazy to me. Anyone dealing in old records would crush it at a Houston ThriftCon. They always do elsewhere.
Along with that we had a dedicated furniture booth offering up plenty of mid-century modern pieces along with smaller collectibles and housewares. We also tripled our womenswear vendors from last year. It was a grossly underrepresented group on the lineup in 2021, but completely showed out in 2022. The best part about something like that happening is that — per our own survey — attendees overwhelmingly want to see more of it. Sixty-two percent of shoppers coming through our doors identify as female. Vendors, take note.
Overall, the experience of Houston’s ThriftCon this year was mild. Not too heavy, not too Bud Light. That’s a good thing. As far as vendors were concerned, most had nothing but good vibes and hand slaps for the team. Even in a recession (with obnoxious gas prices at the pump) we were still able to invite 6,500 shoppers though the door for an event geared toward community and sustainability.
We’re trying to change the mindset of looking at secondhand clothes as second class.
Our next stop is Philadelphia at the end of August. If you were there last year we’re excited to see you back. If you’ve never been, think about the shoes you’re gonna wear.
[all photos Colin Lloyd / @onthesearchforpineapples]