Whether you’re decorating your lockdown living space, buying unique clothes only your COVID bubble will see, or trying to replicate that long-gone thrift shopping high of snagging a one-of-a-kind piece before anyone else, Instagram start-ups are a surprisingly simple and engaging way to shop secondhand from home. The accounts are highly curated, and many sell out quickly, meaning there’s an addicting rush that comes from sending a DM and a Venmo payment and suddenly owning whatever just appeared on your feed.
Most accounts offer shipping to anywhere, but choosing a local option means you can directly support your neighbors during the pandemic (Instagram as a platform doesn’t steal a share) while also treating yourself, maybe even snagging free local delivery along the way. Meet a few Chicagoans whose shops are very worth checking out:
Former full-time dog walker and self-described “unsuccessful painter/illustrator” Darcy Martinez started her Instagram vintage shop in the summer of 2020, after COVID cut back most of her clients. Martinez, 23, is a first-generation American of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent and newly out as gay, and thrifting offers her both supplemental income and a creative outlet. Her shop Nido Mori (@nidomori)—”forest nest”—has acquired more than 1,700 followers in just a few months.
Martinez sources most of her items from online or from thrift stores near her North Center home. A glance at her account shows a range of bright eclectic items, from Otagiri frog trivets and ceramic pig trinkets, to ornate ashtrays and stunning mirrors.
Whether she’s searching for a requested item or stumbling upon a hidden gem she’d rather keep for herself, Martinez is all about the hunt, giving discarded items new homes. She notes the importance of resale platforms sourcing items that are more rare or kitschy, rather than basic necessities like winter coats or pots and pans.
“If you do decide to sell these [basics], you can give back by donating to a nonprofit that serves the community you source from.” Instead of common objects, she says, “I always lean towards items that make my friends go, ‘Who on earth would buy this?’ and that’s a promise.”
Originally launched on Depop in August of 2019, SheaButterQueen (@shopsheabutterqueen) is an online thrift store for sustainable and unique fashion. The Instagram account shows countless photos of SheaButterQueen herself, the 23-year-old Black woman who runs the shop, modeling colorful clothing from a range of decades: a classic Chicago Bulls jacket, gold silk pieces, pastel 90s looks, leather jackets, and more.
SheaButterQueen works at Round Two, a popular Wicker Park thrift shop, but she still enjoys working for herself and being an entrepreneur online. A typical day of thrifting for her own shop means hunting for items from 9 AM to 7 PM: “I’m there that long not to grab everything I see, leaving no options for others, but to find what I know my audience is looking for.”
More than anything, SheaButterQueen just loves to shop, and she always enjoys styling her finds and discovering unique pieces for her more than 1,000 followers. Her local thrift store is her go-to for stocking the SheaButterQueen shop, and in an upcoming Ebook she’s writing, SheaButterQueen will share exactly where that is, as well as other tips on how to thrift like her.
After COVID-19 hit, Anna De Ocampo Kain watched thrift shop after thrift shop appear on Instagram, but it wasn’t until October that she, as a lifelong secondhand shopper, decided to start her own. The 27-year-old Portage Park reseller and realtor also freelances in the music world, but her Instagram store, Quarantini Vintage: Anna’s “Stay Home” Goods (@quarantini.vintage.chi), has taken off in just a few months, with more than 300 sales and more than 1,500 followers. Kain sells all sorts of home goods that lean mid-century modern and vintage, thoughtfully sourced from Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, estate sales, and other local places.
Kain is Filipina American, queer, and disabled, and all of her work as a reseller revolves around giving back to these communities and to the planet. Every month, 10 percent of her profits go to a local nonprofit; she offers free delivery to Chicagoans who supply used packaging materials, so that everything she sells is 100 percent recycled; essential workers and teachers get 10 percent discounts; the list goes on. Since October, Kain and her customers have donated more than $500 to Brave Space Alliance, CPS, and a range of other causes. She also stands firmly against the gentrification of thrift shops, combats the reselling of cultural pieces with her Thrifted Affirmation Project (#thriftedaffirmationproject), and constantly works to support her Filipinx community and BIPOC resellers.
Elhom Karbassi, the 28-year-old owner of Ziba Finds, started her business in early 2018. Originally called “elle0elle collection,” it began when Karbassi moved from her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, to Chicago. She ended up leaving her 9-to-5 job just weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown, hoping to run her shop full time. She rebranded to Ziba Finds—ziba is Farsi for “beautiful”—at the same time rebranding her own identity from Elle, as she had been called most of her life, to Elhom, in an effort to “live my most authentic self” as an Iranian American.
Today, Karbassi runs Ziba Finds (@zibafinds), a vintage and thrifted clothing shop and personal shopping account on Instagram with nearly 600 followers. Thrifting for others is therapeutic and utterly joyful for Karbassi, and it comes naturally after the upbringing she had: a struggling artist/environmentalist mom and “very Persian” dad concerned with appearance despite income gave her the skills to find hidden treasures and to understand taste.
Karbassi stocks Ziba Finds at yard sales, estate sales, and her favorite: the Goodwill outlet in Gary, Indiana. Part of her goal is obviously to turn a profit, but Karbassi is always open to negotiation, especially for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks: “I get it, capitalism has created a system where we all gotta make some money, but I truly think fashion and clothes that make people feel good, confirmed, and beautiful should be accessible to everyone.” v