Meet the Thrifty Duo Behind Chinatown’s New ‘Kool Thing Vintage’

Eastside Flea mainstays and vintage vets, Mysa and Forrest, are the couple behind Kool Thing Vintage. We linked up the duo as they were in the final stages of preparing their brick and mortar Chinatown shop for its opening. Kool Thing officially opened its doors this past weekend (Saturday, December 1st). Warning: the following includes contagious enthusiasm and other content likely to inspire some serious secondhand shopping…

What are your backgrounds? Mysa, I know that in the past you’ve been a big part of the Shudder Gallery…

Mysa: I moved to London, England when I was 18. I wanted to get a far away as fast as possible from my small town upbringing in the Okanagan. I worked in fashion, mostly jewellery for 8 years and I volunteered at this amazing independent art gallery called The Horse Hospital which had a vintage clothing rental space called The Contemporary Wardrobe in the basement. The gentleman who ran it was a film and fashion stylist who helped create Vivienne Westwood and Malcom Mclaren’s shop, Sex. He had an original Bowie costume in the basement (I think it was Ziggy Stardust era), Sex Pistols pieces and tons of amazing pieces — I’d spend hours going through it and organizing. It was like being in a vintage collector’s fantasy.

I’d fallen in love with vintage far before then, though. I’m pretty sure I’ve been thrifting since I was a baby. I have fond memories of digging through clothing bins as a little kid back when thrift stores were full of junk and a little wild. My passion for vintage continued into my teens. I was a grunge kid and only wore vintage. Lots of old man pants, polyester, bell bottoms, but also glamorous 30s to 50s cocktail dresses with matching hats, gloves and handbags, which I wore to school, much to my torment from other kids. My aunt opened a very cool vintage store called Retro Active in Vernon around 1992. That was my first job. I feel like vintage has always been a part of me and once I decided to get back into the business by opening my first Etsy store in January, 2014 it felt like everything fell into place.

Forrest: I’m a university drop-out as of way back in the mid-90s. Over the years I worked mostly as a house painter at first and then as a manlift operator in high rise construction from 2000 until the summer of 2017. All the while l’ve been an avid thrifter/collector/hoarder of all kinds of things, but mostly dishware — things like Fiesta Ware, Fire-King, Pyrex and Swanky Swigs. T-shirts were always something that I collected along the way as well… ones that I found funny or ironic, etc. … but I was kinda oblivious to the fact that some vintage tees had appreciated in value, including my old band tees. I’ve been selling dishes and clothes at Eastside Flea for about 2 1/2 years now. I’ve had my Etsy store Kool Thing Galore (formerly 1024 Vintage Galore) for over 2 years now as well. Vintage dealing has become my sole source of income for almost a year and a half now.

How did you two find each other?

M: Forrest and I met at the Eastside Flea on a Friday shop and bop. I was vending and I think he’d had a few beers, so he had the courage to come say hi.

F: Found at the flea!

What inspired you to pursue this venture together?

M: Our passion for vintage is a little all-consuming but because of that we get each other. I mean, who else would want to nerd out and do show-and-tell of our vintage finds for over two hours and not get bored? We like to hide the best things until last and build up to them. Honestly, it’s kind of ridiculous!

F: I’d say it really came down to the fact that we were already in a commercial space…using it as an office, photo studio, and the base for Etsy and flea market operations. We had a good amount of stock saved up and we just wanted to give it a go, having the luxury of not having to look for a new location. And speaking of location, being directly across from Duchesse Vintage and within walking distance of several other vintage shops will be an advantage for us and hopefully we can, in turn, attract more vintage shoppers to the area in general — a win for everyone.

What is the best thing about your business partnership?

M: We are both very driven, hard workers, not just dreamers but doers too. I think we still get excited about vintage and our life together.

F: Well, we’re life partners too, so I think we’re on the same page with each other. We both enjoy what we’re doing and it’s really nice to share the passion we have for it. We work a lot, but we have each other as company and we push each other as well. We’re cooperative and competitive at the same time. I dunno, the long days at work wouldn’t be the same without each other, plus Mysa has taught me a lot about the business in general. She keeps me in line and takes care of me too. She’s an extremely hard worker and an excellent picker! I couldn’t ask for a better partner.

How about the most difficult thing?

M: We live, work, and do the Eastside Flea together and almost never take time off so we can definitely get annoyed with each other. But we work it out.

F: Well, we spend way too much time together and completely get on each other’s nerves!

“I’m hoping our current era will be remembered as the start of fashion breaking down gender norms and roles. I think that high end designer fashion will always be coveted. Everything goes around in circles and comes back again maybe some of our “futuristic” fashion will hold some cache then because they will think how behind we really were.”

What is your personal favourite era for fashion and why?

M: Oh man that’s a hard one. I love so many different eras for different reasons. Of course I love the 90s and the grunge scene because that was me and there’s a nostalgia for my teen years. The 70s were really big in the 90s, too, so I’ve got a soft spot for the 70s, especially the home decor but in a slightly more modern, minimalist way. But then I look back at the old work wear of the 30s/40s/50s and the craftsmanship is to die for, plus the functionality of the garments and the rarity of some of the old stuff is really magical. The stories these pieces tell is a huge part of our history in modern civilization. I found the most amazing early 1930s A-1 style Buck Skein Joe jacket — I loved just to look at it. It was such a tangible and unique piece of history. I sold it to a Japanese buyer and I’m still regretting it.

F: Judging by my closet, it’s the 90s… oversized print XL tees to cover my beer belly…when I have one.

How do you think our current fashion era will be remembered, fifty years from now, and what pieces will future generations covet the most?

F: Hmm…Mysa might have an opinion on that.

M: I’m hoping our current era will be remembered as the start of fashion breaking down gender norms and roles. I think that high end designer fashion will always be coveted. Everything goes around in circles and comes back again maybe some of our “futuristic” fashion will hold some cache then because they will think how behind we really were.

What current trend are you most excited about?

M: I’m really into anyone who is willing to take risks, mix and match colours, patterns, styles and just go for it. I could not deal at all when I saw 80s fashion coming back. I mean, I did that in the early 2000s and I wasn’t ready to see the 80s again, but I’ve gotten into it. I’m not going to wear and it I’ll leave that to the youth, but it’s definitely colourful and bold and, after all that bland fashion a few years ago, I’m liking the creativeness of it.

F: Definitely “Active Grandma” active wear.

How about the current fad that you can’t wait to see end?

M: Skinny jeans and fake distressing. Modified clothing, especially vintage. I’m a purist when it comes to vintage.

F: Tapered sweatpants… although I’ll probably start wearing them in about 2 years from now, haha.

What brand new item will you not hesitate to splurge?

M: Does food count? I splurge on good quality, organic, local food. Honestly, I try not to purchase items that’s aren’t second-hand because I want to be socially conscious with my money and how my spending effects the earth. There is so much waste in fast fashion in our disposable culture, and wasteful, over-packaging is heart breaking. I don’t want to support that shit! I do love to splurge at the Eastside Flea. I believe in local people making small batch items that are environmentally conscious. I recently purchased a line of products by The Wild Botanicals — handmade, small batch made by indigenous owners and I love them. My skin feels amazing. I also am in love with local Vancouver maker Old Fashioned Standards. Kassy’s work is amazing quality with beautiful workmanship. I may have splurged on a few items from her, like her tote and overalls.

F: Socks and underwear. It used to be good quality steel toed work boots, back when I used to work!

How about the thing that you always have your eye on when thrifting?

M: Shoes. I love looking for shoes and tees! Plus housewares and tapes. Though, honestly, I have very little time to thrift anymore. I miss it!

F: So many things! I love looking out for stuff that I know my friends and family collect. Square ware and Lambert pottery for my dad, Medalta and Medicine Hat pottery for my mom… market/shop shoes for Mysa…Fiesta Ware & Fire-King for me… tapes, sunglasses, art…all the clothes of course!

What sets your shop apart from the others in Vancouver?

M: Our shop will be a reflection of our personalities, which are individual. We are a small space so we’ve decided to keep it pretty simple. We’re definitely not going kitschy or jumbled like vintage shops of the past seemed to be. We want a more clean and focused space so the clothes can stand out. In saying that, we still want a little fun. You’ll have to see what we come up with.

F: Well, our shop is small and streamlined. We don’t have a ton of room on our sales floor but we want it to be fun with lots of wearable and fashionable stuff, and we want to be able to constantly put out fresh stock. We’ll always be trying to have the true vintage stuff for serious collectors at all times, as well. We’ll mix it up a little bit with some select vintage housewares, some 80s/90s vhs/cassette tapes… and I’ll be selling my vintage/compatible wall calendars heading into the holidays! I’d like to have some contests/prizes happening too. I don’t think we’ll be re-inventing the wheel though. I think the different vintage shops are definitely complementary of one another. The more shops there are in the area, the better chance that our customers will have of finding the perfect item for themselves. We all have new stock hitting the shelves constantly, but it’s random as hell, as far as specific items go!

How did you get involved with the Eastside Flea?

M: A fellow vintage seller told me about it. I had just moved back to Vancouver and was only selling online. I wanted to connect with people, not just a computer screen.

F: My collecting had basically reached a critical mass. I would have been diagnosed officially as a hoarder if I didn’t attempt to start to pare down my possessions. I applied to ESF, where I had already been a casual customer, and was accepted and began selling for the first time ever at the grand opening of ESF at the Ellis Building.

What made you decide to make the move into opening your own brick and mortar shop?

M: I’d been thinking about it for years, honestly, but I didn’t want to do it alone. After starting Shudder Gallery and running it for the first four of the five years on my own, I knew how much work it would be and how hard it is without a partner to bounce ideas off of and support each other. Once I met Forrest and we started working together I thought maybe this was the time.

F: It had been an opportunity that had been knocking for some time now. It just seems like a natural progression.

What hooked each of you on vintage?

M: My teen years, really. Vintage was everything to me, then I loved collecting. I remember this late 1920s black crepe lace dress I had. I think I truly feel in love once I saw it.

F: Back in 1992, when I moved to Vancouver for good, I lived in an East Van character house with roommates who were family and friends. I’d regularly go thrift sailing with them in a cloud of pot smoke. Everyone collected dish ware and I learned a lot about it. I was hooked!

What continues to drive your passion for vintage and secondhand?

M: The environment and waste is a big one for me, as well as the quality of vintage items. I hate to be a cliche but they don’t make them like they used to.

F: The thrill of the hunt just keeps me going! Also, I love old stuff AND I’m cheap!

What has been your best thrift find to date?

M: There’s been so many. I found two authentic Louie Vuitton speedy bags. They sold fast.

F: I can’t think of one item. Any radioactive red Fiesta; my Mogilny Canucks STARTER cap; my NOMEANSNO “Kill Everyone Now” tee. I found a 1994 Canucks “Stanley Cup Champions” tee a while back, but I sold that one, sadly.

The item you’ve thrifted that you can’t let go of? M:

My original Kate Bush mirror that I’ve kept for over ten years. I got it in London at a flea market and I still have it. It might have to go up in the store.

F: I wore this old denim “Hog Wild About Pork!” Hog Feed promo cap for many years until it really disintegrated badly. My friend Chris found it for me at Hastings Value Village while we were thrifting together. I still have the hat saved, in hopes I can have it resurrected or replicated some day.

What has been the biggest challenge in making the move from the Flea to your own shop?

M: We will continue with the Flea for the foreseeable future. They have been such a great support to us over the years and we would like to keep our avenues open, as I think it is necessary for a successful small business. The biggest challenge is having enough time to do everything well without letting things fall to the wayside.

F: The biggest challenge has been trying to do it all at once. We’ve still been doing the Flea, as well as trying to maintain our Etsy shops at the same time. It’s been way more work than we thought it might be to convert our space into a shop!

In a city like Vancouver, where small businesses seem to be shutting down daily, why should people like yourself continue to take the risk of opening a new business?

M: In this technological age I think it’s important to have local business to support our economy and create community. I like the idea of being able to support local people and not huge billionaire corporations.

F: Considering that we were already operating out of/occupying a commercial space, it’s a relatively less risky situation for us personally. We’re throwing caution to the wind a bit, too.

What is the key to a successful and sustainable small business, do you think?

M: I’d go back to what I said before: I think it’s important to have multiple avenues to create income, like markets, online, and a brick and mortar store. You need to be multi-faceted as well as present on social media, which is a struggle for me as I don’t enjoy it. Thankfully, Forrest does.

F: It’s probably gonna be hard work! That, and staying tuned in to the desires of our customers.

“Be cognizant of where the money that you spend and where it will, in turn, be spent… Will it come back to you or others around you that are local business people, etc.? Or, will it be siphoned away, and leave your community economically depressed?”

What needs to change in Vancouver in order for small, independent businesses to thrive?

M: Affordable commercial rent. Local small business grants and exposure for local business.

F: Like anywhere, I think customers need to make a choice between spending their money locally or not… big boxes and international chains can save you money in the moment, but they kill local communities in the long run! Obviously, real estate prices are out so out of whack lately that it’s not easy to find a place to live, let alone open a business… the overhead is just too much. I’m not sure what the painless solution is to that…

How can the general public make a difference in the survival of small businesses?

M: Shop local, bring your own bags. Don’t steal from small businesses…we’re people just like you trying to survive, pay the bills, and do something we are passionate about.

F: Like I said, shop local. Be cognizant of where you spend your money and where it will, in turn, be spent… Will it come back to you or others around you that are local business people, etc.? Or, will it be siphoned away, and leave your community economically depressed?

Who has/have been your biggest source of support?

M: The Eastside Flea have been a huge support! Thanks, my Flea family. Duchesse Vintage, who are long time friends, have been really encouraging. Serena, the owner of Far Out. Friends at Community Vintage. A huge thanks to Kyle Stewart – an artist who designed our logo and signage… it’s exactly what we envisioned. Seen Signs, who made our signage come to life. Of course Forrest has been there through thick and thin. There have been some friends and acquaintances who have offered help when we needed it most. Thanks Al, Karl and Haze, plus many others.

F: Over the years, my mom for sure! Mysa, recently… but lately we’ve been feeling a lot of love from all sorts of friends and other people in the flea/vintage community.

Thrifting is a notoriously competitive industry, from my experience as a picker in Vancouver…what has been your sense of the thrifting community?

M: It’s definitely a different game then when I started seriously thrifting in the 90s. The internet and cell phones changed everything. You don’t need to be super knowledgeable anymore people can look everything up on their phones and sell on multiple platforms. You have a lot of people without a real understanding of vintage buying and selling. It takes a lot of the fun out of it for me and competition is fierce. There are so many people out there but, hey, at least it’s supporting a more second hand culture. Many people from different walks of life are willing to wear second hand rather than a small handful of freaks.

F: I’ve never really noticed anyone else over the years… I just zero in on what I’m looking for. The main competition would normally be from the people you thrift with, although dish thrifting has dried up badly over the years. Also, thrift pricing is hilarious lately! So expensive! That, combined with “Instagram” sellers. Ten people diving for an ugly piece of sportswear priced at $29.99.

Why does Vancouver need another vintage shop?

M: I’d like Vancouver to be known internationally as a vintage hub and influencer. We are also supposedly trying to become a green city, and buying second hand is a big part of that. It’s reuse, reduce, then recycle lastly.

F: It doesn’t need one, but it wants one…hopefully, haha.

Your favourite (secret?) off-the-radar spot for good finds in Vancouver?

M: That would be telling. Honestly, I don’t thrift or shop much anymore and so many places I loved have closed down. A vintage shop a little off the beaten path is Far Out on Cordova Street. Serena’s shop is beautiful, well curated, and has great prices.

F: It used to be Fraser Street MCC over the years, but I do okay at the Sally Ann on 12th still. It never hurts to walk alleyways, either.

There is 1 comment

  1. Great, and personable. Nice to get a wide lens view of Mysa and Forrest and their ideals and aspirations in terms work, community, environment and relationship to one another. Frank, intimate and inspiring.

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