Imagine a time when dressing was a true art form. A time when individuals took pride in their outfits, invested in quality and expressed themselves with colour and sophistication. While it seems the clothes of today have lost their luster, shopping vintage is both an eco and stylish choice for true fashionistas. In a store that can be considered both a library and a museum, you will be impressed by the selection of gorgeous pieces at Auburn Vintage. Whether you’re looking for a 20’s inspired flapper dress, or a 70’s boho floral crown, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes.
Creative, inspiring, and community-minded, Rachel Kaufman has a long-standing history in Kitchener-Waterloo. A true dreamer, Rachel has combined her passions for theatre, clothes and people into a gem of a store in Woolwich Township. When not at Auburn Vintage, Rachel enjoys writing, supporting the local arts community, and spending time with her daughter.
Read on for the rest of our interview:
Rachel, your store is amazing! Have you always worked in fashion?
Thank you! My background is actually in theatre, acting, directing, and producing. Before Auburn Vintage, I owned an arts studio in Downtown Kitchener called Kaufman Arts Studio. I have always loved and worn vintage clothes though.
They are stunning. So what inspired you open Auburn Vintage, especially in Conestogo?
I was inspired by the people, and I loved the small town feel. When customers come to visit, they are living the life of a small town person…even just for an hour. Someone from next store will pop in, or a friend of mine. For me, it was really all about the community.
I was also inspired after reading the book Alligators, Old Mink & New Money by Alison Houtte. The book describes her experience opening and owning a vintage store in New York City. Reading the book made me realize I needed to follow and live my passion, which I feel is an important lesson for my daughter. It has been terrifying at times, but I know I’m doing the right thing! Opening Auburn Vintage has allowed me to mix my passion for theatre, with my love for people and my appreciation for really great clothes.
When did you open the store?
In the middle of winter haha! December 15, 2014.
I’m not too far behind in hearing about the store then haha! What was the inspiration for the name?
Auburn is made up of the first letters of Audrey and the last letters of Hepburn. The “B” in the middle is for Bronte, my daughter. She helped me come up with the name.
You’ve created such a unique and eclectic atmosphere here. It seems to really match the clothes.
There’s a lot of myself and my family in here. My great grandfather, Jacob Kaufman started a lumber mill in Kitchener, so we have quite a history in this community. The seat by the fitting rooms was the bench in the church where my parents got married. All the doors and the ladders I use to display the clothes were my grandfathers. The mantle in the front of the store was from the house I grew up in on Margaret Avenue. It’s not there anymore, but the house was built by my grandfather and great grandfather during the depression. It was a way to keep the workers at the mill employed during that time.
How unique! So why do you love vintage?
Every piece has a story. When you shop vintage, you’re buying a piece of history. My store is almost a boutique, library and a museum all at the same time. Vintage stores are also one of the few places where different generations can enjoy shopping together. We get grandmothers, mothers, and daughters all shopping at the same time in the same place. For some, it’s almost a walk down memory lane. The clothes manufactured today aren’t made with the same detail as they were in the past, with the lace and the bead-work. It’s much harder to find that quality today, unless you’re buying high-end designer garments.
I’ve never shopped vintage myself, but I’m starting to feel the connection with the clothes and the stories. I love it!
Clothes inspire people. In line with my love for the arts, I’m considering picking a dress, setting it up here in the store, and inviting writers to create a story about it. I have this beautiful wedding dress, which looks like it may have been one that a mother passed down to her daughter, and the daughter made it her own. Her name is even in the dress. Clodagh McGonigal. It’s like the Harry Potter dress haha.
Who is Clodagh McGonigal?
Exactly. Who is she, what was her life like, and how did the dress play into things.
What a great idea.
I really think there is something there. Building community is important to me as well, so it’s a great way to bring people into the store. I was involved with a festival here in town called Unhinged which puts writers in places that are somewhat disturbing and they have to write a play. Not that the store is disturbing, but you can imagine it’s 3 am, you’re alone, you’re in an old building. What’s going to happen?
A man came and he actually picked out two pieces of clothing and wrote a play called the Little Black Dress. I love this, but I’m looking to broaden it a bit by inviting maybe 5 people to come for a few hours, just to write. Sometimes you wonder what the story is behind a piece. For this reason, I find it difficult to put a price tag on the clothes because they really are priceless.
Have you learned a lot about the history of fashion through opening the store?
I’m definitely learning. I buy vintage from shows, sales, and from private collections. You need to know whether the vintage pieces you’re buying are real or knock-offs. For example, pieces that have zippers up the side are genuinely authentic. Different decades also have different styles. Anything with a collar, cinched-in waist, and crinoline under the skirt is typically 40’s….
I think people are sometimes afraid to come into stores like mine, because they are used to being nickel and dimed in Toronto. I price my items much lower because I want people to be able to wear and enjoy the garments. The clothes are designer quality, without the price tag.
Do you have any favourite pieces?
I have beautiful wedding gowns here. When I purchase a gown, I hand wash it to ensure I don’t ruin any of the details. I find many gowns today look quite similar, so if a woman is looking for something a bit unique, vintage should be considered. Many of the gowns have long sleeves, which I think is right on trend again since Kate Middleton chose a style like that. Even Ralph Lauren is coming out with a line of dresses in this style now. I tell woman that if they want a vintage dress, buy it and make it your own.
Do you have any tips for shopping vintage?
Vintage clothes are fun to wear. They are almost like art pieces. I tell my customers to choose one vintage piece for a look that can be the statement and then pair it with something more traditional. Like funky floral pants, with a black blazer. I also tell my customers that if they love something, try it on. You never know how it will fit on your body. I don’t have sizes on the clothes because measurements really vary between decades, and some fabric is more forgiving than others. I don’t have 16 of the same piece in varying sizes, I only have one. Try on the items that speak to you.
Is altering pieces common when shopping vintage?
It’s very common. The benefit is that you get a piece of clothing that you love, and it’s been made for you and your body. A lot of the clothes I sell were made for a specific woman at some time. I think a continuing trend in this business will be reconfiguring authentic items to fit new shapes.
A custom look at an affordable price, I like that!
I admit, owning the store I’ve become more outgoing in my clothing choices to show customers how to wear them. I’m a fairly traditional dresser, but I’ve tried things I never thought I would wear. Like pant suits. I own the craziest floral pant suit, but it makes me feel amazing when I wear it. You learn a lot about yourself and what looks good on your body when you shop vintage.
I see you carry men’s clothes here as well.
We have some pieces, mostly overcoats, blazers, accessories. Quality men’s vintage is difficult to source though because the sizes were so much smaller then, or they literally wore it until it was rags!
Do you have any interesting customer stories to share?
Hearing customer’s stories are my favourite part. People have lived. Some of them write to me after shopping in the store, or send me photos of where they wore the item. A little while ago, a girl and her mother were visiting the store from Acton. They were looking for a formal dress. The girl ended up buying this really pale blue dress. It was very simple in design, but had layers of soft tulle. It was the perfect dress and so beautiful! I found out afterwards that she had been looking for a dress because she was going to England to have cocktails with the Queen!
I know! I knew that piece was special. I just didn’t know where it was going to go.
It must be hard finding the perfect outfit to meet the Queen haha! Have you participated in any local fashion events?
I’ve had 2 small, private fashion shows here for customers and have a 3rd one booked. It’s a fun idea for a private party or a girl’s night out. I organize the show, and bring in the models. The ladies bring the chairs and the munchies. Then after the show, they get to shop. They love it and it’s a great way to bring the community into the store as well.
How fun! Well I know you’re very busy, but what are your favourite places to go locally when you get the chance?
I love both Downtown Kitchener and Uptown Waterloo. My favourite spots are the Seven Shores Café for lunch and Sole Restaurant for dinner. When I’m not working though, I just enjoy spending time with my daughter. We like to go to the library and get lost in the books.
Classic designs, individual attention, and an abundance of stories await you at Auburn Vintage. If you’re looking for pieces that truly reflect and express your personality, this store is worth a visit. Be sure to like Auburn’s Facebook page and follow their Twitter account to keep connected with this treasure trove.