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A safe space: How SDV Vintage aims for gender, size and price inclusivity
A vintage clothing store in New Brunswick is a safe space for LGBTQ+ and marginalized communities. Photo: Anna Shvets/Pexels

A safe space: How SDV Vintage aims for gender, size and price inclusivity


New owner carries on a New Brunswick vintage fashion legacy

A vintage clothing store owner in Moncton, N.B. who is dedicated to providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ and marginalized communities says inclusivity doesn’t stop at who’s welcome at her shop — it extends to sizing, gender and price, too.

Cait Rye, the owner of SDV Vintage Shop, sells a mix of vintage and modern fashions and accessories in a range of sizes, as well as products from local artisans.

To encourage genderless shopping, the clothing in her store is arranged by type instead of by gender, and the price points are closer to what you’d find at a thrift shop than at a curated vintage store.

Clothes hanging on racks at SDV Vintage
SDV Vintage in Moncton, N.B. carries a genderless selection of vintage and modern clothing and accessories, as well as gifts and creations by local artisans. Photo: SDV Vintage

“One thing that’s important to me for our bricks-and-mortar location is that I keep my prices very low,” Cait says.

“Moncton’s inflation during the last two years has been something like 11 or 12 per cent. It is now rated as the most expensive place to live as a young person in Canada,” says Cait.

Statistics Canada rates the cost of living in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI as higher than the national average due to the price of home heating and rent — plus there’s the inflation on other goods that’s hitting provinces across the country.

“I don’t want someone to spend all week working and then come in and spend it on a pair of jeans.”

Cait Rye, owner of SDV Vintage in New Brunswick
SDV Vintage owner Cait Rye, who took over the shop in March 2022. Photo: SDV Vintage

Cait, who took over the shop in March 2022, is carrying on a legacy of inclusivity at SDV Vintage first started by its original owner and namesake, Stephanie Dawn Vautour, who was killed in a car accident on Aug. 25, 2021, her 36th birthday.

Stephanie’s mother, Sandy, spent the next six months searching for someone who could take over the store and continue what Stephanie started in 2013. As a queer rights activist, Stephanie had cultivated SDV Vintage into a safe space for LGBTQ+ and marginalized communities within Moncton and New Brunswick.

Cait met Stephanie once in the mid-2000s through a mutual friend, but it wasn’t until she stopped into SDV Vintage in November 2021 to pick up some items on behalf of someone else that she became aware of the store. “I walked in and was like, ‘How have I never been here before? This is such a cool place!’”

Cait’s sister and friends encouraged her to purchase the shop, but Cait, who was readying herself for self-employment in the virtual services space, wasn’t so sure.

“But the more I started thinking about it, I thought, well, ‘I love people and I love that it’s a safe space,’” Cait says.

Since taking over, Cait has continued SDV’s traditions while adding a few new ones of her own. Here, she chats to The Vintage Seeker about SDV Vintage’s past and future as a community fixture.

What drew you to the idea of running a vintage shop?

Cait Rye: SDV Vintage was known as a safe space within Moncton. I cater to a lot of people who are trying on gender-affirming clothes for the first time. So when I thought that the shop might close, I was more concerned that a safe space needed to continue. I thought, I know people. And I can learn vintage!

Right at the beginning, I was thinking, how am I going to do this? As if the universe was listening, the YWCA messaged me and asked to place some [paid] interns with me for 12 weeks. So I was able to leave the shop, do things and get everything ready. It was a really nice transition into owning a business because I wasn’t fully alone.

Interior shot of SDV Vintage store
“I love that customers come in at every age, from middle schoolers to their grandparents,” says Cait. “I had a seven year-old come in yesterday and buy a little belted rainbow bracelet and a little crystal thing. He was there with his parents and his older brother and the whole family all had something different to enjoy about the store.” Photo: SDV Vintage

How did you end up taking over?

CR: On Jan. 1 2022, I thought, “I haven't seen any posts recently about what’s happening. I don’t want it to close.” I sent Steph’s mom Sandy a message saying, “I don’t know what the future of the shop is. But if the alternative is it’s going to close, let me know.”

I didn’t hear anything about it. And then in February, she sent me a message saying there had been a buyer, but things had kind of fallen through. So I went into the shop, and by the time I had left we’d hugged, and she had posted on Instagram that there was a new owner!

I shadowed Sandy for a few weeks and she showed me how to spot vintage, and the ins and outs of what she knew about running the store, and then I took it from there.

The funny thing is, I have a group chat with some girlfriends who’ve all been friends since the mid ’90s. One of my girlfriends sent us a snapshot of the Instagram post announcing there was a new owner and said, “My sisters and I have shopped at this place for the last eight years. We should go there on a girls’ day!”

And I wrote back and said, “You should. I think you might know the owner.”

It sounds like the opportunity really aligned with your pre-existing values.

CR: Definitely. I’ve never really experienced not having a safe space. Or not having supportive parents. My parents are there whenever they can be. My dad helped put up all the racking when I moved. My mom shows up and helps me tag items. I’ve never experienced not having a safe space. So I love being that for other people.

I have a lot of new customers. The old customers are slowly coming back. Some people thought that it had closed, or it was just too much for them to come in at the time. But now they’re coming in and they’re telling their friends.

Purses and accessories at SDV Vintage
“There are a lot more vintage options in Moncton than there were before,” says Cait. “Now there are four or five brick-and-mortar stores that have vintage and then five to 10 vendors who do pop-up shops or who have space at flea markets.” Photo: SDV Vintage

You moved out of the shop’s original space a few months ago. What prompted the move?

CR: I moved locations in July — it’s the same building, but I’m around the back, close to the parking lot. The landlord had asked if I would be interested in switching with another boutique that was downstairs.

A lot of people were having a hard time coming into the existing location, because [the accident] was unexpected. So I thought, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have a fresh start. Same place but new.

The person who was originally going to purchase the shop has now actually opened her dream vintage and antique store, The Vintage Loft, in the previous SDV Vintage space. So we have two different vintage companies in the same building and we send people back and forth!

What changes did you want to make when you took over the business?

CR: When the pandemic happened, I know that Steph had struggled because she didn’t have the online aspect up and running. When stores were forced to close, that was kind of limiting for her.

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So I have started a website. It hasn’t launched yet, because I got all the pictures done and then moved locations and it’s been a whirlwind of things since then! But I do have a website ready to go — it’s Shopify and ties into our point of sale, where we’ll be able to ship items and sell online.

How will the website differ from what’s in store?

CR: I tell people the website will be like Costco — the warehouse prices are slightly different than in store. Someone was in town for the Just For Laughs Festival and came into the store and said, “Is this a joke? These are vintage jeans and they’re $26? These would be $110 in Toronto.” But we’re not in Toronto, and people couldn't afford that here.

Prices in the web shop will be higher to help me keep up with inflation. All of the people from where I do the sourcing have either stopped doing it because shipping was out of control, or they’ve had to put their prices up as well. I’m also looking at different ways to do things in the space to be able to bring in more money.

Changeroom and plant wall at SDV Vintage with 60s maxi dress
In July 2022, SDV Vintage moved to a new location at 187 Botsford St. in Moncton, N.B. in the same complex as its original location. Photo: SDV Vintage

You pride yourself on the shop’s gender-inclusive inventory — can you tell us what that’s meant to your customers?

CR: I had someone come in who was flipping through the shirts and I noticed that the ones they were looking at were the more traditionally feminine ones. I went over and said, “Just let me know if you need me to zip a dress or anything.” Left it at that and walked away.

Then they moved to the other side of the store where the dresses were and they were timidly looking through them, then took some to try on. I gave them a zip and said “Oh, this looks fantastic, can you move your arms? How does it feel?”

It was their first experience trying on a dress, which is what they had always wanted to wear. As I was checking them out, I said, “I love this one — if this came in my size, it would not have been on the racks!” And they blurted out, “I just got approved for HRT [hormone replacement therapy].”

They were so excited to finally have someone to tell. It made me want to cry. When someone feels comfortable enough to share that with me? I love it.

What has been the response from the wider community?

CR: It’s been pretty good! I have the odd person who comes in who asks, “Do you not have a men’s section?” And I just say, “Clothes are clothes. Here’s the shirt section.” Everyone else has been quite open to it.

The previous shop had a gender-neutral rack that was always overflowing. So I thought, if I have the chance to define spaces, why not? A men’s shirt in the ’70s would fit like a woman’s shirt nowadays anyway. So let’s just call it a shirt and you decide what gender it is.

Front desk area at SDV Vintage in New Brunswick
SDV Vintage features an ever-rotating selection of jewellery, accessories, vintage and modern clothing and Pride items. Photo: SDV Vintage

We’re seeing more and more of that, housing all the clothing together. It makes for a more inclusive shopping experience.

CR: Yes! And I’m size-inclusive, too. It’s not all vintage in the shop. As a plus-size person, it’s important for me to have plus-size options, whether that’s great-condition Lane Bryant or Torrid.

Previous to that, other than Addition-Elle and Penningtons — and Addition-Elle disappeared — there wasn’t really anything for plus-size people in Moncton that was hip or cool or even age appropriate.

I love having those items in the shop just to give an option, because I’m aware that there wasn’t a lot before, and that what was available was not always affordable.

Inclusivity is a big theme for your shop — what else do you do to communicate the message?

CR: When I was putting up my racking, the walls weren't quite strong enough to hold what I wanted. I saw these ’90s lockers on [Facebook] Marketplace and knew I could use them to hang racks from the wall to the lockers.

When I was at the first location, there was a chalkboard wall in the change rooms and people would always doodle on the chalkboard wall. So I knew that I had customers who were very talented because I’d seen their artwork!

I posted on Instagram: “Who wants to doodle on these lockers?” I immediately had an email from an artist who said this was right up his alley and that he’s very much into inclusivity and body positivity.

He showed up day after day and just covered these lockers from top to bottom with beautiful messages that say things like “clothes have no gender.” All sorts of love notes. The previous owner Steph had little love notes all around the shop [and now] there are these notes on this set of lockers. It’s colourful; it’s fun.

And then one of my favorite things in the ’90s was stickers, so I have free stickers at the checkout. They are a mix of positive affirmations and all sorts of Pride hearts that I’d gotten to pass out at the Pride Parade.

I love that people can dig through and find something that suits their personality. And I really love when someone picks out a Pride sticker and they’re comfortable enough to be like, “This one’s me.” They may have never seen that sticker available somewhere for them.

I carry Pride flags as well. I’m aware that not everyone can go online and order those — it may not be safe to have one shipped to their house, or they just can’t find them.

I don’t have much of a markup on them — I’m definitely not going to be paying rent with the flags! But to me it was more important that customers have access to them and that they can be proud of who they are. And if they don’t know yet, they’re figuring it out.

Lockers painted with positive affirmations at SDV Vintage
The lockers at SDV Vintage feature positive affirmations and artwork by local artist Dirty Dish Art. “I’m 37 and I'm still trying to figure out what I like and who I am,” says Cait. “I’m always in awe of these kids who know and who are comfortable enough with themselves to share it.” Photo: SDV Vintage

What’s on deck for 2023?

CR: Getting the website up and running. I’m hoping, along with The Vintage Loft owner Nancy, to take over some additional shop space because I would love to do consignment and rentals — especially rentals of fabulous outfits geared towards my drag performer clientele, because I am aware that things are expensive and Marketplace is not always a safe space.

Consignment could also be for people who are trying to sell those really cool items, but don’t necessarily want to have someone showing up to their house to pick it up. I would love to have a safe space where they can still sell without ever having to show their face.

I’m also hoping to do more pop-ups with people who have beautiful vintage clothing collections — I’m aware that not everyone can afford a couple of grand in rent to have a bricks-and-mortar location.

Sounds like you're becoming a real community builder in the area.

CR: That’s important to me. I grew up in a village that was super supportive of everyone.

Last year, there was this CommunityVotes Moncton contest with every different kind of business category — I only found out that the store was nominated in the secondhand clothing & consignment category a week before it actually closed.

I ended up with a gold standing and I am sure that 50 per cent of those votes came from my village!

Follow SDV Vintage on Instagram at @sdvvintageshop.

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