How a change in masking policies during the pandemic prompted Kaitlyn Felske turn to selling vintage online
Kaitlyn Felske didn’t know it at the time, but at age six, a set of three books from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series that her mom dug up at a garage sale would send her down her own road to becoming a vintage seller — and to finding a sense of home in a new community.
“I still own them today,” says Kaitlyn, now 33, of the L. Frank Baum volumes. “The graphics and colours on the covers and the small illustrations you would find throughout the novels were amazing. It’s kind of how my love for art, vintage and The Wizard of Oz all came to be.”
Enter Emerald City Vintage, Kaitlyn’s shop named after the capital city of the titular land of Oz. Her art-focused offshoot, Emerald City Creative, is a home for her upcycled vintage goods, embroidery, and crochet, as well as paintings and illustrations.
“Emerald City Vintage is where sustainability meets vintage,” Kaitlyn explains via email. “It’s about leaving no yellow bricks unturned when finding treasures to bring back to life.”
Her shop’s Instagram feed is its own Munchkinland: think bright kitchenware, candy-coloured milk glass, teeny-tiny vintage objects, kitschy toys and dolls, pastel farmhouse furniture.
The Technicolor visuals are important to Kaitlyn, who was born deaf. Having grown up using American Sign Language (ASL) and also speaking with the help of a therapist, Kaitlyn says, “I never felt I fully fit in in either the deaf or the hearing worlds.”
She turned to online vintage selling during the pandemic when masking policies made it impossible for her to lip-read, which she relies upon to communicate — and in doing so, found a community of fellow vintage lovers that she says have given her a sense of belonging.
Now, Kaitlyn is doing what she loves, and being her own boss means she can work at a pace that suits her needs. “Just because you have challenges in life, don’t let it stop you from achieving your dreams,” she says. “I learned to adapt and pave my own path in life.”
Kaitlyn operates a studio-shop out of her home in Abbotsford, B.C. for local pickup and offers shipping to North America from her Instagram account. She also participates in several local markets, including the upcoming Little White House & Co. Vintage Garden Market on Jul. 16-17 and the Vintage Pasture Sale on Aug. 6.
Here, Kaitlyn discusses the birth of Emerald City Vintage, how her hearing loss affects her in the vintage-selling world, and how she fuses her love for art and vintage with her creative endeavours.
Kaitlyn Felske: My vision for the brand is not only to create a space full of curated vintage goods for others to adopt but also a brand that inspires others to create their own beautiful home with what they have.
KF: My shop is a unique vintage stop that is eccentric. It’s a mixture — from kitsch, to retro, to rustic and chippy, and more. I also love every colour of the rainbow and it truly shows through my shop and my own collection as well! I’m a firm believer that having colour in your life can positively affect your mental wellness. Pastels specifically bring me a sense of cheerfulness and joy.
KF: The thrill of the hunt and of finding beautiful treasures, as well as sharing that joy with others who love vintage just as much as I do.
KF: I was a full-time stay-at-home mom to two young ones, who were one-and-a-half and three years old at the time the pandemic started. Living through it — with masks enforced in public and in most workspaces — I knew going back to work in the public was not feasible, because I’m deaf and depend heavily on lip reading to communicate with others.
My parents asked me to help with doing a garage sale for them during the summer of 2020. They are lifelong collectors of vintage and antiques, which is where my love for vintage came from.
I had a lot of fun with the garage sale and talking to customers who also share an interest in vintage and antiques. My parents said, ‘Well, why don’t you open up a shop in the garage?’ And that’s how it all began! I had a lot of amazing support and guidance within the local vintage community when I opened.
KF: Once you get into the vintage community, you quickly learn how small of a community it truly is! It’s amazing how everyone comes together and supports one another.
There’s a saying, “there’s enough junk to go around.” And it’s true! We have more than enough vintage goods to go around, and each shop has their different overall look, feel and style. So it’s truly #CommunityOverCompetition. We all want to see one another succeed in the end. I’m proud to be a part of this community.
KF: Being deaf made me extremely visually dependent, and I think that played into why I love colour, decorating, staging and hunting for things that catch my eyes.
It helps me connect to people on a more personal level. It gives me an opportunity to educate others about what it’s like being deaf and how learning ASL (American Sign Language) is beneficial, as well as how to communicate efficiently with someone who is deaf.
It’s also about breaking that barrier and encouraging others that just because one has a disability doesn’t mean we are not capable of achieving our dreams and goals and making them a reality.
KF: Owning a business where I deal with people often, it comes with many challenges. I really struggle with talking over the phone and not being able to understand what someone is saying. Not only is it difficult, but it can be extremely exhausting trying to focus and stay on top of what others are saying as well.
I think many assume because I speak well — thanks to 10-plus years of speech therapy — that I have mild hearing loss and should be able to hear and talk over the phone. So it’s a challenge to explain to others that I am indeed severely/profoundly deaf.
I rely heavily on emailing and messaging through Facebook and Instagram. But everyone has been extremely kind and understanding during this journey of owning a small business as a deaf person, and they adapt to any changes to make me feel welcomed.
KF: I have a lot of fun making Reels! With so many trending audios on Instagram, and with the majority of Reels being based off of audios alone, it’s a challenge for sure. Especially voiceover audio.
I can’t understand what is being said, so it makes it even more challenging for me to know what to lip sync. I go find other people who use the same audio, and if I find one with closed captioning on it, I will save it and practice the words and timing of the words until I get it as close as possible to the original.
KF: Thank you so much! Honestly, I get a lot of my inspiration through many other favourite collectors I follow on Instagram who collect similar things as me! It’s amazing how everyone is so supportive of one another and cheer each other on with the vignettes we come up with.
Growing up, my favourite way to spend a Saturday was with my aunt, who works in interior design and is passionate about it, and my mom, who always loved decorating. We’d drink coffee and spend all day rearranging the family room or bedroom, go out shopping for some new pieces and then decorate the room with the new items we found, even if it was simply something we took from another room in the house.
I have learned a lot from both my mom and my aunt about vintage, and how to create an eye-catching vignette and space. And how to make a space look beautiful, no matter how small or big your budget is.
KF: I love collecting anything that catches my heart. But my most favourite are vintage smalls like tins, small celluloid dolls with hand-knitted clothes, vintage squeaky toys and vintage retro kitchenware.
So many of my customers tell me their fondest memories growing up come from toys they played with, as well as memories of cooking and baking with their families in the kitchen. And this is one of the reasons why I love picking — I love to find treasures that bring back good memories for my customers and clients to be loved again.
KF: I loved to draw and express myself through art at a very young age in elementary school. I would spend countless hours sitting at my desk in my bedroom drawing and painting, and even during class I would always be found doodling and sketching.
I attended the University of the Fraser Valley in the visual arts program, and my love for art never stopped. Before I opened up my vintage shop, I had a maker’s shop called Lily and Ollie Design, where I did a lot of embroidery artwork and illustration as well as watercolour. But I couldn’t do it full time anymore due to having fibromyalgia and chronic pain. That’s another reason why I went into vintage resale full time.
While I love selling vintage, I still love creating art and making things with my own hands, so Emerald City Creative is a space where I merge vintage and art together and create a variety of things, when my body allows me to.
KF: I love incorporating sustainability into my vintage goods and upcycling home goods and clothing. There’s so much waste of materials created by fast fashion and mass-produced chain companies — and the majority of [those materials] end up in landfills.
We can all play a part in reducing our carbon footprints and waste by buying vintage/thrifted goods, and handmade/upcycled goods. I’ve been sourcing vintage fabrics, particularly in fun colours, to make cute quilts and add them onto vintage denim clothing. I’m creating other items, too, which will be revealed at upcoming markets such as The Little White House & Co.’s Vintage Garden Market on Jul. 16 and 17.
KF: Letting others who collect vintage know they can shop with me! Being a vintage seller who is open locally as well as online, it’s hard to get my shop name out there. My storefront is home-based and not easily visible to potential customers. The second-biggest challenge is finding new sources to buy vintage goods, especially from people who are wanting to downsize.
KF: Don’t expect your vintage shop to pick up right away. Consistency is key when it comes to being a reseller. Also, we all have slow moments where people don’t buy as much and that is okay.
The best decision I have made so far is to believe in myself and my brand and not try to fit in with what everyone else is doing. There will always be people giving advice and insights on how to improve your shop or get more traffic, but the one thing I have learned is that what works for someone else doesn’t always work for you and vice versa.
Take everything with a grain of salt and after a while you will learn what works best for you and your business — and whatever that niche is, stick to it!
Kaitlyn Felske, Founder, Emerald City Vintage
This interview has been condensed and edited.