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Making a market: Inside The Curio Collective with founder Brigid Milway
Brigid Milway, founder of vintage shop What, These Old Things? and The Curio Collective. Photo: What, These Old Things?

Making a market: Inside The Curio Collective with founder Brigid Milway


The Curio Collective in Halifax has grown to be the region's biggest vintage market. Founder Brigid Milway shares how she created community on Canada's East Coast

Loving vintage is a lifestyle — just ask Brigid Milway, founder of online secondhand shop What, These Old Things?

Five years ago, Brigid was six weeks postpartum but determined not to miss her favourite vintage event of the year.

So she loaded her husband, daughter and newborn son into the car for a day’s worth of driving from their home in Nova Scotia up to Prince Edward Island for the 70-Mile Coastal Yard Sale, a two-day festival that sees more than 150 vendors set up along a 110-kilometre stretch of the southeastern island.

“I had a newborn baby, and I was like, I don’t care, I’m not missing it!” she says, laughing.

Brigid’s goal is to spread that vintage-loving joy to the masses — that’s one of the reasons why she co-founded The Curio Collective, a popular vintage market in Halifax, N.S. that returns for the 2022 season on May 21-22 at the former World Trade and Convention Centre on Argyle Street.

Dozens of masked shoppers browse racks at an indoor vintage market.
The Curio Collective returns for the 2022 season May 21-22 at 1800 Argyle St. in Halifax, N.S. Photo: Ryan Williams

“I come across so many people who say, ‘I’m not into buying vintage,’ and I just want them to consider it as an option,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

The Curio Collective is a one-stop-shop for dozens of vendors selling vintage housewares and decor, antique and costume jewellery, vintage clothing and streetwear in all sizes, furniture, collectibles, and toys and games.

“There’s something for every age and category of vintage interests,” Brigid says. “Even if you just want to look around and you’re not into collecting, it’s such a treat for the eyes.”

Closeup of a wrist wearing three swatches in bold 1980s patterns of lime green, fluorescent yellow, red, blue, and hot pink.
“The whole game has shifted. It’s all Instagram, it’s all online. It’s all about your following and your photos,” Milway says. “Where you’re sourcing from is now fierce competition. But it’s also an amazing community to be a part of, which I’ve found from hosting the Curio Collective.” Photo: What, These Old Things?

Finding the right fit

Brigid has been selling online under the name What, These Old Things? since 2014. What started out as a hobby while on maternity leave with her first child turned into something more resembling part-time as she established an international client base who sought her eclectic, East Coast–kissed style.

Her shop stocks everything from antique luggage to brass and amber glass to old typewriters and maps to lanterns and vintage seaside decor, all mainly sourced from estate sales, private collections and yard sales.

By 2021, Brigid was ready to leave her marketing job and turn her side hustle into a full-time gig. The past eight years have brought massive transformation to the vintage industry, with an increasingly online-first market that has attracted a younger segment of the population, Brigid says.

Mounted shelves adorned with houseplants, a brass horse, framed floral drawings, cookie tins, and clear glass candlesticks.
“I gravitate towards what I’m interested in,” says Brigid of her inventory. “Each new thing that I sell is like learning a new language. I know a little bit about a lot of things — and I’ve always tried to be pretty honest about what I know and what I don’t know. I'm always asking my peers for their help and opinions.” Photo: What, These Old Things?

“The first year I was doing it, I would have more seasoned sellers say, ‘Oh, you’re so young, it’s so surprising that you do this,’” she says. “But it feels like overnight that I became ‘old,’ and now I’m selling with kids half my age!”

Those “kids” are hungry for opportunities to get in front of buyers, and they’re big on individuality and sustainability. Brigid, meanwhile, has had a handful of experiences selling in-person over the years but never found the right event.

It’s all led to the perfect moment for The Curio Collective — a place where like-minded vintage vendors can congregate, each with their own table showcasing their unique inventory.

Changing the game

Early in her selling career and without a vintage-focused event in the region, Brigid popped up at what she calls “mom-entrepreneur fairs.”

“I stuck out like a sore thumb!” she laughs. “Everyone was makers or crafters. I had my vintage and [attendees] would say, ‘I don’t want these breakables in the house with my kids.’ It took me a while to find where I fit.”

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She tried a booth at the Alderney Landing Market in Dartmouth, N.S., where she is based.

“I’d bring my silver and all the people would walk by and say, ‘Nobody wants this, why are you selling it?’ But I was,” she remembers. “My goal is to make you want the things that you think you don’t, and to make them appealing again.”

Shelving unit containing a collection of globes, a white enamel lamp, and a battered pistachio-green tin labelled "bread crumbs".
Brigid regularly hosts auctions on her website, and periodically will donate partial auction proceeds to a local cause in the community. “The better my sale does, the better I'll do for whoever I'm raising money for,” she says. “It's an easy way to highlight issues that are going on in the community, and it makes me feel good. And it also helps buyers know they're making a little impact.” Photo: What, These Old Things?

Brigid also set up a table at Etsy markets, where local makers would gather to sell their handcrafted products alongside a handful of vintage vendors.

“They were always good,” she says of the shows. “But I just knew that our community was stronger.”

Making space for the community

So in 2019, Brigid launched her own event. She founded The Curio Collective along with Melanie Huntley of Lady Luck Vintage, who stepped away in 2021 to focus on her growing business.

The partners welcomed 3,000 people to the first market. Brigid remembers seeing the lineup down the street waiting to browse the show: “I walked outside and just started crying. I couldn’t believe it,” she says.

“You know when you’re throwing a party and you put your whole heart into it but you’re worried nobody’s going to come? Everyone came.”

View of crowds queueing on a sidewalk on an overcast day with Victorian brick buildings behind.
The lineup to attend The Curio Collective’s first show in 2019 stretched down the block. Photo: Ruth Hiltz/What, These Old Things?

Brigid and Melanie hosted four shows in 2019. After they were forced to cancel their in-person shows in 2020 due to the pandemic, they staged two online events using Instagram Live.

Vendors would take turns hosting live virtual sales and promoting one another. “It was kind of like moving from house to house, and it was a good way to keep it rolling,” Brigid explains. The market returned in person in July 2021 and was her first show as sole organizer.

“We were at an outdoor venue so it was really comfortable,” she says. “The feeling of everyone being together in person again was just incredible.”

Significant market appetite

Since the first market in 2019, Brigid has welcomed 87 individual sellers to The Curio Collective (by the time the Spring 2022 show is over, it’ll be 90).

She says it’s an impressive number for a small province like Nova Scotia, which is home to about a million people total, and just a sample of the number of sellers actually out there. “It’s booming, growing every day. I always see new accounts popping up.”

A collection of plastic miniature toys in pastel colours.
“It can seem like you’re successful with social media but can you make a living from the income? It took a while to feel confident that I could pay the bills,” says Brigid. “That’s not to say I won't ever pick up contract social media work in the future or do something else, but this was my time to go all in.” Pictured here: a Polly Pocket collection from her vintage shop. Photo: What, These Old Things?

The Curio Collective is a juried show, so vendors must apply and be approved as participants to ensure representation of broad-appeal and niche sellers.

Products must be from the year 2000 or earlier, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for items that could be deemed culturally offensive. “I’ve been trying to be more vocal in messaging the show that the ‘good old days’ weren’t always good,” Brigid explains.

Public interest in secondhand goods rose during the pandemic, and Brigid expects a good turnout for the 2022 season. She encourages people local to the area to try The Curio Collective — Halifax area’s biggest vintage-focused event — even if they’re unsure about shopping secondhand or vintage.

“The quality is always better, and the style is your own because it’s unique,” Brigid says.

“That’s something I’m really trying to push on my kids — don’t think about what other people might say, don’t worry about other people’s opinions. Be yourself. Forge your own path. And when you’re into vintage, it really allows you to do that.”

What’s your favourite vintage market find? Let us know in the comments!

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