Faux Pas: Free People and the 40 Thieves

Feb 3, 2011

My Twitter followers know how much I love Etsy and in particular, the Etsy vintage shop Dear Golden.  Her fabulous, well-edited collection of vintage items never fails to yield a lust-worthy item (or several).  Her shop )and a handful of others on Etsy) are so successful, that they’ve spawned corporate imitators.

Earlier this week, the shop owner at Dear Golden tweeted the link to Free People’s new (?) Vintage Loves section where shoppers can purchase items from a “treasure chest of exclusive finds.” For the privilege of buying one of the retailer’s unique (ha!) vintage selections, however, you will pay through the nose. Few items are less than $100, and most hover in the $150 to $250 range. 

The first time I flipped through the site, I was shocked by the absurdity of the prices.  But more than that, I was horrified by the number of items that were marked as sold.  Is it possible that a legion of women, flush with cash, are being lured into the corporate clutches, completely unaware that these items (or something VERY similar) can be purchased for much less elsewhere online? 

To illustrate my point, let’s play a little game.  I’ve pulled the photos of three items from the site, and then used Etsy to find a reasonably-priced facsimile of each piece. 

Sequin Ballerina Maxi (Free People, $158)

Full Length Sequin Skirt (WanderLost, $50)

Why pay three times more when you can buy the Etsy one and have it altered to your liking and still save fifty-percent?

Vintage Needlepoint Bag (Free People, $282)

Needlepoint Bag (Etsy, $55)

Not enough needle point on this bag for you? This clutch is $78 and this heavily stitched purse is $65.

But remember the Free People products are “exclusive finds” not easily procured via simple Google search or Estate Sale trip…

Vintage Sequin Cropped Jacket (Free People, $248–Sold)

Vintage Sequin Cropped Jacket (Bohemian Bisoux, $68)

The jackets are nearly identical.  In fact, I’m tempted to write the seller and ask if it’s the same maker as the Free People jacket.  But even if they’re just fraternal twins, how does Free People get away with charging four times the price?  Stupid people, that’s how.

I am blown away by the insanity of this exercise.  These are just three items, but I could do the same thing for any item on the Free People site and find a similar item that costs 50 to 80-percent less. 

If you want the vintage look, stay away from Free People and stick to eBay, Etsy and your local thrift store.  Because buying your vintage from a corporate conglomerate and paying four times as much for the privilege is just incompetent.

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  1. Ms. T says:

    Excellent vintage fashion detective work!

  2. Now that I live in France I don't do much shopping online because I have problems getting my items through the french customs without extra taxes so I hadn't even noticed this about Free People yet. You are right these prices are such a rip off and there is so much beautiful affordable stuff on Etsy and Ebay or to go out and discover yourself.

    For about a year a ran an etsy store with vintage finds I made in the thrifts and markets of Paris. I lived by one rule…the standard retail rule…2.5% mark up. Sometimes I felt things we're worth more but if I got a deal on it I only felt it right to pass it on to my buyers. Now mine wasn't really for profit as much as it was so just share the access to these items that I have with my blog readers, but Free People doesn't need the money and I would almost understand more if the Etsy sellers were charing their prices…but free people? Silly Silly Silly, would not be foolish enough to buy for those prices! Plus I would miss out on the fun of hunting it myself!

    XOXOXOXO Haleigh @ Making Magique

    PS happy to have discovered you blog via a retweet!

  3. Ian Kennedy says:

    I am torn on this subject, since running a business costs money and you aren't in it for long if you don't make a profit.

    You have to remember that the larger the business, the more overhead there is. Marketing, labor, materials and a nice website aren't cheap, if they are good…

    They have almost surely done the market research on this sector and their customers. Their prices are built on a business plan that reflects that. They know their customer, what they are willing to spend and on what items. If they don't they will fail quickly.

    Curated Vintage is where the money is. If you have the exposure and the right product, you can get good prices and people are happy to pay. These looks can't be easily replicated, are hopefully in top condition and will last a lifetime.

    We should value that and not undersell vintage! If you don't charge above Thrift Prices, that is all people will expect and there will be no reason for people like myself to work hard to find these great items.

    How can you fault them for that? It is up to the customer to decide what value is to them. Do they want to deal with what might be a more novice retail shop on Etsy or with a “trusted” corporate shop selling the same thing and 4 times the price.

    They aren't “stupid people” they just have more money to spend than you or I, perhaps less time, or just better things to spend their time on like traveling and enjoying life…

    Also, this site is selling both new and vintage alongside each other, so you can't price the vintage finds as low as you see on Etsy or the perceived value of the vintage items will plummet and are not likely to sell well in that shop. It is all about context. Expensive vintage stores have been around for at least 20 years and seem to do just fine in the market!

    I have been selling on Etsy for a year and I am finding that it isn't a “high-end” marketplace in terms of pricing or goods in some cases, especially for US customers. My top sales have all been to Australia and Europe. That is great for the Etsy customer as you can still find good deals and don't have to hunt Thrift Stores. While I enjoy this activity, many do not have the stomach for it.

    I am actually going to start non-Etsy stores for my expensive items. I have solid gold Antique Jewelry and Old Native American Silver and it hasn't sold well on Etsy so far, but I see independent shops online that are selling the same items for 3-4 times what I have mine listed at. The difference? They have marketing budgets and are not start-ups like me.

    I just don't like how you are tearing down a business for capitalizing on the increase in Vintage Appreciation we are seeing currently. The more these businesses find success, the more likely it will be for other Vintage Sellers like myself to make my own sales to people who can't afford the expensive shops, or to market their items to the big boys, Wholesale. Unless the business is taking away from the Vintage Movement by tarnishing it somehow, I don't think we should complain.

    I was in Manhattan two weeks ago and was thrilled to see vintage selections alongside new designer goods at places like “In God we Trust.” You don't think they would price these like on Etsy do you? A $120, 50 year old watch next to a $175 t-shirt? That isn't going to sell.

    There are many different types of customers out there and the type of customer like yourself (and me) has Etsy, Thrift and eBay to hunt on. People with more money, less time or just not able to handle the multitude of choices on Etsy or the junk hiding the good stuff a Thrift Stores should shop at these Vintage and New retailers. I know that I would be happy to sell them my products, even at 1/3 of their retail price I would be making a handsome profit in most cases.

    This isn't anything new… Every industry has levels of price points for the same items and services. Dior charges $2000 for a bag that costs $100 to make. The same things sells on Etsy for $150. The hospital across the street is $2000 a day for a bed and the one in the rich part of town is $5000. Stupid or wealthy? I'm thrilled when the wealthy part with their money!

    Ian
    https://kennedystyle.tumblr.com/

  4. CC says:

    Did a simple ebay search and found a similar sequin jacket on ebay (not a cropped jacket but blazer style). Currently, it's selling for $29.99, there are not bidders and it's new. https://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=180619709498&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT (item no. 180619709498). How can they get away with charging over $200!!!

  5. Anna Della says:

    True Story: My friend contracted with Urban Outfitters, Inc (owners of Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People) for a while. Her job was to go to thrift stores, buy clothes and then sell pieces back to the company for their special in-store vintage lines or whatever they call it. She would find $2 blouses at the Port Chester Salvation Army and they would sell them in store for $35.

  6. Belle says:

    Ian-

    I object to the characterization that what the company is selling is unique, rare or hard to find. If people want to pay too much for vintage, then let the capitalist system take their money and profit. But they're selling a lie, that these pieces are some how more unique than what you can find elsewhere.

  7. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    Sometimes it's just easier to pay more and buy through something like Free People than scout around yourself. They have a collection of stuff. I may not think to buy or search Etsy for a sequined jacket unless I saw that the buyers at Free People thought it might be a fashionable choice. Their prices are nothing to get upset about. They are not thieves.

  8. Cluebat says:

    Let's be real: people buying vintage from Free People are more interested in being able to espouse that they bought vintage from Free People than they are in supporting the “vintage movement”. Just because you see a potential uptick in your own sales does not make this any less true.

  9. Natalie says:

    Hi, Belle! I'm actually so glad you posted this, because I own a sequined black skirt similar to this one (it's about knee-length). I love it, and I've owned it for years, but I've worn it maybe twice because I have no idea what to wear it with or where to wear it. I'd love to see your suggestions.

  10. Belle says:

    I would wear it with a scoop neck racerback tee and a bib necklace. Or with a white tee and a denim jacket. Or with a white button-up ala Carolina Herrera.

  11. Adorevintage says:

    I've always thought Free People was ridiculously expensive for their vintage. Once a friend of mine and I nearly choked when we saw a series of 80s and 90s sweaters all priced at over $150! What!? They've actually purchased a few vintage pieces from my shop to use as inspiration for a new collection. I hope that's the case since the vintage clothing they picked out were some of my faves and I wouldn't mind seeing reproductions of them. hehe

    xoxo
    Rodellee

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