Thrift Mentors and Fun in Victoria, Part One

Me, my mom and my sister – my two favourite thrifting companions!

I don’t know about you but my sister and I learned to thrift from an expert: my mom. If you google what it means to “get blood from a stone”, you’ll find her bio. This is the woman who always had 2 months rent in the bank, managed to give us camp, holidays, Disneyland, piano lessons and more, first on a housekeeper’s salary and eventually on the salary of a care aid (a job she LOVED.) She managed to buy a house and retire mortgage-free and part of what enabled her to do this was being careful with her money and living frugally. Mom canned food, baked her own bread and desserts, and always shopped thrift. If she didn’t have money for it, she didn’t buy it. If she could get it cheap, she did. She also gives back to her community – she volunteers at her church and also at the local MCC Thrift Shop, which she loves doing. Today, she is blessing her daughters with all kinds of gifts including a weekend away to Victoria to see the sites and, of course, to thrift.

Government House, Victoria BC

Today, I’m going to share with you a great thrifty travel-to-Victoria tip. We learned that Government House, the ceremonial home of all British Columbians and the home of the Lieutenant Governor, gives free tours one Saturday a month. It just so happened that we hit that Saturday when we visited in July. It was awesome.

(I’ve created some photo mosaics below, just click on them for a larger view)

The tours are led by volunteers, our tour guide was an historian and she was great. We learned all about the things that happen at Government House – like swearing in ceremonies of government, awarding of the Order of British Columbia, military dances, and more. The current house if the third house to sit on this spot, the previous two burnt down, quite spectacularly.

Lieutenant Governor David Lam was the first Chinese-Canadian to hold this position and he was also responsible for the amazing gardens that surround Government House. The gardens can be visited all year long, also for free. They are amazing and they are cared for by an army of 400 volunteers.

The property is also home to the Costume Museum, which displays a large variety of period clothing worn by visitors and residents of Government House. The museum is in the former Carriage House and entry is by donation. Cary Castle Mews and Tea Room is also here and is open from May to August. They serve light lunch fair and desserts at reasonable prices.

We spent nearly 5 hours here touring the home and gardens and even at that we didn’t see it all. We did a number of other typical touristy things in Victoria but my mom, my sister and I all agreed that this was the highlight of our weekend away, and IT WAS FREE. In fact, if you live in BC, it’s technically your house, so you really should go see it at least once.

This is not Government House, it’s FanTan Alley, a cool gateway to Victoria’s Chinatown. Just to show you we did other stuff too.

Next time, I’ll tell you about our thrift adventures and show off the things we scored!

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Success on Salt Spring

sail boats could be seen all over the coast of Salt Spring Island

My sweetheart and I recently visited Salt Spring Island for the first time. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been on nearly every other gulf island but not the biggest one! It’s a beautiful place that lived up to its reputation of being a hippy-haven, filled with super creative craftspeople, artists and artisans, great organic food and gorgeous seaside vistas.

the famous Saturday market – it was busy when we were there but in July and August, the locals say it is over -run with tourists

We took advantage of a BC Ferries deal (I get the e-newsletter but you can also check out their regular promotions here) and stayed three nights in a rustic cottage place called Green Acres Resort (“resort” is pushing it). The cottage was on St. Mary’s Lake and was well situated for us to go exploring. We went on a hike every day, visited the famous Saturday Market, drank Salt Spring Island beer,  cider, and gin, and of course, visited thrift shops.

For a small island, I was impressed that they have two thrift shops and a consignment store. I didn’t visit the consignment place but hit both thrift shops. Here’s the scoop:

Transitions Thrift Store

we think that there must be a market for thrift store awnings – don’t they all look like this?

This is right in Ganges (the main village on the island) and is tucked in behind the main drag. Transitions supports Island Woman Against Violence, supporting crisis services to women and children on the gulf islands.

The shop is not large but is well laid out and has some really nice displays. Items were reasonably priced and the quality of the goods they offered was good.

i really loved this creative display

Everything was clean, no stains on clothes, lots of name-brand things. Volunteers seemed to know a lot of the customers, which always tells me something about the character of a place. I didn’t find anything for myself here but that’s just thrifting sometimes.

Lady Minto Thrift Store

This shop was a little bit outside of Ganges, closer to where we were staying. Lady Minto supports the hospital auxiliary and is staffed by nearly 60 volunteers. It was a hoppin’ place when we stopped by on Saturday afternoon.

The store is a little larger than Transitions and while it didn’t have the same kind of character that Transitions had, it had lots of good quality products on display. I did come away with a couple of things:

love skorts, they’re so practical

i also like the Puma logo – so sleek

This golf skort by Puma, in perfect condition, only $2

not a colour i’d normally wear but it actually looks pretty good on me!

This Jessica tank just a buck. I love the keyhole detail.

If I lived on Salt Spring I’d definitely frequent these two shops both for their contents and the good causes they support. Have you ever been to Salt Spring? What’s your favourite part?

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To a Tee

For the last several weeks, I have been on the hunt for a white t-shirt. That’s all, just a plain, white t-shirt. Should be easy, right?

Wrong. So, wrong.

First of all, finding one in a thrift shop that is not yellowed in the armpits or the collar is nigh impossible – that’s usually why white/cream t-shirts end up at thrift shops. I did try, though, I really did. I hit every thrift shop in Abbotsford, as well as the MCC in Mission.

Then I gritted my teeth, held my nose, and resorted to regular retail. I went to:

Reitman’s, The Bay, American Eagle, Old Navy, H&M, Marshall’s, The Gap, Cleo’s, Walmart, Montrose & George, Spruce Collective, Winners, London Drugs, Superstore, Suzanne’s, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two.

All of these places had plain white t-shirts and they varied in price from $7 to $85. They were made in various places: Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, China – and even Canada (the one at Spruce Collective with a tag that said “Consciously made in Canada”. As opposed to Unconsciously? I should be happy that you were awake when you made this?) I tried on dozens of t-shirts but mostly I didn’t even get that far. Here’s why:

peek-a-boob! NO THANK YOU!

I found that nearly every t-shirt was made with really, really sheer, poor-quality fabric. Mostly, I just had to put my hand in the shirt and if I could see my hand, I knew that I would also see my navel and the outline of the waistband of my jeans, not to mention other things that no one needs to see on me. TMI, baby. Some t-shirts were so thin, that I could see right through them.

I did not find one t-shirt that was 100% cotton, they ALL had some percentage of elastine or spandex added to them. I appreciate these stretch fabrics in jeans, pants or skirts, but I find that in tops – unless you’re very slender and toned, which I am not – stretch fabrics cling in places you’d rather not be clung.

i even tried on white tops that are not t-shirts. still see-through. see what i mean about TMI?

Seriously. How hard can it be?

I finally found one today at Costco for $9. It is also a mix of cotton and stretch materials but it’s made in Canada, which I appreciate, and the fabric is thicker. It’s a titch long for my taste but I will wash it and throw it in the dryer and see what happens – it may shrink to the perfect length (but hopefully not in any other way!) I’m not too hopeful, though, since it says it’s pre-shrunk. I’m curious to see how long this t-shirt will last before it yellows or gets a hole in it or whatever. I’m not hopeful about that either.

I have a couple of theories as to why it’s so hard to find a good quality t-shirt. Part of it is because most companies are trying to maintain the retail prices that their customers have come to expect. Since most of us expect to pay $10 for a plain t –shirt (or less), they have to find a way to make that happen, amidst rising costs of resources and transportation (human resources, sadly, are often not counted in that mix.) My second theory is more cynical: if it’s true that there’s a sucker born every minute, why make something of good quality when you can make something cheap, charge whatever you want and someone will buy it? To be honest, I would have paid $40 for a t-shirt if it had met my requirements. I would not have paid $85, mostly because that’s out of my snack bracket but also because I don’t believe it costs anyone quite that much to make a t-shirt, even if they’re being paid a living, North American wage. And truly, the $85 t-shirt was NOT a good quality shirt (in my opinion).

What’s your theory as to why it’s so hard to find a good quality t-shirt? Do you have a go-to place for these kinds of wardrobe staples?



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A Small Wonder

When I first started blogging several years ago, I was motivated by other bloggers who make a living as re-sellers: people who find treasures at thrift shops and then resell them to those who don’t care to do the hunting but value the product. Turns out that wasn’t really for me; it really is a lot of work to make such a venture successful. Still, I admire those who do this. One of those I admire is my friend Mackenzie who recently launched her Etsy store, Small Wonder Shop.

Mackenzie (seen below) has always loved fashion and the way clothing says something about the person who wears it. That, combined with a love for period drama and a desire to create her own unique look, naturally drew her to seek out one-of-a-kind clothing in vintage and thrift shops.

Mackenzie models a lot of the clothing she sells in her shop.

“I wanted something that allowed me to express myself without being trendy,” she says.

Thrift shopping was the norm in her family and, like so many of us, she developed a love for the treasure hunt. As she’s gotten older and learned more about the fashion industry, thrift shopping has also become a matter of making ethical choices around consumerism, waste and the treatment of workers in the garment industry.

She also realized that she was good at thrift shopping and joked about the blessing/curse aspect of the ability to find great stuff but not wanting to be an over-consumer. She desired to turn her “weird knack” into something positive and earn a little money on the side. Her mother’s nickname for her is ‘small wonder’ and so, Small Wonder Shop was born.

her shop sells both clothing and accessories

One of the things that makes any reseller legit is their in-depth knowledge of their product. In preparation for starting her business, Mackenzie did quite a bit of research into what makes an article of clothing quality vintage. She discovered that it’s a combination of fact and intuition.

“Etsy has specific guidelines for what defines something as vintage. It has to be 20 years old or older,” she says. (Anyone else suddenly feeling vintage?) “I also learned that where and how something is made can determine its age.”

made in Canada!

Clothing with tags that tell you they’re made in Canada or the U.S. will almost automatically make it older since most clothing these days is made off shore. Seams are trimmed with pinking shears or sewn without a serger will tell you the clothing is likely hand-made.

the stitching around the zipper tells you the quality of the seamstress, as does the fact that the dress is fully lined

“The longer you do it, you develop a sense for whether or not a piece is vintage and if it will sell,” she says.

She is picky about her product and won’t buy it if it’s in poor condition. Clothing and accessories that she brings into her shop are carefully laundered (also tricky if the clothing comes without any tag identifying fabric used) and she uses a steamer as it is easier on clothing than a traditional iron. She keeps the clothing in a separate room to keep them clean.

Sometimes friends also model for her. This is Anna-Marie, Mackenzie’s sister-in-law, also a seamstress based in Winnipeg who owns Reclaim Mending

The most time-consuming part of her shop is the photography. At this point, she models most of the articles herself. That means taking the time to do her own hair and make-up and set up the room where she does her photography. Since she doesn’t own a lot of photography equipment, that means having to do it when natural light is available. Then she uploads to her Etsy site with descriptions and costs.

“Determining shipping costs is the hardest thing because of being in Canada,” she explains. “Shipping from Abbotsford to Vancouver is a lot cheaper than shipping to Winnipeg or Halifax. I had to do a lot of calculating to determine a flat rate.”

photographing an article of clothing gives you a chance to highlight its details, like the scalloped edge of this body suit’s neckline

One of the nicest things that Mackenzie does is pay attention to detail in the packing of her clothing. She folds the clothing neatly with a ribbon and attaches her business card/tag to it. She has collected stationery sets and hand writes a thank you note to each customer.

“This makes it more personal,” Mackenzie says. “When you’re buying vintage, you’re literally buying a one-of-a-kind item, so it’s more like sending a present to someone.”

For someone who is committed to thrift/vintage shopping and sharing the treasures found, reselling is a natural next step. Even so, it matters to me to purchase from a reseller who does their homework, understands both their product and the customer, and takes care to make the purchase experience a good one. Take some time to visit Mackenzie’s shop for yourself: Small Wonder Shop.

What about you? Is reselling something you’ve ever thought of doing? Have you bought items from a reseller you’d recommend?


Posted in clothing, resellers, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift websites, vintage | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Marketplace

The Marketplace by MCC CE is the latest venture from MCC BC. For the uninitiated, Mennonite organizations LOVE their acronyms: MCC CE is Mennonite Central Committee Community Enterprises. The BC is British Columbia. (The reality is that no matter how many letters they put after their name, everyone is going to call it The Marketplace, so why bother?) This is new territory for MCC because it is NOT A THRIFT SHOP. So don’t go in there expecting thrift prices. What it is, is a community enterprise and it is super cool.

The Marketplaces sells upcycled goods, products from local artisans (local meaning BC), some higher quality consignment clothing, and food products. It is not run by volunteers but by paid employees. They have a deli and bakery, so it’s a great place to go for lunch or afternoon tea and then shop for cool things.

The long-term goal is to also make this an employment training place where people can learn upcycyling, retail, food services skills.

The store is huge but beautifully laid out with large pergola-type structures that create “rooms” so that furniture pieces can be displayed to their best potential. Some of their products support women’s employment projects overseas. The consignment pieces are well curated and include jewelry, clothing and accessories.

My son has wanted a cast iron frying pan for ages and I had several to choose from here – he was thrilled when I brought this one home.

looks rustic, eh? ya, that’s actually my oven. don’t even try and talk about that to me.

there was another pan made in Canada but this one was in much better shape, so i went for quality over patriotism

I picked up these great, waterproof, Hush Puppies ankle boots (made in Canada!) for only $20.

i also like the paper bag packing materials that they use at the store.

The soles are in great shape and I’ve already walked home from work in them and they were very comfy.

fun fact: i didn’t notice the jewels in the watch face until i saw this photo.

I also picked up this Calinda watch for $10. These are always iffy purchases for me. I had to get a battery and had to have a couple of links removed so it would fit my wrist. That added an extra $25 to its value but I have been looking for something like this for ages with little success. It stopped working after two days but I took it back to the charming fellow at Quartz Jewelers (right across from London Drugs in the West Oaks Mall in Abbotsford), and he oiled the gears for me and it seems to be working again – fingers crossed!.

The Marketplace by MCC CE is located at 34377 Marshall Road in Abbotsford. They’re open 7 days a week and open late some nights so you can check them out after work or on weekends. Follow them on Facebook which is updated regularly with new goods coming in. If you’re looking for quality goods that support local artists, the environment (by upcycling) or are consigned, then the Marketplace offers great variety. Oh, and try their London Fog, it’s excellent!

What’s your favourite upcycled-goods-store?

Posted in consignment, food, MCC, repurposing, upcycling | Tagged , , ,

Saints and Salvation

The Ottawa River in January – stinkin’ cold by West Coast standards but so beautiful and clear!

My sisters-in-law love to thrift as much as I do so we always manage to take in a couple of thrift shops when we’re together in Ottawa and always score some gems.

St. Vincent. He just looks like a kind person, doesn’t he?

We visited the St. Vincent de Paul shop on Wellington Street. St. Vincent de Paul thrift shops are part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which was founded in 1830 in Paris by Frederic Ozanam, a lawyer, author and professor at the Sorbonne, as a way to help the poor. The society took St. Vincent de Paul as its patron saint, known for his work with the poor, his compassion, generosity and humility. They have thrift shops in North America, Australia and New Zealand and do work in Europe as well.

great boutique section

I really like the layout of this shop. It has a real boutique feel to it with clothing that is well curated. They’ve got some amazing, high-end pieces – furs, designer labels, one-off custom-made pieces – offered at very reasonable prices.

if you have to wear fur, then second hand is the way to go.

They had a great selection of clothing, housewares and shoes. Not much furniture but what was there was quality vintage. My only complaint of the whole place was the lack of organization in the book department. As a book lover, I appreciate it when books are not only sorted by genre but also when they’re sorted alphabetically by author. Really, how hard is that?

I found this fantastic beret, fine wool, made in Italy. I’ve been looking for a black beret for a while now. I love the classic look of this hat and one of the bonuses that I had not appreciated until wearing this one while in Ottawa was that you can wear it for a long time and it doesn’t leave you with hat hair.

Also a great piece to travel with because it lies completely flat when you’re not wearing it – it’s easy to tuck in to a pocket or a bag without adding any bulk. This one cost me $9, which was a little on the pricey side but I think it’s because it was in their boutique section.

As our holiday to North Carolina and Ottawa came to a close, my hubby and I decided we needed another bag to help us get our treasures home.

who knew that Jeep made bags?

We visited one of the many Salvation Army thrift shops in Ottawa and found this fantastic gym bag made by Jeep.

Main body has lots of room, end pockets for smaller items, and daisy chain mesh on the front pocket to attach extras as needed. It was beautifully clean and almost like new – it cost us $4.99. Score! It really was nice to have the extra bag to bring things home in too.

What’s you favourite charity shop?


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Ottawa Mission Thrift

This is my amazing sister-in-law Kim, who is a genius thrift shopper and also a fantastic volunteer – so great with people!

I had the privilege recently of volunteering with my sister-in-law, Kim, at the Mission Thrift Shop in Ottawa. I also realized something while I was here: this thrift shop is exactly the same as the one I just blogged about that is in Langley and what is now known as Mission Thrift Shop used to be called Bibles for Missions – they are rebranding! (A good idea, methinks. The former name could be misconstrued as being a place that sells Bibles for the purpose of funding missions, the new name is much more descriptive.)

blue tags on clearance!

I like this shop. It’s a nice size – neither too big nor too small (although much smaller than the one in Langley.) The sorting areas are well laid out and clearly marked and there’s a good work flow established. The shop itself is also well laid out and has a great selection of product.

nice, big fitting rooms with enough hooks to hang things on

The volunteers are friendly and cheerful. I got to take part in their devotional and prayer time and observed the way they seem to be a family – having volunteered at a thrift shop in the past, I can attest to how quickly this can happen and how lovely it is to be part of a supportive and friendly group of people.

great boutique section

My job for the day was to cull all the blue tagged clothing from throughout the shop and rehang them in the clearance area. It gave me a great opportunity to see what they carry. I noticed a really good selection of quality brands in the women’s section (Talbots, Land’s End, Cleo’s, Northern Reflections, American Eagle, for example.)

three, great quality shirts

Because I was traveling and had to be mindful of the fact that I also had to carry stuff home, I held back on the shopping but I still managed to pick up a few gems. I found these three quality tops (Talbots, Croft & Barrow, and Chaps) and each one is like new.

love it when i find things with the store tags still on them!

but my big find was this made-in -Australia, Woolerina merino wool vest, with the $148 store tag still on it.

it says “men’s” but it fits me perfectly.

They were asking $40 but Kim bought it with her volunteer discount – so I got everything for $40. I love merino wool – it’s thin and light weight, really warm, not itchy. This vest will be fantastic for traveling because it packs so thin.

We visited a few other shops in town – so check back to see what else I found! In the meantime, tell me what you think about the rebranding of Bibles for Missions into Mission Thrift Shops.

Posted in clothing, second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops | Tagged , , , , ,