VINTAGE GOES VIRAL: EC Vintage, an Online Clothing Store, Dresses for Success
UWEC student Mike Shoultz is the man behind the popular online biz
When the COVID-19 lockdown hit, nostalgia hit, too. Mike Shoultz, a UW-Eau Claire business marketing and communications student, was at home taking online courses and looking for a job. Some friends told Shoultz about their passion for vintage clothing, and he decided to poke around in the thrifting business.
Now, almost two years later, Shoultz’s business, Eau Claire Vintage, has more than 6,000 Instagram followers and a cult following among Eau Claire youth. New clothes sell within hours, and the occasional pop-up shop bustles with eager customers.
Shoultz, who graduates this May, has dealt with still being a student while running Eau Claire Vintage. Bouncing between classes, homework, and his business hasn’t been easy, but Shoultz said he hasn’t done it alone – he’s had help with social media design, promotions, and other odd jobs that have lightened his load.
We say everything we sell is hand-curated, and that’s true. I sort through these piles of clothes and specifically choose which pieces I want. Everything touches my hands – the care is really there.
founder, eau claire vintage
When donation locations or charities take in clothes, most donations will not make it to shelves. If they do, there’s only a certain amount of time before they are moved out. So what happens with the leftover clothes? They go to wholesale suppliers, and from there, to people like Shoultz.
Shoultz sorts through their inventory, and typically takes about half of what they have. From there, the supplier will move on to their next client. It took him a while for suppliers to work with him regularly, but now things are easier.
“We say everything we sell is hand-curated, and that’s true,” Shoultz said. “I sort through these piles of clothes and specifically choose which pieces I want. Everything touches my hands – the care is really there.”
After Shoultz takes his pick, the clothes get shaped up to sell. After being washed multiple times, bleached, sewed, or patched, they’re ready to be sold in an Eau Claire Vintage drop or saved for a pop-up shop.
Drops take place on Instagram, where Eau Claire Vintage will post pictures of the pieces along with prices. Customers message the account to buy – first come, first serve. Drops often sell out within hours.
Eau Claire Vintage has sold to all 50 states, Shoultz said, a benefit of having an online storefront instead of a brick and mortar one. Although their products have gone far and wide, Shoultz emphasizes the “Eau Claire” part of Eau Claire Vintage.
Originally from Delano, Minnesota, Shoultz came to UW-Eau Claire for football, despite never having been to Wisconsin before. Once here, he said, he fell in love with the city and isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. Eau Claire is the business namesake for a reason: Shoultz said he wants to reflect the community in his clothing, providing pieces Eau Clairians will love.
While being loyal to Eau Claire is one of Shoultz’s business passions, just as important is his focus on sustainability. Fashion and textile industries are among the largest consumers of fresh water in the world, using an increasingly scarce resource.
By opting to buy used clothing instead of what is dubbed “fast fashion,” consumers can reduce freshwater usage by bulk companies. Even in the thrift clothing industry, Shoultz said, there’s a remarkable amount of water waste through the bulk shipping of unwanted pieces overseas. Some of it will be repurposed into other materials, but a large amount will end up in landfills or the ocean. In just under two years, Eau Claire Vintage estimates they’ve saved about six million gallons of water.
“We are really proud,” Shoultz said. “It shows a small, online, pop-up business in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, can make a difference and be sustainable.”
The small, human approach is something Shoultz wants to stick with. Though it’s not a secret, neither is it advertised that Eau Claire Vintage is owned by Mike Shoultz – and that’s intentional. Shoultz said he doesn’t want the spotlight, keeping the focus on vintage clothing and his adopted home, Eau Claire.
“I envision our company being something where people go for the product, the clothing, the experience, the uniqueness of it,” Shoultz said. “I do not want it to be something that is about who runs it or who owns it. The focus is all about bringing the very, very best vintage products we can to the area and doing some good in the process.”
Eau Claire Vintage can be found on Instagram at @ec.vintage.