In Amsterdam there are several places one can go for upcycled clothing, the famous Kringloop shops or trendy vintage shops like Episode or The Kilo shop. Each store has its own array of various clothing coming from different sources, located in different areas. But what exactly distinguishes a vintage shop from a Kringloop shop? And why do these differences matter?
Walking around Amsterdam, there seems to be a vintage shop on every block. Some stand out more than the rest, while others simply blend in amongst the exposed brick buildings. For me, it was the Kilo shops that stood out the most. The Kilo shops are vintage shops that determine the price of the clothing based on how much it weighs, a quirky yet fun idea that adds to the shopping experience (or for some, the shopping frustration). There are two around Amsterdam. One at Waterlooplein, and one in Albert Cuyp (De Pijp). Both differ in the types of clothes they sell: the shop at Waterlooplein specializes in 70s clothing, while Kilo de Pijp focuses on clothing from the pop art era. Interestingly, the kilo shops are essentially a chain, a certain brand of vintage shops, managed by the same people who also own other Amsterdam vintage stores such as Candy, Mood Indigo, and Penny Lane. All differ in theme and price range, with Kilo on the lower end with more casual clothing and Penny Lane on the higher end, offering more refined, designer pieces. Vintage isn’t simply vintage: Candy, for example, sells more branded stuff, according to an employee. “The branded stuff goes here, and the rest goes to other places, like Kilo, Mood Indigo, and others.” While these vintage shops try to differentiate, it is not always evident to the shopper just casually strolling by and maybe spontaneously looking inside. And for the employees themselves, they say “it’s challenging to stand out from the other vintage shops”.
And then there is Episode. Another popular vintage store in Amsterdam, Episode is a chain, with shops spread across numerous European cities: Paris, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Brussels, and more. Like the Kilo shops, Episode sells a wide range of casual vintage clothing. As noted on their website, and claimed by their employees,
Episode and the Kilo stores handpick their vintage items from a bulk of clothes shipped between warehouses, which afterwards go through a process of refinement, hence their supposedly fine quality. It’s interesting to find out that because the most famous vintage shops are all essentially owned by the same people, they all receive their pieces from the same warehouse. This handpicking happens regularly, with most vintage stores receiving weekly bulks of new clothes: “The new stock comes three times each week”, at Kilo apparently. To my question of what happens to the unsold clothes in the store when the new pieces come in, answers were uncertain and different. “Episode resells to retail and other vintage shops”, one employee told me.
However, exploring the multiple facades of vintage clothing I couldn’t help but think that in most cases, many vintage shops are just glorified thrift shops.
The ‘real’ thrift shops in Amsterdam are the Kringloop stores. Kringloop stores are essentially second hand stores that can be found almost everywhere in the Netherlands. Like the vintage shops, they sell clothes, but not only: In a Kringloop store, you can usually find electronics, books, silverware, CDs, and so forth as well. Most Kringloop stores sell donated items for very cheap, but there are also some such as Mevius in Amsterdam that buy bulk items and then sell them for very cheap. It’s particularly popular among art students at the local Gerrit Rietveld Academy, an ideal place to find hidden (and inexpensive) material to be used as materials for art pieces.
There are many factors that distinguish the vintage stores from the Kringloop stores – the location, the look, the selection of items, the shopping ‘experience’. It seems, however, that most of the differences stem from the branding, from the name, ‘vintage’. Branding items as ‘vintage’ creates this association of uniqueness and luxury, whereas buying something second hand is seen as frugal. On one hand I can understand why vintage items are considered vintage – because they were produced in limited quantities with quality materials from a specific time. But on the other hand, I find that many items are just old stock or second-hand clothing that has been branded as vintage to make it seem more valuable. Items that you could also find at a Kringloop store for cheaper. So why buy it at Episode (or any other, 'trendy' vintage store)?
According to the employees of several vintage stores, what distinguishes their stores from a thrift store is their selection of goods. “In thrift stores you really have to look for something nice, whereas in vintage stores, everything has been specifically selected.” For Kilo even, “clothes are selected on the season and what is trending, what people are looking for.” Personally however, I find that the effort of finding something I would buy is the same in both the Kringloop stores or the vintage shops. Despite the wider selection of ‘nice’ things, beauty is relative: There is no guarantee that you will find something that will fit you. And since the prices aren’t exactly cheap, you still spend the same amount of time looking for something you would actually consider worth your money.
Upcycling clothes is a crucial component of the climate crisis. But is it necessary to profit off it? Talking to fans of vintage clothing, one of the main reasons it has become so popular is due to its environmentally friendly nature. At its core, we think of vintage as ‘new’ second-hand, as clothing that allows us to skip the polluting production process without reverting to wearing ‘used’ clothes and/or refraining from shopping overall. An employee of Episode told me that “vintage clothing is more popular because there is a whole hype surrounding it, it’s more environmental”. Initially, this rise in popularity of vintage in Amsterdam seemed to show one thing - Amsterdammers care about the environment: “Vintage has gotten more popular because people want to buy circular clothing, they want to be more environmentally friendly”. However, in the end, stores such as Kilo, Episode, and Candy are ultimately businesses seeking to make profit. “Vintage is more popular nowadays, so it is also more expensive (...) it used to be cheaper”, somebody working at Candy disclosed. While people want to be more environmentally friendly, the boom in vintage stores hasn’t really resulted in a more critical stance towards the functioning of the fashion industry. As employees in some stores told me that clothes are selected based on current fashion trends, with new stock coming in regularly (and not on needs basis), this cycle seems to resemble consumer trends of fast fashion, with its constant repetition of production and waste according to trends and seasons. In the end, these stores are businesses, and consumption is good for business.
My final conclusion, walking around Amsterdam’s vintage stores and Kringloop shops – in some cases vintage is a necessary categorization, but in others it has also been a term abused in means of profit.