From the vintage point

David Watkins

Photo By Larry Dalton

If you’re looking to purchase a three-piece vintage suit or a 1970s Beach Boys tour T-shirt, look no farther than your home computer. Sacramento-based eBay seller Retro-Ware, a.k.a. David Watkins, specializes in vintage clothing for men. Watkins scours garage and estate sales, thrift stores, flea markets and even eBay, so you don’t have to. After more than four years peddling his retro-wares, this eBay seller has achieved PowerSeller status, which essentially means he kicks eBay ass. With a positive-feedback rating of 98.9 percent, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll be pleased with your online purchase.

How did you get started selling on eBay?

I’ve always been a treasure hunter. I love thrift stores, estate sales, antique shops. I moved away to go to college but got a little sidetracked, and I fell into running a nonprofit thrift store. After a few years, I decided to put all of my focus back into finishing school. I dealt with a lot of vintage clothing while running the thrift store, and I couldn’t quite let go. I was already addicted to buying on eBay. It was just a matter of time before my two addictions came together—that was about five years ago.

What kind of items do you specialize in?

I specialize in vintage men’s clothing. I sell everything from vintage couture Yves Saint Laurent suits to ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts. My inventory varies depending on what I find and what the season is, but generally I sell vintage denim, cowboy boots and vintage leather jackets—pretty much all men’s stuff. I sell women’s clothing on occasion as well, but I’d say 90 percent of what I sell is for men.

Where do you find the stuff you sell?

Everywhere. Rummage, garage and estate sales; thrift stores; auctions; even eBay.

You buy stuff on eBay and then turn around and resell it?

On occasion, yeah. The average person may not know that they have something of value, especially when it’s something like an old pair of jeans. Their photos and description won’t accurately reflect the significance of what they’re selling. Most of my time is spent on eBay, researching trends and checking out the competition. So, on occasion I find items that aren’t marketed correctly. That’s when I swoop in.

How do you know what is valuable?

I’ve been doing this for a while, so I’ve developed an eye for it. It’s instinctual now. There are certain qualities that you look for in a piece and certain designers I have memorized now. So, more times than not, I’ll find something and know exactly how much I can sell it for. Of course, in the past I have bought some junk that apparently only I thought was cool. But I have a more refined taste for it now, especially now that my fiancee comes along on the shopping trips. She helps me say no when an item is questionable.

What has been your most exciting find?

My most exciting find wasn’t even from a thrift store. I found it in my fiancee’s closet. She wanted to buy some Marc Jacobs shoes, so she had pulled out a bunch of clothing from her closet that she wanted to sell on eBay. Immediately I saw it. It was a vintage ‘60s leather jacket by a company called East West Musical Instruments. She didn’t know that it was an extremely collectible jacket. I told her that she could definitely buy some new shoes with the money from that jacket. Within a few days I sold it on eBay for $1,000. Instead of going out and buying new shoes, she surprised me by buying us two tickets to Europe. So, to make a long story short, a leather jacket turned into three weeks of bliss in Europe. It doesn’t get any more exciting than that.

Do you get attached to any of the items you find?

All the time! Usually about every month or so I have to clean out my own closets. It helps knowing that the items are going to good homes where they’ll be appreciated. The fact that it’s paying my rent is certainly a bonus as well.

Has the creation of vintage-like T-shirts—like those sold at Urban Outfitters— hurt your business?

I don’t think it hurts business. It may actually increase it. People want that look, but they want it to be unique to their style. They don’t want to be seen wearing the same “Jesus is my home-boy” vintage-style shirt; they want something that’s unique, that no one else will be wearing. If you’re looking for vintage clothing on eBay, it can be a pain. There may be 2,000 “vintage” T-shirts on eBay, but only 200 will actually be vintage, and the others will be vintage-style.

Have you considered opening a boutique?

I have. When I lived in Los Angeles I thought about doing it. In Sacramento, I can definitely make more on eBay than I could in a store. I might sell a T-shirt on eBay for $200, but if I put it out for that price in a store in Sacramento, people would laugh at me. It’s also nice because when I’m selling on eBay, I can set my own hours. People are shopping 24 hours a day. I don’t have to hang out and wait for someone to come in and buy something. Eventually I’d like to open a store, but I’d have to do it in a bigger city to get the value of the clothing.