Rags to Vintage Riches: How I Watched My Favorite Small Shop Evolve

Welcome to the new age of fashion, where millennials and Gen Z alike are shunning fast fashion and opting more and more for vintage styles and thrifted looks. Luckily, the Bay is a hub for high-quality, carefully curated vintage clothing from Haight all the way to Hayward.

But there’s a side of vintage we as consumers don’t often see: the evolution. While plenty of articles will tell you what stores to shop and what pieces to get, I’m here to tell you a little story of how I got to watch one small Bay Area business grow from selling a few vintage pieces out of a van to three storefronts, constant pop-ups, and 16 thousand followers on Instagram.

Three years ago, going to flea markets was my and my friends’ favorite way to spend a Saturday. And while it still is, I haven’t been able to regain that feeling of pure success at any others since I found Indigo Vintage at a Berkley flea market three years ago. You know the feeling I’m talking about: when you’re out shopping, or just browsing, and you come across a piece of clothing (or an entire store) that you just know will be the perfect staple of your wardrobe. That’s how I felt when I met Mel Willis, Indigo Vintage founder, next to her van full of vintage clothes.

I walked away from that flea market stand with a dope new jacket draped over my arm and a flyer in my hand inviting me to the grand opening of Indigo Vintage’s first real store. 

Mel Willis’ original vintage van; photo courtesy of @indigovtgMel Willis’ original vintage van; photo courtesy of @indigovtg

Mel Willis’ original vintage van; photo courtesy of @indigovtg

Now, I’m not going to drag this out for too long or bore you with an overly detailed play-by-play, but the glow-up this store underwent really is amazing. I mean, I remember at that grand opening I had to wait to try something on because someone was in the bathroom connected to the only dressing room. Now here they are with three stores and plenty of (bathroom-less) dressing rooms, all uniquely designed too!

Since Mel opened that first store in Berkeley, I’ve stopped by Indigo probably once or twice every month. In the beginning, it was exciting watching them add more vendors, design and redesign the shop, elevate their styles and pretty quickly grow their customer base. Back then, I felt like I was in on something amazing, some hidden gem of the Bay that I helped to build (even though I definitely didn’t, just bought lots and lots of clothes).

While that inception period made me feel special, getting a front-row seat to watch them take over the rest of the Bay Area made me feel even more special. From a customer’s point of view, the expansion that followed just felt like fast fire. It was like, “boom, San Francisco shop, boom, Santa Cruz shop, boom, pop-up shop, boom, start our own flea market.” I felt like I was cheering on the Warriors in back-to-back championships, except this team has yet to lose.

The coolest thing to experience as an OG shopper was the genesis of the So-So Vintage Market, an event arguably more popular than Indigo itself which Mel and her team introduced to the Bay Area vintage community just last year. This little market travels around the Bay from Berkely parking lots to SF hotels, bringing along local, diverse, high-quality vendors just like Mel herself used to be. To give you a perception of how popular this little shop has become, the first time I went to the So-So, the line wrapped around three whole blocks.

If that doesn’t blow your mind enough, some of these namedrops should. G-Eazy, Halsey, and Emma Chamberlain are all Indigo fans, and even Bella Hadid has worn Indigo pieces. These huge names supporting a small vintage business probably shouldn’t blow my mind, but it absolutely does. Especially when the grand opening still feels like yesterday.

Shot of the San Francisco store location; photo courtesy of Indigo Vintage.Shot of the San Francisco store location; photo courtesy of Indigo Vintage.

Shot of the San Francisco store location; photo courtesy of Indigo Vintage.

To wrap this little story up, I want to say how amazing it’s been watching a small business I’ve come to love so much succeed so greatly. The founder, Mel, went from selling vintage pieces out of her van as a part-time hobby to successfully owning and operating three stores alongside multiple pop-up shops and a whole market! Where she started! 

All the while keeping their vendors, shoppers, and the Bay Area community at the forefront of their business. They’ve consistently provided us with high-quality, carefully curated (watch their Instagram stories for proof) pieces in every single shop and constantly advocate for small, female, BIPOC, and queer-owned businesses in every way they can. 

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Unconventional, funky and fun- Indigo represents a new wave of progress in vintage commerce

— Mel Willis, Founder

I’m proud to call myself an OG customer of this fantastic, not-so-little vintage shop (my friends and family can vouch for that). Watching their journey has been a blast so far, and I can’t wait to be amazed by what they do next.

// To find out more about Indigo follow them on Instagram @indigovtg or check out their website at indigovtg.com; Store locations: 2505 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley; 1649 Haight St, San Francisco; 1517 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. Feature photo by Dominic Wong

Rags to Vintage Riches: How I Watched My Favorite Small Shop Evolve
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