Aspen Raney spends hours each week at Anchorage’s thrift stores, on the hunt for vintage clothes. She looks through every single item on the rack, picking up garments, assessing stitching and checking tags.
For Raney, thrifting is more than a hobby — it’s a full-time job and, she says, an art form.
Raney has more than 13,000 followers on Instagram, where she styles and markets her secondhand finds. She has over 37,000 followers on the social shopping platform, Depop, where she is a top seller. She specializes in Alaska vintage and streetwear on both platforms under the name Kuration Collective.
“You have to go (thrifting) a lot because it takes time to learn,” Raney said. “I think people don’t really look at thrifting as an art form in the way that I do — and as a talent, even. It sounds really bizarre, how in the world can shopping be a talent? It is when you’re thrifting because you have no idea what’s going to be there — it’s always going to be something different.”
Her simplest items, what she calls “wearable vintage,” are what sell the quickest. In Raney’s hands, bomber jackets with Alaska Bartenders and Capitol Speedway logos become covetable items in a carefully curated collection. She said most of her business comes from New York, California and Alaska.
“Everything that I have done has been trial and error, nobody has told me ‘you have to get this or you have to get that,’ ” Raney said. “I’ve watched YouTube videos and other sellers, but what other people sell doesn’t always work for you — there’s a certain authenticity that goes with it. For me, when I pick up things, I only pick up things I’m genuinely interested in. If I’m not interested in it, it’s really hard for me to style it and sell it.”
Back in early 2020, Raney had a 2,000-count following on Instagram — a fraction of her current audience. It wasn’t until COVID-19 hit Alaska that she started to gain serious traction.
“It was a combination of the pandemic, people being home, and it was also coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Raney said. “Somebody had shared a list of Black-owned businesses in Alaska and it was going around... I was tagged in the post or whatever so people were clicking on it.” Before COVID-19, Raney was teaching part time at Anchorage Cycle. As businesses began opening up, she was concerned about the pandemic and decided to put total focus on Kuration Collective.
“In a way, the pandemic pushed me in the direction that I already knew I wanted to go in, I was just too scared to pull the trigger on it,” Raney said.
Out of the box
Fashion has always been a part of Raney’s life — her mother owned a boutique on Fifth Avenue while she was growing up called She Boutique. However, it wasn’t until early 2017 that Raney began selling clothes out of her own closet on Poshmark. She was a new mom looking to refresh her wardrobe and wanted to give an online platform a try.
“I sold it all really, really fast, it was honestly very fun,” Raney said. “It was fun to see that people were interested in the things I had, it was fun to have extra money, it was fun to shop for things, and I just wanted to keep doing it — but I didn’t really know how.”
At the time, she was working from home but wanted to find a new job that would allow for the same flexibility. Soon enough, Raney was sourcing items from thrift stores like Value Village, Goodwill and The Salvation Army. Eventually she switched over to selling on Depop and found her niche.
From modeling her inventory to marketing and shipping out orders, Raney stays busy.
“I am a very experimental person with fashion myself. I cannot be put into a box very easily — I put things together the way that I like to put them together and I like the things that I like,” Raney said. “I think I’m very authentic to myself and that is visible to people, and maybe they like my style, and maybe that contributes to me doing well.”
Raney currently gets her inventory in a number of ways. She shops two to three times a week for hours on end. She occasionally finds undervalued vintage items online that she resells. And sometimes people reach out to her through Instagram to barter.
“One woman, she used to sell vintage — she’s a thrifter as well, but she stopped doing it, she had bins and bins of vintage clothing,” Raney said. “She just pulled it out in her front yard and did a personal yard sale for me ... I have one guy that I get vintage T-shirts from, he’s also a thrifter here ... we do the same thing, we meet up in a parking lot and he opens up his trunk, it’s full of duffel bags and T-shirts and I go through them. So I have different ways of finding inventory.”
‘A completely open mind’
Kuration Collective is now a full-time job that supports her and her son. It has also allowed Raney to make connections in the community, like hosting pop-up shops at local boutiques like Second Run.
“I feel like local businesses are wanting to band together and really help each other so we can all make it through this,” Raney said. “I don’t want to necessarily throw myself into the same category as someone who has a storefront or a restaurant — I’m already online so I don’t have that whole thing looming over me. But I think local businesses in general are trying to think of creative ways to get more people involved.”
For those wanting to get into the thrifting game, Raney has one big piece of advice: Go through each individual item on the rack. And for those looking to score some vintage, Raney suggests looking for items that have a made in USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Korea tag, as they are typically authentic vintage.
“It’s not like when you go to a retail store and you say, ‘I’m looking for a black T-shirt in this size and I want it to be like this,’ ” Raney said. “When you go thrifting, you need to have a completely open mind.”