Brighton-based Carmen Reumers runs her Etsy store FrankyGoesToThrift with her dad (the eponymous Franky), who is based in the Netherlands. Their stock ranges from ceramic hippo plant pots to strawberry-shaped oven mitts and everything in between, with the items all immaculately restored and photographed against a chic bubblegum pink backdrop. Recently, their eye for stylish 20th century vintage homeware earned them a place as a finalist in this year’s Etsy Design Awards, with several prizes up for grabs including a grand prize of $20,000. The item that got them noticed was a striking pair of pink 1990s hand painted ceramic candlestick holders (pictured). BN1 spoke to Carmen about what it takes to stand out from the crowd and the joy of curating such an aesthetically pleasing and nostalgic range of items.
How did you first get the idea to start the Etsy store? Have you always been interested in vintage design and thrifting?
My interests have always been creative in nature. As a child, my mum used to take me to flea markets, where I got to know the thrill of scanning for treasures. That interest was reawakened when I moved to Brighton and found a vibrant vintage scene, which saw me going through many stylistic phases. Through that, I discovered a treasure trove of cheap vintage blouses and shirts on eBay and ended up with a collection so large I had to resell some of them. That’s when I opened my first Etsy store and I asked friends to model the clothes for me. I enjoyed the creative process behind that and flipping my impulse-buying habits into a productive result.
My dad, Franky, enjoyed learning about this and would go on the hunt for the styles he’d see me sell. Since then, I’ve switched tactics a few times both in terms of the type of stock and selling platforms, which has taught me a lot about spotting trends. In 2019 on a thrifting trip with my dad we found some beautiful, heavy glass lamps for a song and in a now typical ‘we can’t just leave it there’ mood, decided to have a peek on Etsy to compare prices. Based on that we decided to give it a go, and it caught on fast!
How would you describe the ethos of FrankyGoesToThrift?
Starting off, we had an interest in vintage purely from an aesthetics and quality perspective. We enjoyed the uniqueness and quirkiness of what we found, and as a bonus we were reviving things to put them back into rotation. As we spent more time doing this work, we expanded our understanding of how deep the ‘eco-friendly’ nature of it went. There’s a special kind of pride that comes from what we do, and it informs all aspects of our process. So much of our stock is metamorphosed from varying levels of neglect to near-new, and together we’ve prevented more than 500 items from a likely, unnecessary death in landfill.
We also collect and reuse packaging materials. I’m always looking out for clean cardboard boxes on my walks around the neighbourhood and my friends and family donate boxes, bubble wrap or foam peanuts. Having said that, we always keep a sober mind about who or what the real problem is (and it’s not the average Joe). The economic model of ‘profit above all’ means that the quality of mass produce has degraded to such an extent that the rich well of what we class as vintage will inevitably run dry. We see first-hand how items from the 1990s are, generally speaking, of higher quality materials than the current offerings, and lower versus the 1970s, and on it goes. Except for high-end designer products, household items bought today are (intentionally) not built to last 30, 40, 50 years or more. This is something that most of us know in theory but by being up close you get a keen sense of the craftsmanship and standards of quality we have lost to factory production lines and the monumental waste we are encouraged to contribute to. So often, Franky and I are simply in awe of the products we find, of the intricacy and genius of design.
But buying vintage is not just a recycling concept – although that’s nothing to sneer at. It’s an honour to work on something that was made with integrity, something which has lived in the homes of people no longer with us. It should be an honour to integrate a piece of history into our own homes. After all, good design and quality have no expiry date – they can compete with any temporary trend. We feel very passionate about that.
What catches your eye when it comes to items for your store?
I not only had the distinct pleasure of growing up in a very visually stimulating time (the 90s), but my family members also had a very diverse but distinctive taste in home design. My dad has always been a mid-century minimalist, my mum was a 90s farmhouse fan (now semi-reincarnated via ‘cottagecore’), my aunt was very much of the 1980s white, marble & pastel style that was still hanging around, and then there were my older cousins’ Memphis bedrooms. As a kid on the cusp of the millennium, I was always scrapbooking the home store magazines and saving up to buy some fluffy cushion or a blow-up picture frame. As a result, I can spot items from these eras like the back of my hand, and that’s a skill I’ve only enhanced since starting the shop.
Although we started off with a mostly mid-century range, last year I spotted some beautiful items from the 80s-90s period whilst thrifting which brought back the rich visuals of childhood! Noticing that modern interior design shows a strong influence from those eras’ colours and shapes, I decided to introduce this period to the store as an experiment. Lo and behold, we’re in the Etsy Design Awards with a 90s piece, and interest for these items is only growing. Logically it adds up. I’m 31 and although I’m in no position to purchase property (like many of my peers), our focus on interior is clearly coming into view. These were the eras we grew up in, which were incredibly rich in aesthetics. Now I look for a mix of anything of a certain level of quality from the 1930s-1990s period, to offer something for everyone.
Where do you find the items you sell in your store? Do you spend a lot of time travelling around on the lookout for bargains?
Predominantly, we’ve been thrifting in and around the southern province of the Netherlands, where Franky is based and where a lot of the mid-century stock can still be found. I take my car to the mainland for a visit a couple of times a year and always bring a carload back, and my dad periodically comes over here and does the same. As the shop has grown, I’ve acquired a lot of new stock from around England, where I get most of the 80s-90s stock. We both thrift independently as well as when we’re together. It can be very addictive so often we both end up with our own backlog of stock that needs cleaning or fixing! That usually helps to put the brakes on and focus on the hard part. Our enthusiasm for both the hunt and rewards, as well as the fact I don’t rely on this to pay my rent, encourages us to keep our prices accessible, allowing for fast-moving stock.
Is Brighton a good place to find bargains or do you generally go further afield?
Honestly, as soon as charity shops started to create their own vintage sections it took a lot of fun out of the sport. As most big cities do, Brighton too has succumbed in that area. I do still go to a choice few and prefer the big ones (Emmaus in Portslade is always a good trip) but they are not my main hotspots. Carboots are a lot cheaper and a lot more fun! There are so many in Sussex now. It’s a great morning out and I always come back with some wonderful items. Wherever I travel through England I will try to make a stop off at a local charity store, the further away from cities the better – prices fall and there are usually less thrifters about. In between, I also use eBay. Postal fees are not great but for the right item it can still be worth it.
Does it take a lot of upscaling to get the items in a sellable condition?
Individually, it depends on the items and the condition we find them in. Ceramics for instance are generally easy to clean, but a lot of the lamps we find take a fair bit of time as they may suffer from rust, need rewiring, coats repainted, or parts replaced. Rugs can take days, sometimes weeks to thoroughly clean and remove smells. Through trial and error, we’ve been getting a lot better at gauging when to NOT pick something up. I’ve gained a mental research bank of product information, keep building on my product photography skills and my latest challenge is to get savvy with TikTok and Instagram reels.
And by handling so many items in a short time span, my dad has become an expert in knowing exactly what’s needed to fix or clean most materials safely. The combined time we spend sourcing, fixing, cleaning, photographing, drafting and packaging can seem very abstract to anyone who doesn’t run or live alongside someone who runs a small shop. Our prices cannot begin to cover for that. The main reason we do it is the enjoyment it brings us and the gratification that comes from giving something old and neglected a new life. It’s our resistance to the modern age of disposability.
What have been some of your favourite finds and restorations?
I love walking through a thrift store where one of us calls the other one over in poorly veiled, hushed excitement over something we have found, the dirtier the better. A while ago my dad sourced a large 1970s Allibert space age mirror, complete with backlighting, covered in dirt and cooking grease. It took him days to get it looking like it came straight from the shop. It didn’t take long until it was sold to someone in South Korea as our biggest sale yet, complete with a custom-made box. Recently my dad found a pair of beautiful 1960s wall lamps (coming to the store soon) with shades that were in such a poor state he nearly left them behind. They are his favourite project to date. One of my own favourite little finds is a photo of a miners family taken in their home in the 70s period, which I consider art in its own right. Of course, a lot of my best finds I’ve integrated into my own interior. Perks of the job!
How did your dad get involved in the store? What does he bring to the team?
He’s my thrifting buddy turned business partner! First and foremost, he’s been the financial support which has been instrumental in helping me kick this off. He’d also much rather help me in this way than simply hand me some cash. He calls it ‘learning money’. And whilst my eye for design and creative drive has certainly directed us, his lifetime of experience with fine handicraft and his logical, problem-solving brain have been the engine behind FrankyGoesToThrift from the start. An impeccable craftsman with a background in fine art and carpentry, he’s always been self-employed and has undertaken many business ventures in his time. As such, he brings a wealth of knowledge and has very high regard for quality work.
Beyond that, he gives me critical feedback no one else does! He checks every shop listing over his regular cups of coffee and will periodically call me with a list of suggested edits, whether clarifying a specific material (ie. bakelite, not plastic!) or noticing where I forgot to mention something. Sometimes we debate pricing or how best to present a particular item. We are both learning a lot individually and share that as we go.
Would you say it’s brought you closer together?
Absolutely. As soon as he saw the initial lamps selling well, I think he caught the bug. He really enjoys working on a physical project, it’s therapy to him. During the pandemic, he would text me photos of his hauls when the stores would open, and spent most of his time restoring when they were closed. I think the mental challenge they brought helped him fight the inane lockdown boredom and sharing a hobby helped curb the frustration of being physically apart for so long. The shop’s success has even brought my sister into the mix, as she has started coming along on his regular trips to see what the fuss is about. It’s something we do as a family now, whether we’re physically together or not. We’re a lot more involved with each other because of it.
Congratulations on the nomination as finalist for the Etsy Design Award! How does it feel to be nominated? What would winning this mean to you?
Thank you!! It’s been so joyous to be put through to the next round as 1 of 10 in the vintage category. I’ve been blown away by the thought of it, especially since we’re fairly new kids on the block, but it’s bolstered our hopes and motivation. Winning any of the awards comes with a lot more attention, but more importantly, it comes with mentorship and financial support from Etsy. I still work a full-time job, so having more money towards the shop would immediately give me some breathing space and the resources to go to the mainland for stock more often. Having mentorship would speed up my learning process and reach exponentially!
Would you ever want to open a ‘real-life’ store?
Yes and no! I think if we were big enough to hire a part-time shop manager, I would love to have a bubblegum pink vintage shop front and curate the space, mingle with regulars, have a dog in the window… But I get restless, and I like the hunting and cataloguing too much to sit down for too long. My dad is even worse on that front. We are an ADHD family, so we like to keep it moving!
What are your ambitions? In terms of the Etsy store and generally in life…
I have so many interests, the shop is born from one of them. I would love to be able to run it full time, expand it so we can get bigger pieces and a proper stock room. Unfortunately, Brexit has made the cross-border importation of goods a lot muddier and that is a huge challenge we will inevitably run into if we grow beyond a certain point. This is fun and it gives me a lot, but I can only do it because of the resources I have and a day job to fall back on. When it stops being fun or worthwhile financially then we will need to pull the plug. I have no doubt that if that were the case, I would have another interest lined up as I simply get bored doing one thing. The only ambition I have is to cultivate more self-agency financially and beyond that, to not be driven by survival but by personal fulfilment.
Sadly, in our world money is the obvious vehicle for this ambition. I would not call myself an idealist, but the working class deserve more than providing constant output and productivity – we don’t exist just to work. Whilst I am surviving, the immediate goal is some enjoyment in the work I do. The Etsy nomination and the opportunity to share with BN1 are therefore much appreciated mood-lifters and motivators.