For as long as I’ve loved fashion, I’ve loved vintage clothes. There’s an indescribable quality to pieces with a past life. I like imagining all the cocktail parties a ’60s shift dress was worn to, or the garage someone painted in that pair of splattered Levi’s 501s. As we all grapple with the consequences of fast-fashion, look to shop more mindfully and seek individuality in our style choices, vintage has never felt more relevant or vital. That’s why we’ve kicked off a new series that celebrates Canadian vintage sellers. First up, Keziah Garber of Papa Love Vintage.
If you hung around West Queen West in the early 2000s, chances are that your first introduction to vintage clothing was through Kealan Sullivan and her incredible store, 69 Vintage. That was certainly the case for Keziah Garber, who met Sullivan when she was at university. “Whenever I would go to her shop, she always picked out the best pieces for me, and would often put aside smaller-sized items for when I would stop by,” says Garber. “I loved the personalized shopping experience, but more so, I loved owning pieces that were one of a kind and no one else had.”
It was when Garber was working as a manager at Kost, the splashy restaurant inside the Bisha Hotel, in 2019, that she wanted do for other people what Sullivan and 69 Vintage did her for her. And so, her shop, Papa Love Vintage, was born. “Selling vintage is not just business, it is a real joy to fall in love with a piece, and then put it out there and watch someone else fall in love with it.”
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Garber primarily sells her finds on Instagram and also at markets like the Flamingo Market (an online marketplace for LGBTQSIA+ entrepreneurs), Hippie Market (started by Kealan Sullivan) and the Leslieville Flea (the next iteration of which will take place at the Ashbridge Estate on August 9). Garber specializes in “colourful and fun dressy streetwear,” like ’80s silk track bombers, ’70s disco collar shirts, oversized bright-coloured blazers and silk scarves. Her best score to date was a terry cloth Christian Dior caftan from the ’60s, which she sold at a past Hippie Market.
Garber likes to focus on pieces that can be styled in a gender-neutral way. “I have an honours BA at U of T in sexual diversity studies, so it is important to me that my brand is gender non-binary and size inclusive.” Garber believes that clothing in general is moving toward greater gender equality. “All bodies are built differently, and do not always conform to gendered binaries, and sizing needs to reflect that.” Garber markets her pieces, whether originally designed for men or women, as unisex. “There is a perception that vintage is very gendered, but I find vintage clothing to be more freeing than modern sizing.” Garber is meticulous about measuring her items before listing them for sale, and this forces her clients to do to the same with their bodies. This means that a garment’s fit has nothing to do with its size, or an arbitrary number on its tag.
The business’s other driving purpose is sustainability. “There is enough incredible clothing in circulation for us to us to build our wardrobes entirely from second-hand preloved pieces and look killer,” says Garber. That vintage clothing has even survived long enough to still be worn is a testament to its quality. “Before mass consumption, people took better care of their garments,” says Garber, “clothes were washed much less, by hand, without harsh cleaning agents and hung to dry.” In this way, owning vintage is sustainable not just because you’re not buying new garments, but because of what’s required to maintain them. “The lifestyle that goes along with buying vintage asks the consumer to use less harsh detergents, less water and less energy.”
“From what I have seen since quarantine, we are all starting look around and take in our own habits and behaviours,” muses Garber. “We are looking at our closets and seeing a lot of unworn, quick-decision purchases. We’re seeking connection to shops, integrity behind products, and longevity in wear.”
Even though it’s Garber’s job to be on constant lookout for great vintage, her favourite pieces remain the ones handed down to her by her mother. “Sometimes the best vintage is right in front of you. Before heading out to shop and thrift, go raid your grandparents’ closets!”