MANASQUAN – Danny Colon was a high school freshman and stuck inside when the pandemic hit in April 2020, so he decided it was as good a time as any to clean out his closet and try to sell all of the things he didn’t need.
The clothes were slightly outdated, but salvageable. He bleached and tie-dyed old T-shirts. He cropped oversized sweaters. He cut off the sleeves and widened the necks of sweatshirts. And then posted the items on Instagram to gauge the interest.
“In 24 hours, everything sold out,” Colon said.
Now 19 and a freshman at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Colon turned his spring cleaning exercise into Electrix Vintage, a Manasquan vintage clothing store featuring T-shirts, polo shirts, jackets and sweatshirts that are finding new life.
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In an age of apps and artificial intelligence, he is capitalizing on consumers’ thirst for stability in a rapidly changing world. The ’90s Gap jeans with holes in them that were going to be thrown away have found new life. The sport coat that your father or grandfather wore is cool again. What was old is new. What was out is in.
Colon’s passion for the business has stood out. A panel of judges with the Entrepreneur Organization’s New Jersey Chapter recently named Colon New Jersey’s top student entrepreneur, awarding him $5,000 and access to mentors. Colon will compete in the group’s national contest in Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 21.
“He loves the work,” said Denise Blasevick, a judge and chief executive officer of The S3 Agency, a marketing business based in Boonton, Morris County. “We see entrepreneurs in our real lives and some of the students sometimes over the years who have figured out a business and they’re good at it. But there’s not necessarily that complete and total love of what they are doing. And I think that (love) is what really shone through for Danny.”
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‘A space for him to get creative’
Colon was raised in Brielle and now lives in New York, where he attends school. From there, he oversees Electrix Vintage, a store tucked away on Main Street in Manasquan that has grown to five part-time employees. He declined to disclose the company’s sales, but he said revenue has grown nearly 3,000% from when he first started.
After seeing the demand generated by the initial Instagram sale, Colon decided to turn the idea into a business. He cobbled together more clothes from his parents and Manasquan High School friends and classmates. He used his mother’s sewing machine to repair the items. He spent hours taking photos of products and posting them online to build a website. And he decided on the name Electrix Vintage for no good reason other than it is what popped into his head one day while playing tennis.
“You never really know how your kids are doing during a pandemic, it was such a unique experience for all of us,” said Lorene Colon, 49, herself a fashion industry veteran. The business “seemed like a space for him to get creative.”
Colon had a knack for it. When the pandemic eased and he returned to school, his locker became a makeshift stockroom where students would drop off their old clothes. He collaborated with school clubs to design and sell T-shirts.
He began visiting thrift stores and estate sales in search of vintage items, defined as being at least 20 years old. And he tracked down the age of the clothes like a forensic scientist, looking for a tag with a particular font of a store logo, noticing the type of stitch popular in the ’90s, or finding the item online by doing a reverse Google search.
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With Colon’s inventory slowly taking over his family’s home, he opened a physical store in August 2022 and moved to its current location last May. And he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he has a front-row seat in spotting the next trend.
The next trend can look like the old trend, but this time around, it makes an emotional connection.
The items “have their own story,” Colon said. “I think what’s even better is when you go into a vintage store, especially one that can resemble an attic, you can look at something and say, ‘Wow, I remember exactly this day in school, my friend used to wear this shirt all the time.’ Or seeing luggage like this and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I remember my grandparents used to lug that stuff around all the time in the airport.'”
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‘A sense of connection across time’
Colon’s business keeping old clothes out of landfills appeals to a generation that prizes sustainability and bargain hunting. But researchers have found vintage items have a deeper meaning. The products touch a chord with consumers who find emotional comfort by wearing a jacket or carrying a suitcase that has survived for decades.
In fact, shoppers increasingly turn to vintage shopping when they are going through turmoil, said Ryan Hamilton, a marketing professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, who has studied the consumption of vintage items.
An item “from an earlier era provides a sense of psychological stability,” Hamilton said. “In a way, it’s kind of comforting being associated with something that’s been around for longer. It kind of provides a sense of connection across time.”
It is a sign that vintage items will never technically go out of style. Times are always uncertain.
Colon said he is looking to expand his business into New York. But he is stopping short of committing to it long-term, noting it wasn’t that long ago that he wanted to be a chef.
“This could change tomorrow, or I could still have the exact same store in three years,” he said. “Things change. I love the fashion industry just in general, so that will never leave what I’m doing. But as for Electrix, whether it’s just me wearing it or I blow it up and make it multistate stores, I feel like it will always be part of my life.”
Michael L. Diamond is a business reporter who has been writing about the New Jersey economy and health care industry for more than 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected].
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