EC Vintage, an online clothing store…

POP-UP PARTY. Mike Shoultz created EC Vintage and it has grown through the pandemic. (Photos submitted)

When the COVID-19 lockdown hit, nostalgia also hit. Mike Shoultz, a UW-Eau Claire marketing and corporate communications student, was at home taking online classes and looking for a job. Friends told Shoultz about their passion for vintage clothing, and he decided to go into the second-hand business.

Now, nearly two years later, Shoultz’s company, Eau Claire Vintage, has more than 6,000 Instagram followers and a cult following among Eau Claire youth. New clothes sell out within hours and the occasional pop-up shop is full of eager customers.

Shoultz, who is graduating in May, has had to deal with still being a student while running Eau Claire Vintage. Bouncing between classes, homework and his business hasn’t been easy, but Shoultz said he didn’t do it alone — he had help with social media design, promotions and d other odd jobs that lightened his load.

We say everything we sell is hand selected, and it’s true. I sort through these piles of clothes and choose precisely the pieces I want. Everything touches my hands – the care is really there.

Mike Shoultz

founder, clear water vintage

When donation places or charities pick up clothes, most donations won’t make it to the shelves. If they do, there is only a certain amount of time before they are moved. So what happens to the leftover clothes? They cater to wholesalers and from there to people like Shoultz.

Shoultz sorts through their inventory and usually takes about half of what they have. From there, the supplier will move on to their next customer. It took him a while to get suppliers to work with him on a regular basis, but now things are easier.

“We say everything we sell is carefully selected, and it’s true,” Shoultz said. “I sort through these piles of clothes and specifically choose the pieces I want. Everything touches my hands – the care is really there.

After Shoultz makes his choice, the clothes are fashioned to be sold. After being washed several times, bleached, sewn or patched, they are ready to be sold in an Eau Claire Vintage drop or kept for a pop-up shop.

The drops are taking place on Instagram, where Eau Claire Vintage will post photos of the pieces along with the prices. Customers message account to purchase – first come, first served. The drops often sell out within hours.

Eau Claire Vintage has sold in all 50 states, said Shoultz, the benefit of having an online storefront instead of a brick-and-mortar storefront. Although their products have gone to great lengths, Shoultz emphasizes the “Eau Claire” part of Eau Claire Vintage.

A native of Delano, Minnesota, Shoultz came to UW-Eau Claire for football, although he had never been to Wisconsin before. Once here, he says, he fell in love with the city and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon. Eau Claire is the company’s namesake for a reason: Shoultz said he wants to reflect the community in his clothing, providing pieces that Eau Clairians will love.

While loyalty to Eau Claire is one of Shoultz’s business passions, his focus on sustainability is just as important. The fashion and textile industries are among the biggest consumers of fresh water in the world, using an increasingly scarce resource.

By choosing to buy used clothing instead of so-called “fast fashion”, consumers can reduce the consumption of fresh water by bulk companies. Even in the second-hand clothing industry, Shoultz said, there’s a remarkable amount of wasted water from bulk shipping unwanted pieces overseas. Some will be reused in other materials, but a large amount will end up in landfills or the ocean. In just under two years, Eau Claire Vintage estimates that it has saved approximately six million gallons of water.

“We’re really proud,” Shoultz said. “It shows that a small pop-up online business in Eau Claire, Wisconsin can make a difference and be sustainable.”

The little human approach is something Shoultz wants to stick to. While it’s no secret, it’s also not announced that Eau Claire Vintage is owned by Mike Shoultz – and that’s intentional. Shoultz said he doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, keeping the focus on vintage clothing and his adopted home, Eau Claire.

“I imagine our business is something where people go for the product, the clothes, the experience, the uniqueness of it,” Shoultz said. “I don’t want it to be something about who runs it or who owns it. The goal is to bring the best possible vintage products to the region and do good in the process.

Eau Claire Vintage is available on Instagram at @ec.vintage.

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