GV alum reflects on vintage scene following recent business opening


GVL / Jacob Kirn

Jacob Kirn, Associate Web Editor

In December 2019, Austyn Daggett graduated from Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Three years later, he celebrated the grand opening of Betteraged, his vintage clothing shop near Grand Rapids’ Eastown district, joined by hundreds of eager customers.

Daggett, 26, said that he had dreamed of opening his own shop for the last five years.

“When I was in school, I would tell my professors about the idea. They would say stuff like ‘You know, online shopping is the new thing,’ or that a physical location would just die out. In the back of my head, I’m thinking, ‘I’m still going to open up a shop – no matter what.’”

Opening a physical location in the age of same-day delivery could be considered a risky endeavor. However, while some saw a fading, congested market amidst more than 20 vintage, thrift and antique shops in Grand Rapids, Daggett saw a unique opportunity.

“I think I was one of the first men’s-curated shops,” Daggett said.

Currently, a majority of his brick-and-mortar competitors offer limited value for men, despite reports of a booming market for vintage menswear.

Still, Daggett said, Betteraged has options for everyone.

“While I don’t sell dresses, skirts or women’s-only items, it’s all pretty unisex. Everyone wears t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets – I think Grand Rapids was missing a store like this.”

Since opening its doors in July 2022, Betteraged has enjoyed continuous success, thanks in part to an owner who lives and breathes all things vintage. When describing his hobbies, Daggett cited his collection of clothing, traveling to clothing events and learning about clothing history.

In school, he used campus computers to print out shipping labels.

“I paid my entire tuition with vintage,” Daggett said, crediting resale platforms such as eBay, Grailed and Depop.

In recent years, a number of industry giants such as Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Burberry have partnered with said platforms to gain control over the “secondary” market. Sometimes referred to as “archival fashion,” this marketspace is synonymous with the sale of vintage clothing.

At the same time, these companies run advertisements for what they describe as conscientious, environmentally sound partnerships and reimagined, circular economies, despite wasting around 715 gallons of water to make a single t-shirt.

Although Betteraged’s Instagram mentions “sustainable fashion,” Daggett prefers to focus the bulk of his messaging on the clothes.

“When places really target their environmental efforts, it’s like, ‘Yeah, but you’re just using that for marketing,’” Daggett said. “I know that what I’m doing is a good thing, but I shouldn’t use that to sell clothes. It’s kind of fake, in a way.”

Nevertheless, Daggett said, vintage clothing shops like Betteraged do have a net-positive impact on the environment compared to the industrial, largely outsourced production of name brands. By recirculating old, durable garments, consumers can subvert the demand for fast fashion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping clothes out of landfills.

“I think people like true vintage, like ’90s and older, because they’ll go into a store and pay $40 for something of lesser quality that doesn’t last,” Daggett said. “Meanwhile, they can come into a place like this, buy something that’s 30-years old and know that it’s going to last 30 more.”

Even so, the world of vintage can be surprisingly nuanced. For every level of interest – be it casual, moderate or full-time – there are innumerable ways to participate, some more disingenuous than others.

According to Daggett, it’s just a matter of education. Having a deeper, well-rounded understanding of an item’s significance can open the door to a whole new world and foster more intentional selections and well-informed dialogues.

“I don’t think Grand Rapids – or Michigan, in general – is well-educated on vintage like other places,” Daggett said.

This isn’t meant to be an offensive prescription. It’s more to do with the habit of only collecting items from the last 20 to 50 years.

For instance, in Colorado, Daggett said that people are looking for items from the 1950s and earlier. This level of interest is cultivated by a network of avid collectors, each searching for historically significant items of higher quality than the next. Eventually, supply is decreased, leading to higher costs.

“I can’t put that stuff in this shop, because then people will think, ‘What is this $300 pair of pants?’” Daggett said.

The obsession with finding and preserving old clothes can have real value, though. On Oct. 1, 2022, a pair of Levi’s jeans from the 1880s were auctioned off for $76,000 – the oldest pair ever sold – just a few years after being discovered in an abandoned mine.

The auction took place at the Durango Vintage Festivus near Durango, Colorado. Daggett said that vintage events like these have allowed him to connect with other like-minded collectors and enthusiasts while getting the chance to travel the country.

“I met a guy who works for Levi’s, now a close friend of mine, who buys my old Levi’s for a class he teaches about denim at a university in Los Angeles,” Daggett said. “It’s pretty cool.”

As for Betteraged, a casual interest in vintage is good enough. Although Daggett prefers to showcase items from the last 50 years, the curated experience will most likely yield higher-quality selections than traditional thrifting alternatives.

“When you go to a thrift store, you might touch 300 pieces of clothing before you find one that you like,” Daggett said. “Here, every piece has already been hand-picked. You know that it’s high-quality; that it’s been cleaned, restored and verified as true vintage.”

Daggett estimates that he’s handled around 500,000 pieces of clothing in his lifetime. This level of exposure has allowed him to quickly determine what’s vintage or not, especially when it comes to the obscure, harder-to-place items that come through his store.

Daggett said that he has enjoyed getting to apply concepts learned from GVSU to the real world — but without a community of dedicated vintage enthusiasts, Betteraged wouldn’t have been able to enjoy such rapid success.

“Putting our brains together, learning about trends, pricing, customer interests – you can learn something new every day,” Daggett said. “It’s all about staying consistent, staying genuine.”

Looking ahead, Daggett hopes to stick around Grand Rapids, meeting new enthusiasts and educating customers along the way.

“There’s a vintage shop in Detroit called Lost and Found,” Daggett said. “It’s an amazing shop, but there’s not a huge scene. They’ve had a brick-and-mortar since 2003. If they’ve been able to keep that going for so long, why can’t Grand Rapids have a shop like that?”

Betteraged is located at 413 Eastern Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503