Sarah Krueger’s business Instagram is a collection of old pieces that can be new to you. With The Ochre Stone — which started online and now shares storefront space with Hemlocks Leatherworks in Lincoln Park — Krueger shows off the vintage clothing she finds in regional thrift stores. One day it’s a neutral-tone kimono decorated in bold blocks, another it’s a velvet button tunic in leopard print. Among the chore coats, high-waisted jeans and shiny blouses is her own handmade jewelry.
Krueger, a singer-songwriter who started the site in January 2018, models most of the pieces against a clean, light-colored wall, takes the photographs and handles the sales.
Q: Where does The Ochre Stone name come from?
A: I wanted a visual name that fit with my brand — the earthy tones of ochre and classic and minimal lines of an organic entity as simple as a stone. I was on a hike through the woods by my house and brainstorming names and this one kept coming back into my mind.
Q: How did you get into shopping for vintage fashions?
A: I’ve always been really drawn to clothing that has a story to tell. In my early 20s, I met a close friend who was really into collecting cool vintage pieces, still is, and taught me what to look for in terms of quality and style. I was really influenced by the idea that there are treasures out there that still have a lot of life left; you just have to hunt for them. A few years later, I’d make frequent stops down at this vintage shop (First Street and First Avenue) in Duluth. It’s closed now, but was filled with old collectibles and vintage blankets, homegoods, etc. I met a man named Doug there who has since passed, but we’d spend days rummaging through boxes filled with vintage clothing that he’d stored over the years in old warehouses around the Twin Ports. He used to outfit movie sets and did costuming, and (we) would talk about setting up a system where I’d help him sell his clothing on the internet and start to help him downsize his collection. Trouble was, Doug had a hard time letting go of anything — each piece had an interesting story, and he was too sentimental to part with most of his pieces. During this whole process, Doug sadly passed away, but my love for vintage clothing was stoked by my brief time with him, and I continued to hold this idea of selling vintage clothing online in the back of my mind for years until the time was right.
Q: How do you decide what to keep, what to sell?
A: I’ve learned to let go of pieces that I don’t think I’ll reach for and instead choose to pass them on to someone else. For my own wardrobe, I’m often looking only for very particular pieces when I shop, so when I source vintage, I have gotten better at detaching myself from the majority of pieces I find.
Q: Do you take requests? Do people ever ask you to look for a certain item?
A: Yes, often people let me know when they are looking for a particular item, and I can keep an eye out for those pieces when I’m on sourcing trips. I love looking for special gems that I know will already have a home.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Hmm, ’90s Cindy Crawford meets a subtle western movie with some muted colors and modern lines.
Q: When you grab a piece off a rack, what are you looking for?
A: Typically I’m looking for a few things. For starters, is the material made of natural fibers (cotton, silk, linen, wool)? If not, does it have an aesthetic that aligns with The Ochre Stone brand? Of course I’ll look at the condition and consider how much life is left in the garment, and if I’ll have to spend time mending the garment. Furthermore, does the piece have effortless styling options and wearability? I want each piece to be special, but also to be durable and versatile so it can be worn again and again. Often when people hear the word “vintage,” they think of retro, polyester, cinched waists and uncomfortable cuts. The truth is, something can be considered vintage if it is 20 years old or more. Some of my favorite finds are neutral silk blouses from the ’90s or oversized denim chore coats from the ’80s. Vintage has a whole new meaning these days, and it is important to remember that part of my mission in this project is to give new life to pieces that have been forgotten. So many vintage dealers focus so hard on what’s called “true” vintage, but I want to focus on each piece and consider how it can re-enter a wardrobe in an effortless way so that it looks and feels like it has a fresh life.
Q: Tell me a success story about something you’ve found.
A: I sold of pair of vintage coveralls that I sourced from a thrift store in farm country middle America to a woman who lives in California. She messaged me a couple weeks back saying she’s worn them nearly every day to her job, and they make her feel like a true badass! I love thinking that these were a pair of coveralls that possibly belonged to someone’s mechanic grandfather and maybe he wore them until he thought he needed a fresh, new pair. Maybe they sat in his closet for years and eventually went in the donation pile, and now they’re being rocked by a woman who works at a co-op in California. I love that this garment is not sitting in a landfill somewhere, but has been given another chance and is making its new wearer feel great.
Q: What’s the difference between selling online and selling in-store at Hemlocks?
A: Selling vintage online can be a bit tricky because often, modern sizing is quite different than vintage sizing. I stress to buyers to really pay attention to measurements to be sure that a garment will fit correctly. There is also a whole lot of extra work that comes along with selling online — each piece needs to be styled, photographed, measured, posted, packaged, shipped, and then some. In person at Hemlock’s, it’s so lovely to see customers have the chance to try items on before they buy them. It makes me feel really great knowing that the item is already a great fit and not something that will be passed on because it wasn’t quite right when it arrived via mail.
Q: Where is your favorite place to shop, or is that a secret?
A: Middle America thrift stores.
Q: What have you learned about fashion and people from this?
A: I’ve learned quite a bit about the wastefulness and environmental impact that fast fashion has on our world. Second to big oil, the clothing and textile industry is the biggest source of pollution affecting our planet. People have become accustomed to buying cheap and wasting often. Although it’s not pleasant to admit, we love that instant gratification that we get from buying and consuming. The beauty of choosing to buy something vintage or secondhand is that you still get that instant gratification, but your footprint is much smaller, and you’re choosing to consume in a manner that’s much less harmful. Even better, if you’re buying from a shop like The Ochre Stone, you’re also choosing to support a small business rather than a large corporation, which goes a long way in a community like Duluth. This also means that you end up with wardrobe pieces that are unique to you, that most likely no one else will be wearing, and that speak to your values and personal identity in a way that is quite satisfying.
The Ochre Stone
Offline: Hemlocks Leatherworks, 1923 W. Superior St.