Nina Posdamer I Bittersweet Vintage
"I was ready for a slower pace and a porch to drink coffee on.
I was ready for a place that focused on your passions and not your day job."
Where did you grow up? Describe that place and its people…
I grew up in a tiny town in the tiny state of Vermont. Lucky for me I was surrounded by creative and open minded people. I was extremely lucky to have artistic parents who encouraged my creativity but also, I grew up in the time before computers and smart phones. I lived in a cabin my mother and father built with a wood stove on 8 acres of land. They let my brother and I just kind of roam the land, so I feel like a lot of ‘normal’ things of my childhood are far from it and really influenced who I am. I spent most of my childhood building teepees and forts in the woods and collecting rocks. My elementary school was a total of 60 people, 5 others in my graduating class. This kind of upbringing molds you in a different way. One of the most important influences was in high school when I got involved in a group that worked to put on film, art and music shows in my home town. To be in a collective of artistic folks who work to encourage and support others was very influential to me. Most of the people were older and starting to find their own footing in college and my mind was blown by the potential of my future in the art world — it seemed so much less restrictive than I had been taught in Vermont. My senior thesis project in college was a magazine about this group and although many have gone in different directions, their influence will always be in me.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do or be when you grew up?
I took an interest in art at a young age and was encouraged to do so. My parents were really great about finding ways for me to be creative outside of the basic art classes my schools had. In elementary school I took painting and printmaking classes after school with the artist Anne Cady and in high school I figured out ways to do Independent Studies and apprenticeships since there was only so much the schools offered. I have wanted to be involved in many many careers but my life went in the direction of what I knew best, which is vintage and antique jewelry. I grew up in my mother’s store which was the biggest influence in my life. At 7 I was left to run the shop which I look back at and laugh. I was definitely not old enough to be running things, but part of that was that we were in a small town. I worked for trade with my mother so by 13 I was wearing vintage diamond rings. There was no turning back. The first jewelry I made was earrings from vintage beads, which I sold for $6 in my mother’s shop. My first love was merchandising and doing the store windows. People who know me see my love of display. My entire bedroom has always looked like a curated store with jewelry and tchotchkes on display in precise positions. I don't think that the people who know me are surprised that I’m a shop owner. It’s kind of in my blood.
When did you first leave home? Where did you go?
I moved to New York for college right after high school. I went into an art conservatory and was blown away by all the options. There were so many more types of art and tools then I had ever seen, the teachers were working artists and the classmates were a true smorgasbord of cliches. It was the beginning of a very different life. Both my parents grew up in New York City and something from that had always been instilled in me. Vermont was a great place to grow up but it was very small in many ways, and I needed to broaden my view of the world. I moved to Brooklyn right after college. I worked many different jobs that definitely influenced me today and how I would run a business. I had a chance to do freelance design work but the craziest job I had was managing a Fine Arts gallery on the Upper East Side. I used to take cab rides with Picasso’s and Warhol’s. It was a very different life.
When did you move to Portland, Oregon? Was there a particular reason you wanted to move there?
I drove cross country in a Subaru full of stuff and two of my best friends at the end of April, 2014. My last year in New York was incredibly stressful with the idea of this change. New York had been my home for 11 years, and I was in the same apartment for seven. It was confusing because I still love New York. There were many, many reasons for this change, but the biggest was examining what I really wanted in my life and then making it happen. I had a serious moment where I realized I didn't want to get another job off Craigslist and it was time for the reality of making my own business happen. I had worked in retail for 15 years, and it was time to make money for myself. Unfortunately I knew that having a business in New York was hard, and I had started my online shop already. I had hoped I could do my online shop and then work part-time, but my part-time became full-time and all of the sudden I was working 7 days a week and not devoting enough to my store. I knew that finances would change drastically if I moved to Portland. I had been visiting my brother and many friends out here for the past 5 years and saw how creative the city was, how encouraging it was for small business owners and how much people focused on shopping local. I really thought if I was going to have a business, this was the place. My last year plus in New York City I managed a boutique in Carroll Gardens and it was amazing to be so involved—I went to trade shows, worked with vendors directly and even cut checks. It was the closest to running my own spot in Brooklyn that I got. With that being said, I saw the financial side as well and it was scary. I watched so many big box stores open and mom and pop shops close due to the rent and the big developments in the area. The dream of having a spot in Brooklyn just seemed to get farther and farther away.
Did your move feel like a really big risk?
It did and that’s why the last year was so hard. I have always been an East Coast gal so this was a big change. Everything lined up unbelievably well in the end. I was lucky to have generous friends and a brother in need of someone to sublet his home so the timing was right. I was ready for a slower pace and a porch to drink coffee on. I was ready for a place that focused on your passions and not your day job. Brooklyn and Portland are extremely similar in many ways, but there is an ease to life here that I never felt in New York City. I was truly sick of thinking about money all the time in Brooklyn. Moving with the business already running meant I could make money as I traveled and as soon as I arrived, which helped in the process. There was no time period where I was completely unemployed and struggling to find work in a new town, I got to skip over that stresser.
When did you open Bittersweet Vintage? What’s the story behind it?
My Etsy shop opened in 2012. I had been selling custom designed wedding rings and working on another business’s website when I realized, why am I not doing this for myself? I was making a business so much money, and I was just getting an hourly pay.
I took a vacation home to help my mother close her store of 35 years (she moved her business to online,) and that’s when things really happened. I had been so lucky to work for many small businesses that allowed me to really see how it all works, and I had been going to antique centers and estate sales with my mother since I was a child. I used to hate spending hours in huge antique centers all over the states while my mother scoured for goods. I didn't realize how much information I collected from that. I remember my mom having me look at items (with my better eyesight,) to find hallmarks and check for missing stones. I had grown up absorbing so much knowledge that I didn't even realize. The combination of my upbringing, art/art history studies in college, and the last year in the fine jewelry world really came into play for my business. I had studied photography and learned photo editing in school, and I had refined my copywriting at the last job so I was ready to make it happen for myself. Leaving my last full-time job and the launch of the website was an amazing experience. There was definitely a rebirth of the store when I came out to Portland, as it became my full-time gig. Things are still evolving, and there is great buying to do out here, whereas New York City is extremely picked over.
What about vintage excites you?
I think I came out of the womb with a love of vintage. And it isn’t just jewelry—the old paper goods are just as amazing as the gold and diamonds! The deep love of vintage I have comes really from the detail you will see in old pieces. I am a visual person, and I appreciate all the details in vintage work that you don’t see today. The best are the old pieces that are just as decorative on the backside as the front. The vintage clasps—the detail is just remarkable. I am a big art history nerd and when the jewelry represents the time period, I get really excited. The themes from the specific time period are there because of a deep history and it’s amazing when you know that and can see the connection.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this more full-time?
I always wanted to, but it is so easy to be scared. A lot of this change and business growth all comes from nearing the age of 30, which I had set as a huge landmark for myself. I don't think of 30 as negative, it’s just when I graduated school at 22 and thought about my future, I originally thought I would either go to grad school or have a store by 30. Then, all of the sudden you wake up and it’s here. I truly believe all my jobs and experiences have led and prepared me for this but the move was a big part of the business being my focus. My 30th birthday will also mark my first year in Portland. I hope to look back at this time period and see it was just the beginning...
How do you choose the pieces for your collection?
The easiest thing to do is buy what you like. The thing is, that’s not always what sells. I pride myself on the condition of my items. My vintage is very well preserved and that cuts out a lot of what is available to buy. When I was little I never understood why my mother bought pieces that I thought were “ugly.” It was so confusing to me. She said, “Nina, there is no accounting for taste.” That really stayed with me. I have many different styles within my own personal style, so it’s more about styling the piece. I understand why someone would love a tiny delicate item or a loud statement necklace. And in my life, I have both so it makes sense to sell both and everything in-between.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve sold?
There are many favorite pieces for sure. I am a big fan of a lot of what I sell for different reasons, but there are some pieces that I collected originally for myself a very, very long time ago so those always have a spot in my heart. I am definitely a lover of lockets from any time period really, but I just love the idea of them and the treasure of putting something inside them. I think they make amazing gifts for family and lovers. One of my absolute favorites was a rose/yellow gold-filled 1940s locket with a
double heart and arrow on the front. It happened to be in great condition and just as cute as can be. I have had many rings that I’ve been attached to as well—I had an amazing Sterling Silver cocktail ring with a big red glass center and the bezel and shank was adorned with the most amazing leaves. It was just a stunning ring. It didn’t even fit my pinky so there was no temptation to keep it. I also had the most unique Sterling Silver band from the 1900s that had cobalt blue enamel and pink enamel cherry blossoms and a sterling bird on a branch. It was stunning. A vintage dealer actually bought it for herself which means I know it will be well loved. I love vintage men’s accessories, but have no use for them so it’s fun to have an excuse to buy those pieces. I had an amazing tie clip with an enameled sacred heart that I loved and found it a new home. This past Christmas I sold a tie clip with an enameled white bunny popping out of a top hat. I thought it was the most perfect gift for a magician and that is exactly who purchased it! I love helping people find the perfect gift for someone.
What is your favorite period to collect from? What designs are you most drawn to?
I am a bit all over with what I love most but I definitely have a serious weakness for the Victorian and Art Deco era. Those are two very different looks, but I love them both. I love the ornate Victorian time period and when animals are featured. My holiday gift to myself was a Victorian rolled gold bangle from a seller on Etsy that features a gold lion’s head with a red rhinestone in the mouth and “paste” crystals on either side. It makes me so happy.
I sell a lot of Victorian lockets and sold a special one that was large, oval and featured an etched scene of a bird and deep set crystals. Victorian gold is very pink as well, and I am a lover of rose gold. I love the geometric and linear side of Art Deco on the other end of the spectrum. I studied a lot of Art Deco graphics in school and I just love that time period translated into jewelry. My mother wore a lot of Art Deco jewelry so I think it stems from that too. Most items in my shop are from the 1950s, so that must tell you something about my personal style.
What is your 5 year goal for Bittersweet Vintage? Do you hope to have a physical store eventually?
The big goal for Bittersweet is to have a brick and mortar. There are many reasons for that, and those aspects excite me so much! One big part is that I have already started a collection of clothing for a store front. Yes, that could be sold online but fit with clothing is tricky and I do think it is best to be able to try an item on. The other big part is my vast collection of vintage glass, kitchenware, and pottery that I am very smitten with, but with the cost of shipping these items, selling them online is not very profitable. It’s funny that I love vintage cookware so much since you never find me in a kitchen! I would love to have a big part of my store be those types of home goods.
I also fell in love with a couple of other aspects I would ideally like to work into Bittersweet Vintage. One is to have art and small runs of items (jewelry, pottery, books, photography) from my ever talented group of friends and folks I have met over the years. There are also small artists and vendors that I have sold in the shops that I have worked in over the years that I would love to have represented, even if it is a small aspect of the store. There is an amazing shop in San Fransisco (not so much a vintage spot,) called The Bell Jar that does an amazing job of mixing clothing, vintage, jewelry and handmade goods, and they also had a teeny tiny gallery in the very back that I fell in love with. That aspect has been a dream of mine to include in the space, whether it happens right away or down the line.
Last but not least, I would like my jewelry making skills to produce their own line for the shop. Before Bittersweet Vintage was even an idea, the passion for my own line was there. I am greatly inspired by the designer Laura Busony who is based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, who really just had a passion and dream and made it work on her own. She has a successful line that I have watched grow, and her advice was always to just invest in yourself and make it happen. Her success inspires me. In Portland I have found multiple shops that are kind of a two-store-in-one style with florists having a spot within the store, and I really like that idea. I would love more then anything to have a shop attached to a florist, apothecary or tattoo shop. I think that would be awesome.
What’s your favorite part about working for yourself?
There are so many positives at this point, but I have to say, the biggest one is making my own schedule. I am not a morning person, and I like to stay up very late, so that aspect is great. The part that is most important to me comes from situations in the past where I needed time off for travel. I will never forget the boss who didn’t want to allow me time off to go home for my father's memorial service. It wasn’t something I wanted to ever do, but I think as a human being, the situation should have been handled differently and with some compassion. I had a summer with 4 weddings and my boss was definitely not happy that I requested so much time off. I really struggled with this because I always worked for small businesses, which leads to small staff so time off can be hard. But when you have people you love who want to include you on an important day in their life, it’s hard to be unavailable for them because you are working an hourly retail job. My friendships are extremely important to me and when friends have shows, openings or events, I want to be there and have those memories for the future.
What are your biggest challenges? Do you have an achilles heel?
The craziest part of this all is that when I finally moved to Portland, I actually had serious guilt about just working for myself. I felt so “wrong” for not having another job after working 3 jobs, 7 days a week in New York. After wishing for that goal to come true, when it happened I felt bad for not having an additional job. Right now I do have a part-time nanny job, which is a nice balance and a very informative job. I hang out with a 10 month old and that has taught me some serious life lessons that I never saw coming.
Do you have any rituals to get you ready for the day?
After years of encouragement from my mother, I did start saying a list of daily aspirations. I remember watching the old SNL skit with Stewart Smalley, so I was pretty resistant. But when I first left New York, I was back in Vermont for 2 ½ months and with so much change, I started doing daily aspirations, and I would encourage others to do so. If anything, it’s like 2 minutes of your day that you stop and focus on you and your hopes and needs.
Any badass women you love?
I have been extremely fortunate to know many badass women and to grow up in a place where age did not separate folks as much as I feel it does today. I definitely had friends whose mothers were very involved in our lives and treated us more as equals and I learned a lot from them. My mother is a stylish badass who was covered in tattoos long before “hipster” was ever a word and she is my biggest influence for sure. Both her and my father didn't want me to follow in her footsteps, especially when I thought about going to school for jewelry design. Owning your own business and being your own boss is really hard but I saw how she did it. I saw the non-glamour of it and still wanted it. Since she ran a business in a small town, I got to know other business owners and worked for them. I was lucky to have these ladies put their trust in me and let me merchandize their stores and dig in deep. Their faith in me is a huge part of how Bittersweet Vintage happened. Even their business horror stories couldn’t keep me away.
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