For this University of Houston student, vintage clothes pay the bills

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Olivia Haroutounian’s keen eye for vintage clothing is paying off.

The 22-year-old University of Houston senior, who scours local garage sales, estate sales and websites for rare designer clothes and accessories, uses her finds to pay for her tuition .

Business during the pandemic is booming. With 28,000 followers on Depop, a social media platform for vintage designer fashion, Haroutounian’s collection, @reallifeasliv, features everything from a rare ’80s Norma Kamali bird-print dress to a Romeo Gigli empire waisted 90s – not to mention 80s Christian Lacroix red suit. A vintage Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche caramel coat from the 70s recently sold for $240.

“It’s been my best year financially,” says Haroutounian, who lives in her parents’ home in southwest Houston, where she turned the living room into a DIY photo studio. She was recently featured on Vogue.com. “The pandemic has certainly helped. People are at home shopping online. I spend about three to four pounds a day doing my shopping myself.

Haroutounian is a huge Prada fan, and she snagged a pair of 1996 Prada pants (for just $20) from the spring/summer collection made famous by Kate Moss. The only problem: the pants don’t fit.

“They wouldn’t go on my hips,” she said. “I spent years looking for these stupid pants, and they didn’t fit me.”

But her finest finds come from lesser-known designers in Japan and France, where she buys pieces wholesale.

University of Houston student Olivia Haroutounian with some of her vintage designer clothes that she collects and sells to pay for her tuition on Friday, January 29, 2021.

Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle/staff photographer

Haroutounian’s love for vintage clothing began in childhood. She was only 6 when she accompanied her mother, who owned an antique store in Arkansas, on shopping trips to thrift stores and estate sales. The family later moved to Houston.

Haroutounian, who studies communications and anthropology, started selling vintage clothes in her first year of college. Her first big sale was a pink and black wool tweed Chanel jacket that she bought for $200 and sold at a consignment store in Los Angeles for $7,000.

“I spend so much time with clothes that it’s become a love affair,” she says. “I’m so passionate about it.”

Haroutounian also spends hours researching designers and fashion history. Currently, she is studying 1990s Los Angeles fashion.

“When I think I know about a decade, I discover so much more,” she said. “You never know everything. I want people to learn more about the importance of buying second-hand clothes. It’s better for the environment. Clothes are better constructed. I don’t support fast fashion because how you buy clothes has a bigger impact than you think.

The one piece she will never part with? An oversized red Chanel coat by Karl Lagerfeld that stops traffic. “I’ll probably be buried with it.”

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