Chris Fernandez from 1980 Something Vintage has been slinging positivity and vintage shirts online and in-person since 2016. Chris hosts a vintage t-shirt podcast; The1980somethingShow, a YouTube channel show; Stash Raiders, a t-shirt selling website (1980somethingco.com) and a streaming Instagram t-shirt auction show the Virtual Flea. From the Southern California home he shares with his family, Chris has amassed nearly 100k in Instagram followers all the while building community, people’s collections, and that ever-evolving catalog of t-shirt slanguage.
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From Bangers and Grails, to 6 stacks for a Disney shirt, Chris and Kirk from 1980SomethingCo and TheVintageWiz have been the forefront of the current t-shirt auction phenomenon, hosting hundreds at the near-daily virtual auctions on Instagram Live. The insane amount of hours logged on the TheVirtualFlea account, and the prices commanded have caused lots of folks to take note. In August they will host their 3rd in-person event with Brrrtual Flea, a shopping and trading event in Miami, Florida. I got to talk to Chris Fernandez about the future of the scene, the excitement of getting back to in-person events, and when we can expect all those Planet Fitness shirts we’ve been banking to finally pay off.
Thanks for talking to me, Chris. I’ve spent quite a few hours watching the online auctions and am excited to talk to you about the scene as you know it and your events. First off, can you explain the name of the in-person event you’re hosting in August?
B, three R’s it’s a mash-up of the two creatives. Kirk, vintage wiz- whenever he goes live he does the brrrr (trill) and I do the Virtual Flea so it’s a combo. My intention when I was creating that name was I wanted something that you only know if you are part of the community. It had to be something you are familiar with because you were there from the beginning. Virtual Flea started by us with no influencers. It’s our own little subculture. The MAGIC (Men’s Apparel Guild in California) show in vegas is a fashion event and I’ve always thought that was cool. You have to be in that community to know what it is. (it’s not a Magic Show)
What’s been the main motivator to get back to doing these in-person events?
It’s exciting to link up with all these people we’ve grown so close with over the pandemic. People we’ve shared so many hours with watching and being on VF and Vintage Wiz, now to hang out with them. That’s what’s been so important, the money business side of it isn’t as important as the people we’ve grown to know and spent a lot of time with on the live events. We’re this big huge community now, and we have all these people, all these personalities. Let’s hang out!
All the Brrtual Flea events have been in different cities (Orlando back in November and Houston last April), are you keeping that up in the future or just trying to find a spot that really hits?
It’ll always be a different place. We don’t reveal the cities. We leave it to a surprise. We do a live, everyone hops into the live and we announce it. The next one is August 14th in Miami, Florida. Stay tuned to where we’ll head to next..
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Miami! Pitbull speaks very highly of that place. What are you guys hoping it’s going to look like this time around?
Last event was so successful. We just want to do exactly the same thing, and just turn up with the vendors and guests.
There is a lot to go into these kinds of events. Is there anyone behind the scenes you’d like to shout out?
Kirk’s Fiance, Miyna. She’s the showrunner, event runner, she’s amazing and has been taking care of everything. We’ve been busy running online events and scheduling, so she’s been really important in setting up these in-person events.
The Covid/Quarantine bubble hit and really amplified online shopping and afforded folks time to pursue their collections. That stimmy didn’t hurt either. With shops opening back up, how do you think those needs are going to change?
I don’t really think about what’s needed. If it’s meant to be and things die back when things open up and Virtual Flea slows down, I want it to be natural as that’s how it started. What does and will keep it alive as things open up is going to be the community. People’s desire to not go to a shop and just buy from hardworking thrifters and resellers on the Lives. There isn’t a cap on the money being spent on vintage. What there is a cap on now is the amount of people being exposed to fun and the excitement of buying, selling, collecting vintage. As that attention grows and we get more people coming into this, we’re gonna have shops, lives and things we can’t tell right now. Nobody knew there would be a virtual thing that came out of left field, and I think that’s very Vintage. That’s a very vintage thing to happen, so many pieces you tossed back will be worth more later. Virtual Flea didn’t do that, that’s been happening for decades. You hear “I used to have a ton of those” you always hear that you know, it happens all the time. You can expect the unexpected.
What’s your advice for first-timers coming to the show?
Just go and have fun. Take any approach you want. You want to go in there buy a bunch of stuff- go ahead. You want to see what vintage is like for the first time? Come and talk to people. It’s a very friendly event. No matter your approach, you’re gonna be welcome. We’re gonna welcome you if you don’t want to talk, just want to shop- whatever your approach. Brrrtual Flea is the place for you.
So you’re offering small 5×5 spots for folks to set up in, what’s a small-scale dealer like that going to get for their 128 bucks and travel expenses to the show?
Those spots aren’t necessarily for sellers. No racks, no hangers, those guys in the 5×5 just lay their shirts out, and someone walks up and says, “Hey, I’m looking for this toy story shirt for this year and I have this for trade.” “OK, I don’t have that but I have this.” It’s so much fun! The trading kinda got crazy at our first event and it took over. We allowed folks to do trading wherever they wanted, just drop down, drop your stuff, and it went overboard. It was an ocean of people just laying their stuff out. We don’t want our vendors feeling affected by all these different unruly trades so I thought why don’t we have a designated spot. Now we have a designated trade pit and our vendors loved it, they had record breaking sales. You have to have a trading pit pass, you walk through see what folks have to trade and work out a transaction if you can. Those people that have the 5×5 spot, it’s mostly for people who are only going to trade. What makes a person want to trade? They don’t care too much about the money or auction and they just want more shirts. Trade my banger for another banger. What people can expect is that all the traders said they had a good time. They’ll make some cool trades, it’s about networking, it’s about friendship, it’s about meeting people, it’s about maybe making a little money. When you ask what’s going to keep the virtual community going (whatever it is), I don’t want to force it. I want it to be natural. So when the trades started to happen, I thought why don’t we make that a designated thing? What if that’s just part of the community? What if that’s the natural growth of things? It’s proved to be very successful and I love it and invite it.
What do you hope to see? Have you heard of anything juicy (Planet Fitness) showing up to this event?
It’s gonna be a tsunami of grails. Everything you can think of. Anything you can think of. It’s gonna be there.
Keeping the door open for new people to join the scene. I know you’re about building that, but it’s not a shared sentiment with everyone. How can we as a community keep the doors open for fresh faces, so we can grow and it’s not just the same folks spending the same money with each other? Is the financial pond stagnant?
It’s not. We get new people all the time. As someone who has to approve and verify bidders there is a constant influx of new people coming into the game. How does that happen? They see the joy that comes out of it. I think by us just showing our stuff and having fun, that’s the best way to get new people in the door. We’re gonna make you feel welcome. There is enough here for all of us. We aren’t going to be insecure. At this stage what’s going to build the vintage scene is community, not one person, not some marketing tactic. It’s going to be us, banding together having fun with it, letting our excitement and enjoyment become infectious and contagious to new people, new friends, like it has been and that’s what will bring fresh dollars in.
It’s maybe a little weird to some folks for this kind of new breed shirt collector community takes pictures at the thrift of what you found. You’d think a business charging 200 for something they bragged about finding for 2.00 would be a turn-off for customers — the idea being maybe you bought it from another dealer or a collector would be more palatable?
I had that fear too. I don’t want anyone to know I got this out the bins for a 1.00. Before I started doing virtual flea and outside of any influence when I started, you had people doing the live bins picks and at that point you can’t do anything about it. If you watch any of my content I am not exposing any secrets. But once cats out the bag, you gotta go with the flow. As long as you can keep a positive attitude and go with the flow, you’re gonna be successful. If you’re gonna stay set in your ways and only think about the glory days and how things used to be, I respect that too but that’s when you become someone who wants to conserve instead of someone who is advancing.
You are front and center for trends, what’s been the most surprising spike of late? And when will it be Planet Fitness shirts?
Wrestling tees. I was throwing wrestling shirts back unless it was a wrestler I knew. But recently a Stone Cold bootleg went for 2,000. Before that it was Disney. Disney t’s were going right back into the bins, right back. That came out of nowhere. We sold that Genie shirt for 6,000 on the live. If I had to predict a trend, according to whatever has spiked so far it’s gotta be the most random thing that no one is going to believe, so yes, I go with you on the Planet Fitness tees.
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The critics of the prices on shirts like that Genie T, and they are pretty vocal, you hear comparisons for things like Hawaiian shirts where in the 90s they were going to collectors for thousands. Folks saw that and started digging harder so they’d pop up more and now the same shirts don’t go anywhere near that. With Disney, that sent people to their Aunties closets, and digging in old babysitters storage units and more turned up — a LOT of Disney shirts were made. History is showing that those kinds of high prices aren’t sustainable, but people keep on betting that t-shirts will be different. Are they?
I very much believe in things spiking up, and what goes up must come down, but I don’t think that necessarily means that they die out. I think that it means that they will normalize. So like with Disney for example, that was hyped up so much in the last year all these Disney shirts going for high prices, now it’s just normalizing. Then when Disney started going down people were saying, “Disney’s dead, disney’s dead” and Disney’s not dead it’s just normalizing. Disney T’s now, at the normal rate that they are at, are still selling at a higher price than before they were hyped up. I’m happy because they weren’t getting the appreciation or respect before that they deserved. There are people that are Disney fanatics that are happy to pay for and have a vintage tshirt from a movie they adore. Things are going to normalize but what t-shirts have that will make it different is this loving, positive community. That’s what will make it different. We really look out for each other, it’s loving, it’s positive, we’re hugging, it’s like a Grateful Dead concert. Good vibes. A community that whether people know it or not it is building vintage up. We’re building it up. We’re getting new money in here.
In the spirit of community, what’s been the most meaningful moment for you on the Live auctions?
I like when I see young people, teenagers, college students trying to pay tuition. Those kind of sets always get me in the feelings. When I think about what I was doing when I was their age I was a loser. They are self employed and making money. That’s a beautiful thing to see the entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll see it on the Live.
You do hours of TheVirtualFlea. How do you interact offline with people? Have you added it up? How much of your life is on Instagram Live?
I haven’t added it up. But it’s honestly not a crazy thing for me. I love it. I really do love it. I’m at an age where I don’t do things that I don’t love. I’m self-employed and it’s been that way since 2016, and I want to do things that I’m passionate about and I love this live shit. My family fully supports me and I love it. I’ve learned in this journey you gotta make moves with your heart. I was on the other day with my buddy Frank and I was just hanging out for 7 hours, I wasn’t even getting paid. I really love this shit and there is no other way for me to explain it.
Thanks a lot for your time! Is there anything else you want folks to know about the event?
August 14th, Brrrtual Flea, tickets on sale now, just pull up. If you don’t know much about vintage it’s going to be a great place to learn about the community, if you know about the community, pull up to really see it in action and if you know about both vintage and the T community, just pull up because you know what we do, it’s fun.
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Amy Scott lives in Portland Oregon with her lifelong T-shirt collection and will never go thrifting with you so don’t ask. Her hobbies include embarrassing her family and wishing a person/people would. She is a certified Haiku Master with her Dragnet and Adam-12 themed poetry being published domestically.