Early in 2022, we hosted a survey for vintage t-shirt heads, and over 500 of them participated. One of the questions asked was which apps they used in their day-to-day vintage lives. Aside from the obvious social ones like Instagram, and apps for marketplace platforms like eBay – the most commonly cited app was Gem.
Gem is a vintage clothing-specific search engine that fetches results from the majority of popular vintage marketplace platforms. It’s super handy if you’re looking for a specific shirt, you punch in the name of the shirt and it brings back all of the t-shirts available for sale across the web. That means you no longer have to check eBay, then go to Etsy, then visit Grailed, and then Poshmark, all separately looking for a particular tee. Gem also fetches results from independent vintage clothing-related websites, most of which you probably would never have checked.
Gem is also one of the tools I use while authenticating tees for Legiteem8. If I’m looking to compare the print of a particular shirt to other examples, some of which may be obscure or lesser seen, Gem is the quickest way to track down what’s out there.
The app launched in 2019 and already has tens of thousands of downloads and a spectacular rating on the Apple Store and Google Play. It’s the brainchild of founders Liisa Jokinen and Sampo Karjalainen. The duo is originally from Helsinki, Finland but eventually settled in New York after Sampo left Facebook in San Francisco.
We chatted with Liisa to get more details about Gem.
What was the inspiration behind Gem?
The number of online stores, marketplaces, and apps that I discovered when we moved to the US in 2014. The more stores and resale sites I discovered, the harder it was to find and buy anything. For example, if I wanted to buy a pair of blue Levi’s 501s, I had no idea where to start looking as there were so many options. Or if I wanted to have something really rare, like a Pleats Please dress in a specific color, the task was impossible; to check tens or hundreds of sites one by one. No way anyone can do that! So I thought there must be a better way to connect active vintage seekers like me and all the listings out there. That’s how I got the idea for Gem.
What platforms does your search encompass?
eBay, Etsy, Grailed, Poshmark, ASOS Marketplace, The RealReal, Bidstitch, Vestiaire Collective, Rubylane, Farfetch, Fashionphile, Garmentory, LiveAuctioneers, Reversible, AND hundreds of independent online stores.
Are there any platforms Gem doesn’t scrape for results?
Depop is one of the big ones. We have been in touch with them and hoping to get permission soon.
Can you tell us a bit about the features of Gem?
Sure! You can save your favorites and get new item alerts by email when new items are listed. You can filter the search results by price, size, location, decade, gender, and the date the item was listed. You can also sort the results by newness and price. We also have a weekly newsletter called Gem Stories about all things vintage.
Can you share any future features that you are working on?
Our number one goal is always to help the user to find the item they are looking for. We want to make this search as easy and fast as possible.
One thing we are currently working on is improving the size filters – it is a tricky and complicated process as there are and have been SO MANY size charts in use (petite, tall, Mondopoint for shoes etc). It is wild! We also want to improve the search results constantly so that they better match users’ searches.
You know we’re gonna ask this…..What’s the most popular vintage t-shirt that is searched for?
The amount and range of searches are huge so the top 200 list changes constantly. But these are some t-shirts that come up regularly:
- Type o Negative
- Pearl Jam
- Alice In Chains
- Sonic Youth
- Marilyn Manson
- Smashing Pumpkins
- Grateful Dead
Other popular items are Gunne Sax, 30s and 40s vintage, and classic fashion brands like Chanel, Gaultier, etc.
Did the pandemic have an effect on your traffic?
We did notice a spike during the pandemic when people shopped more online and had more time on their hands.
Do you wear vintage clothing? Does it make up most of your wardrobe?
Yes and yes! I have been thrifting and wearing old clothes all my life. Already as a little girl, I loved to wear my mother’s old clothes and hand-me-downs. I just loved the retro aesthetic, how the nicely worn cotton felt on my skin, and the fact that no one else had the same item. Growing up, if I wanted to have a cool garment, I had to either thrift it or make it myself as I grew up in a small town, this was before online shopping. Nowadays I really don’t have a reason to buy anything new. I even shop for my sports clothes secondhand.
BUT do you wear vintage tees? Any cool ones to tell us about?
I do! My latest purchase is a 70s baby blue tee with a pegasus print on it. I bought it for $30 at a sidewalk sale in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago. Another favorite is a long sleeve 90s Grateful Dead with the dancing bears print – found with the Gem app! I love long sleeve tees. I also like all my vintage “Pori Jazz Festival” tees I have thrifted in my childhood home town Pori, Finland through the years. The jazz festival is a pretty big one and some of their 80s graphics are really cool. I also have some fun 90s deadstock t-shirts with silly graphics and texts that I treasure.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Gem is available worldwide as a website and an app for iPhone and Android. It is free to use and join – if you have an online store and want it to be included you can just email us. Our business model is based on affiliate programs with some of the bigger marketplaces; this means we don’t take fees!