Lola Bulajic was nowhere near born yet when New Kids on the Block ruled the airwaves. But an innate shoppers’ instinct made her pluck an NKOTB T-shirt out of a pile of dross. She somehow knew the ’90s heartthrobs could be spun into gold again.
Precocious, yes, but some things are in the blood. This Hamilton Grade 2 student was born into a vintage dynasty. At the tender age of 7, she has launched her own curated kids’ store, @LolasVintageKids.
Dolled up in full-on throwback finery from her own line for our photo shoot, she appears just slightly out of time and place. “I usually only wear all vintage for photo day,” Lola says.
Another anachronism in our informal age, Lola has her business protocol down pat. Looking me square in the eye, firm of handshake, she enquires politely, “Am I the youngest person you’ve ever interviewed?”
Next weekend, Sept. 29 and 30, Lola will have her own kiosk at Toronto Vintage Clothing Show tucked inside her parent’s stall. This makes her the youngest seller at the biannual event, which has been running since 2013. The 120 vendors this season make it the biggest vintage gathering in town. It is wildly anticipated by aficionados, who line up and storm the doors at the opening bell.
Lola’s parents are Nik and Connie Bulajic, who the rest of the year can be found at Vintage Soul Geek, on King St. E. in downtown Hamilton, which they opened in 2015. The expansive but chockablock space, in an 1860s building, is what Nik calls “a mom and pop shop, no employees, long hours.”
The family trio is always on the hunt for fresh stock, but they have an unusually large storehouse of multi-era goods already squirreled away, the result of generations of vintage hounds. Connie’s mother, Penny Colwell, is the vintage jewellery guru; she does the accessories merchandising at the shop. Nik estimates “maybe five per cent” of her vast treasure trove is currently on display, ranging from Victorian cameos to Deco through modern collector’s items.
But what Nik calls jokingly “a generational sickness” started with Connie’s grandmother, who kept her own ’50s wardrobe and items passed down to her. That makes Lola a fourth-generation vintage princess.
It is also the ’50s that most rocks Connie’s bobby socks, but you can find goodies from the late 1800s through the 1990s. Note that this last era is super-hot with kids on the vintage scene these days, a dot that Lola herself connected with NKOTB (netting the junior tycoon a cool $22!).
“Yes,” says Nik, that means “80 years of collecting stored in the basement of our shop, backroom; three bedrooms in our house; the basement of our house; and Connie’s childhood room in Brantford.”
The idea to start Lola’s Vintage came this past summer vacation, a way to teach the youngster about money, and make hanging out at the shop a learning experience. Her area is located in a corner of her parent’s shop.
Right now, a nifty pair of ’90s Versace pants fit for a logo-conscious teen hang on Lola’s racks, alongside a neon green character sweater from the ’80s, and a ’60s blue velvet A-line style infant’s frock finished with lace sleeves. A Little House on the Prairie style mini-floral dress is waiting for a fashion-forward pre-teen to pick up on the rejuvenated Laura Ingalls look.
But then some special pieces went up on the web, and Lola suddenly had a more international following. Her first Instagram sale, a vintage leather jacket, went to a diminutive influencer in Southern California. Then there was a ’70s boys’ suit destined for a wedding.
And don’t worry about Lola freewheeling alone on the web: “My Mom works with me picking the items and taking pictures to post,” says Lola. Sales are safely filtered through her folks as well.
For the vintage show, in her area look for a wide variety of sizing and a focus on ’50s wear, jackets and capes. And loads of vintage jeans, including one very special pair embroidered with ET on the back!
Pulling quick changes of clothes out of a vintage white suitcase, Lola negotiates heels like a pintsized stylist pro. Indeed, she and Connie found a box of retro heels in tiny sizes—from patent Ferragamo flats (Lola’s personal faves), to little white bowed heels that have that hip-nurse vibe that is hot right now, to a pair of brown hush-puppy heels that add a bang-on ’70s splash to her ’70s green patterned polyester number with cap shoulders, a nip in at the waist and a fashionable below-the-knee hemline.
“She has been really into accessories lately,” says Connie, as Lola fishes out a little round wicker bag on a cord to tuck into the crook of her arm and set off a red polka-dot dress with a white bow at the neck.
A sense of theatre is a necessary part of the vintage calling. And indeed, Vintage Soul Geek has also attracted Hollywood types. Costume directors, to be more specific. Many ’60s-era pieces for the film The Shape of Water were found here, says Nik, who is the designated promoter. If Connie is the vintage queen, Lola probably gets her showmanship from Dad Nik.
“Lola is also great on the market,” says Nik. “She’s like a sniffer dog. I showed her the feel of the silk shirts we were looking for, and sent her down the racks.”
After all, knowing fabric is the heart of vintage trade. So is pricing, and both Lola and Soul Geek goods are deliberately priced, says Nik, about 10 per cent below competition.
But vintage is ultimately less about trends, than about one person’s personal style. Says Nik, “Everything in here is the personal taste of my wife.” Lola perks her head up, from fishing around in her accessories suitcase for the photo shoot. “And your daughter!” she adds.
Indeed, Lola came up with the slogan for her new shop: “Adorable and affordable.” The next step will be honing an instinct for what will sell, when. An important quality when you have so much stock to pull from. “Connie is a curator,” says her husband. “She knows what people are ready for, and what to put away until they are ready.”
The family continues to shop “everywhere,” says Connie. That includes a recent trip to Serbia where they had to beg to get to a hidden box of ’60s dresses and an upcoming trip to Owen Sound (pssst, you heard it here first).
“But we don’t go to the big picking warehouses, where you have to wear a gas mask,” says Connie. “We only select pieces in the best shape, and I wash everything by hand myself at home, I do all the repairs, sew on the buttons.”
As a family-focused business, sometimes they go the extra mile to find the backstory. When Nik pulled a First World War medal out of a stash of jewellery, he started Googling. Pretty soon, he found a descendant of the soldier, who had posted a request for info on ancestry.com. When Nik sent her the medal of her forbearer, he was rewarded with a thank-you photo of the original owner, then only aged 18, wearing the medal in full uniform. “Vintage is a business with a human touch,” Nik says. These clothes, he says, tell stories.
As to Lola’s story, just what is she going to do with all the dough rolling in? “Education fund,” say her parents in unison. But when they go on to tell Lola that one day all this — arms sweeping around the store — will be hers, she shakes her head.
“I’m going to run a restaurant,” she says. “I like cooking, too.”
At 7, she has time to try on a few careers yet.
For more info go to Torontovintageclothingshow.ca. The show runs September 29th and 30th at the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place. Tickets are $12.