It’s a fact, Instagram allows us to discover wonderful people from all around the world. Meet Starling & Rein, two sisters traveling together & selling vintage clothes from their 1959 mobile vintage bus. Those two girl bosses made their dream a reality, but let’s start at the beginning of their story.
Describe yourself and what you were doing before the bus?
Starling is 22 and just graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine where she studied Sociology. She independently researched the heroin epidemic for her degree in Sociology in which she interviewed people incarcerated in Maine to understand addiction and hear the stories of addicts. Rein is 20 and just finished her first year studying Physics at Scripps College in California. She discovered improv comedy while at Scripps and has been writing sketch comedy and performing improv all throughout her first year. Quite opposite from Starling, who has Stillwater’s passion for vintage clothes, Rein likes owning as few things as possible and is happiest when all her stuff fits in a backpack. She takes advantage of the parks and mountains of California and drops tent wherever and whenever she can.
Tell me more about that bus story!
We grew up in New Brunswick in Canada and spent summers in Maine on a little lake. Our house in Maine was filled with antiques — all the furniture, the art, the appliances — were all old school, mostly purchased from an antique store a couple miles away from them. The store, an old converted chicken coop, is the closest thing to their house on the lake. With no wifi, cell service, or neighbors, in a house filled with 50s everything, and a 50s bus parked in the driveway, it’s easy to see how Starling and Rein (mostly Starling) got so interested in vintage fashion — clothes to fit the lifestyle. On the drive from NB to this place in Maine every year, we passed a big field on the highway that had a broken down, rusty bus in it. Our dad, who shares Starling’s love for the old stuff, had a vision for the bus that we didn’t see yet. Because we were ages 9 and 7, buying a gnarly, moldy, rusted abandoned vehicle didn’t sound like a fun time. Fortunately, our dad ignored our disapproval and purchased it from the man living in the nearest house, who just asked for 50$ and for us to tow out it out of there. Will Winkelman of Winkelman Architecture tore out the inside and fixed it all up, added benches and a table and redid the woodwork. Starling helped design the interior, the cushions, curtains, and lamps. The bus is a 1959 Chevrolet Viking. Our best guess about its previous life is that it used to either be used as a school bus or used for military purposes, but we have no way of knowing for sure. Although the frame is from 1959, most of the innards are from a 1987 bus of a similar size, so there’s a newer engine, chassis, etc. It gives us a lot of trouble still: it stalls and dies at the most inopportune times, but we just say that’s the personality of the bus and it’s all part of the vintage bus experience. When the bus dies, we let her (the bus) do her thing, leave her alone for a couple hours, and when we come back she’s usually willing to cooperate.
Where did this idea of a mobile vintage come from?
Starling used the bus as her bedroom for 10 summers before she had the idea to turn it into a mobile vintage clothing shop. Starling wanted to do a road trip with Rein (although Starling is older, Rein is the only one with a driver’s license) and later had the idea to turn the road trip into an excursion to sell vintage clothing. The plan encapsulates all of Starling’s favorite things: her bus, vintage clothing, traveling, and hanging out with Rein. Many of the pieces are things that Starling has collected over her lifetime and some of it has been purchased more recently specifically for the shop. Starling has bought pieces for Stillwater from Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Louisiana, Wisconsin, California, Washington, Ontario (Canada), and England. She is a pro thrifter and can smell a good vintage find from a mile away. Rein is the driver and camping expert of the duo. She gets excited about finding free overnight parking. Although parking lots on highways are not the most luxurious destinations, the bus is cozy, especially packed with all of our vintage stuff and shop essentials. She’s proud to drive such a big funky vehicle. On the highway, she waves at everyone who gives her a thumbs up as they pass (the bus maxes out at 55mph so slow lane for life) and loves the looks she gets from other drivers when they see a young woman driving a big old bus. During a long tantrum the bus through, when it refused to start at all, Rein had to jump start the bus every time they set out. She felt particularly cool working under the hood of the bus in her overalls and letting passersby check out the old engine. She loves working with the bus, even though it’s something she’s never done and didn’t expect to take an interest in. Stillwater will be another unique addition to her eclectic résumé, which includes goat farming, space satellites, and teaching music. Adding “resident mechanic, logistical manager, and co-founder at Stillwater Vintage” to the list brings her lots of joy.
Tells us more about the mobile shop and your plans for the summer? What’s next?
Our shop is called Stillwater Vintage and it is named after the fictional band ‘Stillwater’ that only travels by bus in the Cameron Crowe film ‘Almost Famous’. We travel and sleep in the bus along with all the boxes of our vintage clothing. We travel between towns setting up outside local businesses like ice cream shops and cafes, and we attend flea markets and do events (such as birthday parties, engagement parties, or beach parties). We are going all along the east coast this summer, from Maine to New York, and hope to do a west coast tour next summer.
Do you have any pieces of advice for anyone looking to start an on-the-road business?
Our advice for future mobile shops is to have an efficient way of packing your wares into your vehicle so you can still feel comfortable and cozy living in your vehicle. We suggest you have a route mapped out but also allow yourself to be spontaneous and take advantage of the freedom of the road and make some impromptu stops. You have to be passionate about some part of the project, whether it’s the clothes, the travel, or sleeping in 24-hour parking lots because starting a business should be about feeling good about the work you do and having fun while you do it.