Editor's Note: This story appeared in the December 2015 ORANGE Issue IV.
Decked out in acid-wash jeans and a yellow jacket with M&M patches, Paul Cantu walks into Savers, an Austin thrift store, with a camera in hand. Some may recognize Cantu as a fellow Longhorn on the 40 Acres, but for 160,000 YouTube subscribers and 21,800 Instagram followers, he is a thrift store tour guide with over 100 “Trip to the Thrift” videos. For the past five years, people from all over the Internet have checked in on a weekly basis to see his latest thrift finds.
Story by Nancy Hernandez
Photos by Maddy Hill
Cantu jokingly proclaims himself a “thrift god,” but this hasn’t always been the case. Cantu says the inspiration for his thrift videos came to him during his senior year of high school while browsing YouTube for fashion videos, a subject that has always interested him. “I stumbled upon this dude who made thrift videos, and I was like, ‘These are cool,’” Cantu says. He thought the YouTuber found cool stuff, but the videos were boring. “I was like, ‘I can make these more entertaining,’” Cantu says.
From the beginning, his friends were supportive of his thrifting hobby. Cantu’s parents, however, were skeptical of his new endeavors and questioned his spending habits. “They would be like, ‘What are you going to do with all that? You don't have room for all that,’” Cantu says. “But I had a scheme in the back of my head the whole time.”
The scheme involved the creation of unique thrifting YouTube videos. In his videos, Cantu can often be seen sifting through racks of clothing, making comments about their quality and whether or not they are worth the price.
Cantu’s success did not happen overnight, however. As time passed, Cantu learned that consistent content was the key to success. His contagious energy, witty comments and vibrant smile also keep viewers coming back to his channel. He went from having zero followers to now over 160,000 subscribers. Through his thrift videos, Cantu has built up a loyal following of devoted fans, and even a few haters along the way. His growing fan base, as well as competition from other YouTube personalities, has increased the pressure on Cantu to set his videos apart. Viewers expect him to drop four to five videos per week, a difficult task for Cantu, a full-time studio art major and residential assistant at an on-campus dorm.
Behind each of his videos, which average 16 minutes, are hours of recording and editing. He tries to cover three to five different stores when filming but knows his chances of finding amazing pieces are better if he covers more stores. “If I hit over five stores, it’s going to be super long… but I’m guaranteed to find stuff,” Cantu says.
Unlike other YouTube thrifters, many of whom mostly focus on ‘90s fashion, Cantu covers all types of clothing. Cantu buys anything from hard-to-find sport jerseys to “loud crazy” pieces, like cheetah print jackets. Cantu says that if there is a low likelihood of finding the same clothing article again, he’s more likely to buy it. Although Cantu says he personally likes the “little ratchet stores” best because of their wide range of interesting pieces, he doesn’t visit the same stores in every video.
While Austin has some good spots, Cantu says the prices tend to be higher because Austinites are “hip to thrifting.” When shopping for others, he doesn’t really limit his budget per store, but he does have to set a price limit per item if he’s buying for himself. “If I’m buying something for myself personally, like a jacket, I’ll spend $14 max for myself,” Cantu says. “As for my shoes, I won’t spend more than $20. That has to be a rare pair of shoes.”
As someone who isn't afraid to repair holes and patch up items in less-than-desirable condition, Cantu also has a few DIY tutorial videos for fixing up clothing on his channel. The titles range from “How to acid wash a snapback” to “How to clean, paint and restore Jordan 7’s.”
Initially Cantu made videos to entertain viewers, but his success made him realize he has an influential voice in the community. He has become more cautious of where clothing comes from, as well as the labor that goes into making it. “He’s evolving into a more politically minded person, but in a very playful, satiric way,” says Margo Sawyer, Cantu’s Installation Sculpture professor.
His videos allow him to share his views about the consumer’s impact on the environment in a casual, open manner. “His point is to promote the idea of saving money and not being such a consumer,” says Jacob Starr, Cantu’s longtime friend. “He wants to show people that they don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve a certain style.”
It was just a matter of time before Cantu found a way of dealing with his ever-growing wardrobe, a product of constant thrifting trips. After followers who wanted to buy the items he “copped” bombarded him with emails and direct messages on Instagram, Cantu launched High Fashion Vintage, or HFV.
Starr, the vice president and other mastermind behind the online store, says he doesn’t remember exactly who came up with the name and idea first. “I remember ranting about HFV forever, telling him this could turn into something big,” Starr says. Eventually, the duo created an HFV website where they resell their finds, as well as an Instagram account to promote their latest vintage pieces.
Cantu started out by selling the pieces he bought for himself but never actually wore. Today, he mostly thrift shops for his followers and his online store. Cantu says he sometimes buys vintage items just because he thinks his followers will find them cool, rather than to make money off of resale. “I don’t care if I’m making profit,” he says. “I just want something to show I appreciate them.” HFV is based online, but Cantu is working on opening an actual store in the future. Cantu plans to design his own clothes rather than just resell thrifted ones. “It’s going to be reused and recycled clothes because I really don't want to sit here and create more harm to the environment,” he says.
Cantu’s long-term goals come as no surprise to Sawyer, who says she’s watched him grow during their three years working together. She says that from the get-go, he has been interested in fashion as well as his art. Sawyer has no doubt that his fearless and passionate personality will allow him to thrive wherever he goes because he doesn’t hold back.
Once Cantu truly puts his mind on something, he’s going to create it. “His talent with art and his dedication in any field will allow him to do anything,” Starr says. “I can promise you, it won’t be working a nine-to-five.”