Sandra Renteria inside her downtown Santa Cruz store, Angel Aura Vintage.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Working in Santa Cruz

How I Got My Job: Sandra Renteria turned her passion project into a lucrative career in vintage resale

Sandra Renteria, owner of Angel Aura Vintage in downtown Santa Cruz, loved to thrift-shop as a teenager. When she found herself with extra time on her hands during the pandemic, Renteria dreamed up the company she now calls her career.

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Sandra Renteria grew up thrifting vintage clothes; now, she makes her living selling them.

Just like many local teenagers before her, 25-year-old Renteria’s first job was at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, working as a face painter at age 16. Though her high school job’s income didn’t always allow her to afford to shop at mainstream clothing stores, Renteria still wanted to keep up with fashion trends of her time — so she took to the thrift stores, igniting her passion for vintage clothing.

“[I liked] knowing that I could find things that nobody else had at the thrift store and being able to build my own sense of style and fashion through that,” Renteria says.

She took this enjoyment of thrift shopping and turned it into her “side hustle,” as Renteria calls it, selling her clothing finds on websites like Mercari and Poshmark while finishing high school.

Initially, Renteria says she made around $100 to $150 a month, but as she posted more consistently and her following grew, she could make $500 to $1,000 a month.

She later became a vendor, selling her finds at So-So Supermarket in the Bay Area and Moody Goose Vintage in San Francisco.

Sandra Renteria at the checkout counter at Angel Aura Vintage.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Renteria’s company, Angel Aura Vintage, was born during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Renteria used her abundance of free time during lockdown to put all of her effort into a business she felt passionate about.

The name Angel Aura is a reflection of how Renteria feels on the inside in comparison to her darker, alternative style. “Although I may seem dark and moody, my personality is very girly and whimsical,” Renteria says. “Angel Aura is the energy that a positive person emits and I decided to name my business that because that’s how clothing should make you feel, positive, artistic and creative.”

Sandra Renteria's education

Aptos High School
Delta Charter High School
Psychology major at San Jose State University

Renteria recalls staying up all night researching the difference between a limited liability company (LLC) and a sole proprietorship, which licenses she needed to obtain, and what would be the best software to operate her business. She had to scout locations, find insurance and register her business with California’s Employment Development Department, plus other tasks like setting a budget and acquiring an employer identification number.

The business’ first employee was Renteria’s close friend, Sierra Olivas, who has since become the manager of the downtown Santa Cruz store and Renteria’s second in command.

At the time, there was only one vintage store in town for vendors, says Renteria, so a big goal for her company was to expand those opportunities for people.

Angel Aura Vintage sign
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Renteria’s personal style is derived from alternative music and fashion, communities that were started by individuals who didn’t fit in. Growing up in a community that is predominantly white, Renteria says, she didn’t always feel she fit in — but she found her place in the vintage community; several other downtown vintage store owners are successful people of color.

Mel Willis of San Francisco’s Indigo Vintage Cooperative and Kristina Schagane of Moody Goose Vintage are both women of color who took the initiative to pursue their dreams of opening their own business, inspiring Renteria to pursue her storefront.

Renteria was also inspired by her father, Esteban Renteria, who owns a landscaping company in Watsonville, wanting to make him proud by being her own boss, something he has been able to accomplish.

When asked what a typical day on the job is like, Renteria responds in one word: “busy.” When she’s at the store, she works on things like customer service and inventory. Outside of the store, her biggest task is sourcing.

Spending hours at yard sales or on Craigslist, Renteria puts a lot of thought and care into which pieces she chooses to sell. Renteria says she even gets calls from people offering her clothes from deceased family members, but she often declines these proposals because the clothing in question is usually “true vintage” (defined as clothing dated 20 to 25 years old or older). That is not what Angel Aura typically sells. The store aims to sell clothing from the 1990s and early 2000s. “It’s clothes that your mom probably wore when she was in her 20s,” said Renteria.

Downtown Santa Cruz vintage stores vary from streetwear, to true vintage, to upscale vintage. Renteria describes Angel Aura’s demographic as quirky. “I’m a weird quirky person,” Renteria says, “I love Garfield, I love Hello Kitty — if you look in our window we have Garfield and Sanrio characters in there. I’d say that’s definitely our demographic. We’re for the outsiders, the people who don’t necessarily fit in but I’d say they fit in our store.”

Another one of Angel Aura’s most important characteristics is that it aims to remain affordable. Typically selling items around $20 to $50, Renteria says her mission for the store is to make vintage accessible so people do not resort to buying fast fashion — trendy, inexpensive clothing that typically isn’t designed to last more than a season. This goes for the rent that vendors pay to consign in the store as well. Clothing vendors pay $300 in rent, with an additional $250 for each extra rack they might want to use. Clothing and jewelry vendors both also give the store a 15% commission on items sold.

For Renteria, community engagement is one of the most important goals of Angel Aura, as most of the store’s vendors are from Santa Cruz, Salinas, Seaside or San Jose.

Renteria says vintage clothing is not a trend, but something that is incorporated into one’s lifestyle. She feels thrifting and vintage clothing are great ways to develop a sense of personal style; trends are constantly changing and coming back into style, she says. “What may be popular on Instagram this month may not be popular next month, but at least you know that that vintage clothing you bought will make its way into popular culture again,” Renteria says.

While sourcing, Renteria looks for a few key things: quality, where the garment was made, and what time period it is from. Renteria does research about each article of clothing to make sure it fits within the standards of her company.

Renteria loves the feeling of seeing her customers find a piece they love at her store. “When we source an article of clothing,” she says, “we see it and think, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool.’ Then I get really excited for a person to find it on the rack and share that excitement with them.”

Vintage resellers such as Renteria run into obstacles, however, when they encounter people who see vintage vendors only as money-hungry price gougers, she says. To this, Renteria says that vintage experts such as herself have a deeper knowledge of vintage than most people; they are able to see a certain manufacturing history within a piece of clothing that makes it special.

Sandra Renteria laughing in front of clothing racks
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Not only do vintage sellers have knowledge, she says, they also take their time to source. Among the most popular places to source are Goodwill Outlets, nicknamed “the bins” because of the large blue bins filled with clothing that the stores are known for.

Resellers spend hours at the bins sorting through items that are not always clean or fully intact. Then, once they have their items, they wash them, research them and repair them if needed. Renteria says she learned how to sew so she can fix clothing herself.

“That’s definitely a luxury that you pay for. We spent that time in the trenches so you can have a cool shirt,” Renteria says.

One of the most important things for a vendor or an aspiring vendor to do is to find their niche. Renteria says that if you look at the various vendors’ racks, they’re all different and they’re all an extension of the vendors’ personalities.

Building a platform is the next important step. Though Renteria admits that social media is not her own strong suit, she understands its importance in terms of growing her business. When it comes to the actual sale of the clothing, Renteria prefers in-person sales to online vintage platforms like Depop or Poshmark.

“When you buy from a local business, that money stays in your community,” she says. “It helps your community grow and it keeps the people in your community employed.”

A regular feature as Lookout talks to people in Santa Cruz County about their jobs and offering advice to those looking...