Maike McNeill’s Thrift Tips

WORDS Bibi Slippers

For many of us, good taste and an obsession with decor regularly cause dents in our budgets. As always, VISI is here to bring you the good news: This needn’t be the case. Your eye for a fantastic piece of furniture or a quirky object could actually earn you some cash.

In finance, it’s known as arbitrage: buying an asset cheaply and then reselling it for a higher price to a different market. Before your eyes glaze over, imagine for a second how the principle could be applied to design: If you were able to spot a piece with potential in a pile of junk in a thrift store or if you see a bargain for sale online, you could easily resell it at a profit. All you need is an eye for it and a little extra time.

There are already a few South Africans making a living entirely through online arbitrage, buying and reselling on sites like Gumtree and eBay, says Claire Cobbledick of Gumtree South Africa, but for most people it remains an easy way of supplementing their income.

We caught up with photographer Maike McNeill of welovepictures, a self-confessed market addict and legendary finder of thrifty treasures, for some inspiration to get going.

Maike started thrifting out of necessity: When she moved in with her then-boyfriend (now husband) Travis in 2008, they had a big, empty house and very little money. “We used to go on our thrift adventures together – on a Saturday morning we’d hunt through second-hand, Red Cross and Hospice shops in and around the city. Our lounge suite was one of our first treasures: We found it at a thrift store for next to nothing; to be fair, it really didn’t look like it was worth much. But we took it home and discovered the structure was still solid. With a lot of imagination and help from amazing upholsterers we turned it into the lounge suite we still have today.”

Where did you find most of your treasures?

“I used to shop at Pretoria Hospice and the odd second-hand store in and around the Pretoria city centre. These days it’s the Milnerton Flea Market in Cape Town and online on Gumtree.”

What has changed since you first started thrifting?

“At first, many of the sellers didn’t know what treasures they had, but since the retro trend kicked in most second-hand shops overprice anything that looks even remotely old.”

Three Free Tips for Amateur Arbitreurs:

1. Use existing interests as a starting point. You’re more likely to recognise a bargain if you know the territory.

2. Become a good sleuth. Look for ads of people leaving the country, use multiple keywords when searching online, and search off the beaten track.

3. Practice makes perfect. Go thrifting regularly if you want to get really good at it. A pro like Maike goes to the market nearly every weekend.