Yuri Carter has been on a lifelong hunt for the best clothes. The Atlanta-based entrepreneur is the owner of consignment store Yuri’s Market — home to the best archival fashion finds Carter and her business partner Ashley Narcisse have found from vintage retailers — and Garment Arsenal, a sourcing agency catering to specific requests buyers are searching for. Her determination to track down the best pieces is what keeps her clients coming back, but that same clothing obsession was not met with nearly as much enthusiasm growing up.
“My freshman year of high school, I would take my mom’s clothes that she said I couldn’t wear, put them in my bookbag, and change when I got to school because she used to have all the cool stuff,” Carter recalls over a Zoom chat from her home in Atlanta. “I would get in so much trouble, but I was like, ‘Mom, I gotta get fly!’ [laughs] I was really dedicated. It was a mess.”
Indeed, Carter’s mom sparked an early interest in fashion that would later make her daughter the successful business owner that she is today — and instilled an early appreciation for secondhand designer looks. A school photo of Carter around the age of 11 in a Dolce & Gabbana set (found by her mother through eBay) stands as evidence of her chic beginnings. Memories of back-to-school shopping sprees at Nordstrom’s and weekend trips to outlet malls introduced her to the lifestyle of a style fiend before many of her peers cared to go clothes shopping or put much thought into their wardrobes at all.
Now, Carter’s sartorial passion feeds into her full-time job; she operates Yuri’s Market online and has launched its accompanying physical showroom to display her wares in person and work with customers directly. Narcisse is her teammate in both the shop and the sourcing agency. Also a fashion fanatic, she started sourcing pieces for Carter in 2020. The two had spent around a decade on the same Tumblr forums and Instagram circles dedicated to vintage clothing before a mutual friend suggested they connect.
Despite her lifelong love of buying vintage, Carter didn’t recognize it as her calling right away. She picked up odd jobs after realizing a university education wasn’t for her and eventually landed at consignment shop Alexis Suitcase in Atlanta, where she focused on taking items in and managing social media. She moved on to high-end resale store Luxury Garage Sale and decided to start Yuri’s Market online in 2017, putting in the hours on the side of her day job. When changes in management prompted her to leave the company, Carter felt ready to put her energy fully into Yuri’s Market, having learned all the ins and outs of the luxury consignment industry’s corporate operations. After joining forces with Narcisse in 2020, the pair grew the business on social media, even landing celebrity clients including Latto, Coi Leray, and Kendall Jenner. They continued to gain traction and founded Garment Arsenal as an offshoot of Yuri’s Market to handle the many specific client requests that came pouring in.
Business is good these days. Carter just finished up a sourcing job for Black Mafia Family, the Starz crime drama produced by 50 Cent. But non-showbiz buyers have also flocked to Yuri’s Market in the past few years; she attributes the “snowballing” of her business over the course of the pandemic in part to the fact that many people are just sitting around at home, shopping, but she also feels that sustainability concerns could factor into a growing aversion to fast fashion and a renewed interest in vintage clothing. Like Carter herself, her customers are also students and lovers of high fashion, but more and more she feels consumers are willing to dive back into the archives for good quality items rather than suffering the sticker shock of purchasing pieces fresh off the runway.
“People don’t want to shop fast fashion anymore,” says Carter. “People don’t want to go to these high-end stores and spend $1,200 on something when they can just wait for it to go down [or] buy something from that same designer from 10 years ago that still has the same style. They’re saving their money and those older fashions are coming back, so everybody’s dressing, you know, [in things from] twenty to thirty years ago. Why go into these high-end stores, spend all this money, when you could spend a fraction of the price to get the same look?”
While the market has been favorable to Carter recently, she explains that the road to running her own business was paved with long hours poring through Goodwill racks and estate sales and even putting her own items up for grabs to get up and running.
“It’s hard to get into this business when you don’t have all the funds,” she says, noting that aside from curating her archive and authenticating pieces, storing and sometimes repairing pieces can add to the costliness of her work. “I started Yuri’s Market with all my own pieces. And for months, I didn’t have any clothes because I sold my whole closet.”
She explains that while her work can be associated with a level of glamour (especially when sourcing for big name clients) that is not an accurate reflection of the grind it took to get where she is today. “People don’t see that aspect of the business. They see when celebrities are wearing your stuff,” she says. “I was wearing leggings and crop tops for months because I didn’t have any money to go out and buy pieces to sell, but I had my personal collection. And it was hard, but I really wanted to do it so I did.”
Carter also acknowledges there are some barriers to entry that contribute to the lack of diversity in the industry, calling out difficulty securing loans to cover startup expenses as one of the issues that hit Black people disproportionally hard. Knowing how influential African American culture has been in shaping fashion, she’s hopeful to see more Black people succeed in the arena. “When you see these big archives and brands like if they post a picture of a Dior top [they’ll show] a picture of Lil’ Kim wearing one, and that’s how they connect it,” she says. She’s optimistic for the future of the business with regards to representation and feels that an increasing number of Black creatives seem to be getting their due. “It’s changing for us, I think for the better. I think that Black people at the end of the day are the most stylish, and have the most insight in art, fashion, and music. I’m happy that people are seeing them create these amazing brands and showcase their talent and intelligence.”
So, what’s hot on the vintage market lately? Carter says she’s being asked to source tall boots, amid an early aughts era fashion revival. “I can sell a knee-high, or over-the-knee boot all day,” she says. “Mini skirts, knee-high boots, I think that’s the style right now, that Y2K style.” Customers are also sending her on quests for rare items from Issey Miyake, John Galliano Dior, and Gucci by Tom Ford — the latter being Carter’s favorite for her own personal collection.
“Honestly, anytime Tom Ford was at Gucci — anything especially between 1998 and 2003 — and Dolce and Gabbana between 2000 and 2003, if I see it for a good price I have to get it,” says Carter. She’s also constantly in search of pieces from Ford’s tenure at Yves Saint Laurent, which she notes are rare, coveted finds that can come at a hefty price.
After building her business through curating its offerings around her tastes and style, she knows the value in trusting her own sense in fashion and pushes back against certain notions of what makes a piece a worthwhile investment. “I don’t want to be the type of person that just keeps stuff because maybe a celebrity wore it in the ‘90s or everybody says it’s a good piece,” she explains. “[Yuri’s Market] is kind of just my personal style, the things I like. And I don’t just buy stuff that I think will sell; I buy stuff that I like.”
There’s always a sort of occupational hazard at play for a sourcer who, of course, has her own fashion needs. With some pieces, it can be difficult to discern whether they belong in the showroom or if she just has to have them for herself.
“I’m learning to hold on to things much longer to see if it’s something that I do want to keep in my personal archive,” she says. “If it’s something I’ve never seen before — fabric, craftsmanship, the designer — sometimes you just get that feeling. I’ve definitely sold things in the past that I shouldn’t have, I learned that later.”
The industry is challenging and lined with what Carter generously frames as learning experiences. One such experience came this March in the form of a viral moment within the sartorial Twittersphere. After sharing the Poshmark listing for a backless, fur-lined dress from Anna Sui’s Fall 1998 collection, Seek The Finds fashion blogger Casey Jackson alerted the internet via a tweet to the designer’s request to purchase the dress back from whichever other buyer had scooped it up. Carter’s colleague Narcisse had secured the gown, and while she didn’t end up selling the dress back to Sui (who recently teased what appears to be a new take on that same piece for her upcoming Resort 2023 collection), Carter felt that the whole saga made for a valuable lesson.
“It was a teaching moment to people, to learn that these designers don’t have their pieces and how cultivating an archive is so important and how much money it actually costs,” she says. “It was just a moment, and I’m glad it’s over! It had gotten to a point where it was like, all right y’all. At the end of the day it highlighted her and I hope her sales went up.” A book of Sui’s work was one of the earliest pieces of décor she purchased for her showroom. “She’s such a unique designer,” adds Carter. “Everybody doesn’t collect her; a lot of people collect Dior, and Roberto Cavalli, but a special type of person collects Anna Sui.”
While getting swept up in viral fashion stories is far from her focus, the nature of the industry means that sometimes the notoriously less enticing components like the gossip and the competition can be hard to ignore.
“Something that I want people to [understand] is the competitive aspect, especially with Black people in this space because not a lot of Black people do archival sourcing,” says Carter. Still, she knows the pressures aren’t exactly unique to her line of work. “It’s competitive, but everything’s competitive!” she says. “You apply for a job and it’s 200 other people applying for that job, and maybe only 50 people get the interview. I think being competitive is a personal thing, like that’s how you feel, I don’t think that’s true for me. If [a piece is] meant for you, it’s meant for you. I’ve lost out on so many pieces to people, and I can’t cry about it: if I lost it this time, I’m going to find it next time! And I always do. I stay doing what I want to do and what I think works for Yuri’s Market and for Garment Arsenal and from there I’m able to catapult into different spaces and grow my business.”
She and Narcisse see their current work as a launchpad for their future careers. Carter says they hope to someday launch a creative direction agency as well, since both share a love for ideating artistic concepts. For now, Carter is keeping busy and enjoying Atlanta’s status as a growing fashion hub. She’s seen that the area is transforming, pointing to the recent opening of luxury fashion boutique Antidote as well as the arrival last year of a The RealReal location as signifiers that the city is gaining steam in the style department.
“When I first moved to Atlanta, I would never see something like [Antidote] open here or thriving as it has now,” she says. “Antidote has runway pieces. You have a lot of vintage stores here, they shoot a lot of music videos here, Atlanta is very much so Black Hollywood, but it’s easier to get a brick and mortar here. So when you have all those aspects, you have to have fashion here, because people need things on the fly — I have clients hit me up two hours before they shoot something, they need it very quickly. When I first moved here, that’s not something that you would easily be able to get, it’s definitely changed.”
In Carter’s fantasies where Atlanta grows as a fashion mecca and her business grows with it, when her finances allow her to follow whatever calls her, she’s still dreaming of fashion.
“When I get money money, that’s when I’ll be able to buy a lot of the runway pieces I can’t afford now,” she says, naming Comme des Garçons as the brand she’d go after first. Famously known for its multi-layered and deconstructed avant garde pieces, the brand is probably not the most practical for most people’s everyday activities. But Carter, with her daring style sensibility, is hardly most people. “I will [wear it] just to the grocery store! And I won’t have any qualms about it, I’m definitely going to do it,” she says. “In Atlanta they’re probably going to look at me crazy, but it’s okay.”