While working at her vintage clothing store, skullznbunniez, Indiana Coté has been told how much her storefront does not look like a traditional second-hand store. The eye-catching window with twinkling lights and a painted skull with bunny ears gives way to crisp white clothing racks accentuated by the variety of colored lingerie and denim decorating them.
“You walk in, and it looks like a Victoria’s Secret,” Coté said.
The storefront Coté now has on Kirkwood Avenue is a far cry from the place where she thought up the business back in 2016 — her backyard.
In 2014 — two years before the creation of skullznbunniez — Coté had just started dancing professionally with the Sarasota Ballet. To save money for leotards and tights, she found herself thrifting clothing more often and selling her old clothes. While rotating items out of her closet through online reselling apps, a trend began to emerge.
“I listed a few things on Poshmark and started noticing that some things sold,” Coté said. “So when I would go thrifting for myself, I would pick up a few things here and there.”
After selling clothing through websites like Poshmark, Ebay and Depop for two years, over Easter weekend in 2016 while in the backyard with her friend, Coté had an idea to create custom designs on vintage jeans. Together they began distressing vintage denim with sandpaper in the backyard for a more modern look to sell on an Etsy shop.
“I realized people really wanted the plain denim before they wanted the patches and the fun stuff,” Coté said. “So I just started doing custom vintage Levis on Etsy.”
Coté set herself apart by getting customers’ measurements and their preference of denim wash to find them the perfect pair of custom jeans. Realizing the growing shop needed a name to keep building a dedicated customer base, Coté turned to what she and her friend were already interested in.
“I was really into skulls and Native American designs at the time, so I was wearing these little skull earrings,” Coté said. “My friend was into vintage Playboy bunnies and that era with the lingerie, so we just combined the two.”
Inspired by her mother’s involvement in the fashion world — having worked for different fashion merchandising companies like Ralph Lauren and Warnaco Group — Coté began to expand her shop’s inventory with vintage lingerie, continuing to operate her online store while dancing with a company.
After four years with the Sarasota Ballet, Coté was offered a three-year contract with the Indianapolis Ballet before auditioning for the Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater program at IU around 2021.
“I took a leave of absence [from ballet] and really focused on my business,” Coté said. “That really changed my view on what I wanted to do after I was dancing. I knew I needed some sort of college degree, and if I could get that and dance at this prestigious program at the same time, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Coté’s physical skullznbunniez storefront has been operating as a traditional store for roughly a year now. While balancing owning a business and being a current sophomore with the ballet theater department is no easy feat, it seems to be second nature for Coté, as she rotates between prioritizing ballet or the store based on what requires more attention at that moment.
“I think there’s a real push and pull,” Coté said.
Navigating the logistics of operating a business often requires owners to possess a diverse array of skills and knowledge, and Coté juggles various logistical aspects — from managing payroll to learning how to code her own website.
“If I want to do this, then I’m going to have to just learn to do this myself,” Coté said about her attitude toward managing a business independently.
Her hard work appears to have paid off, as skullznbunniez has a wide-reaching community presence.
Coté feels that she has become recognizable around the area — even making friends with people who began as customers and feeling supported by a tight-knit customer community and other small businesses in the area.
“I’ll run into people who just bought the items in the store and are wearing them out that night,” Coté said.
Coté has taken her community impact even further by reselling clothing in collaboration with organizations on campus, as well as raising money for causes that are important to her.
After the passing of Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater freshman Mary Elizabeth Manville from a rare illness earlier this month, Coté organized a fundraiser through skullznbunniez to support Manville’s family during their difficult time by utilizing donations from the ballet theater community.
“We raised over $2,000 for Mary Elizabeth’s family,” Coté said. “I would be so stupid if I let those opportunities (to help others) be passed up.”
Though resellers sometimes face pushback for what they do — with many users online claiming it reduces the accessibility of clothing — Coté feels this criticism is misinformed.
“People do not understand the level of waste that is happening with clothing,” Coté said.
She hopes that she can help more members of the community understand how accessible and beneficial it can be to shop secondhand for quality pieces, especially in a place like Bloomington.
“When I think about the amount of clothing we have been able to rehome and keep out of landfills, that alone is just a huge win for the planet,” Coté said.
Through making sizing and styles as inclusive as possible by gathering direct feedback from customers of larger sizes, Coté hopes to spread this accessibility further.
“There’s definitely a stigma in our society that people who are larger sizes can’t dress the same as (a) size small or medium,” Cote said.
Coté said it feels especially good to see the wide range of people who come into her store, as she mentioned how it will be packed with customers of all generations when it is a mom’s weekend at IU.
“It’s great that everyone can find something in my store,” she said.
After graduation, Coté shows no desire to stop her growth — specifically hoping to bring skullznbunniez to college towns across the country, like Ann Arbor, MI or Boulder, CO.
“(Young people) are really where all of the change happens” Coté said. “I think that reflects on fashion. I think that reflects on style.”