From an Indian mother’s worst nightmare, as she proclaims in shame, “second-hand clothes?”, or the American hipster teenager who sells his belongings out of his garage to make a few extra bucks in a Hollywood flick, thrifting has slowly but surely made its way to the UAE. On the brink of the pandemic, the Internet witnessed the rise of this sustainable medium of fashion, as it made its mark by quashing fast fashion and providing people access to cost-effective clothing. But who are the hidden stars behind this rapidly growing phenomenon?
Among the glitz and glamour of the city, there lies the unfeigned reality of students and youngsters starting their own thrifting businesses. Some of them being just teenagers completing school, and others attending university, juggling studies and business side by side. Be it the financial issues that emerged due to the pandemic or the dream of gaining financial independence at a young age, these students have set a benchmark by contributing to the growing scene of thrifting in the country.
Shop Till You Drop – Princel Mamaril
Everyone has their own unique story behind a startup, but this is an adorable one. Twenty-year-old Princel is a first-year interior design student and is one of the youngest ones to start her thrifting business, which she began in high school.
“It is a funny story; I started my business three years ago because my parents had a friend who were giving away their pet cat and I wanted to take care of it. But my parents agreed only on the condition that I had to pay for all the hospital expenses, food, and whatever living costs it needed,” says Princel. “I didn’t have enough money to take care of the cat, so I started removing my own clothes and realised that I have a large amount of clothes that I don’t use anymore, so I thought why not just sell them.”
Princel was one of the few early-adopters of the sustainable movement. “At first, I had a hard time because back then in 2018, online thrifting was not really a thing. So, I had a hard time getting customers and my first customers were my friends,” says Princel.
Just like how Covid-19 turned the world upside down, it did the same for the thrifting community, except in a positive way. “As the pandemic happened, some of my parcels were put on hold for months and once everything was back to normal, I noticed that some people started doing online business on Instagram, so the community grew bigger and boomed,” she adds.
With hope and optimism that comes with being a youngster, Princel embraced this change. “I was really happy, even though now this meant there would be competitors, but it also gave me a chance to be known in the community,” says Princel.
In a world where fast fashion is growing rapidly, striving for sustainability has become very important. And that is exactly what thrift stores aim at doing.
“At first, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about sustainability because my only priority was to earn money for my cat. But as time passed by, I started finding articles online about how thrift stores contribute to the environment by helping people reuse items and avoid buying from fast fashion corporations. Until then I did not know that I was helping the environment but once I realised it, I started promoting sustainability as a concept,” she adds.
Juggling both academia and work, given the current climate of competitiveness in thrifting can also be hectic, says Princel. “Initially, handling my schoolwork along with my business was hard, but over the years, I have learnt to schedule everything. Besides my university and business, I am also doing an internship at a social media company so it can get tough at times, but scheduling goes a long way,” says Princel.
“Back in school when I had projects, I did not want to ask my parents for money since I had my own income, so I would pay for them because I do not think it’s fair that they are already paying for the tuition fees and now they have to pay for the additional stuff too.” For her long-term plans, Princel is planning to source from other countries eventually and sell in the UAE.
Watching bloomers enter the community has been a refreshing learning experience for Princel. “One thing I have noticed in this community is that people tend to have a mindset which makes them feel demotivated but determination and perseverance is very important to get through,” she adds.
Dapper Styles – Samantha Nicole
Samantha and RJ are the founders of Dapper Styles, which has grown to become one of the well-known thrifting businesses in the game. Their success has even prompted them to expand, starting a marketing agency of their own called Dapper Media Lab.
“I have always dreamt of having my own business since childhood, especially in the fashion field. My partner too is very entrepreneurial, he always says how he does not want to work for someone else and likes being his own boss,” says Samantha.
“I first started my own business called Chic Styles during the pandemic with the help of my father. Around the same time the company that my partner was working for was not doing very well due to the pandemic, so I encouraged him to start a business similar to mine,” adds Samantha. “We are both really into fashion and this business gave us a chance to tap into our talents. He is a videographer and photographer and manages most of the social media, and since I am studying business management, we can apply those skills in real life.”
She says it only helps that her university is flexible and understands that some of their students are working. “Since my course is business management, it is really encouraged to build on your skills. Some of my classmates have their own businesses as well. One of my classmates has a phone case business and another one has a baking business. It helps us to apply what we have learnt in the classroom in real life and share our experiences with each other.”
Even though online selling is all the rage now and is touted as one of the most convenient ways to carry out business operation, the age-old in-person selling has its own perks.
“During pop-up events, we cater to a lot more people because otherwise we do not always know who the people we are selling to behind a screen are. Here we can meet children, families, tourists and adults, it really does make a big difference when you have a physical place to sell as we can build better connections,” she says.
Sustainability and pricing are amongst the key factors that attract people to thrifting. “We offer two types of clothing; one is thrifted and the other one is vintage. Thrifted items are priced cheaper so that they are affordable for people, whereas vintage pieces can be a little more pricey depending on the brand, quality and age of the piece,” says Samantha.
“Before we even started our shop, we were already supporting sustainability since we would mostly buy from thrift stores. We never really imagined that we would be opening our own thrift shop and contributing to the wellbeing of the environment. But the pandemic gave us the perfect chance,” she adds.
IZSA VINTAGE – Yzabel Bency Salibio
Sisters Yzabel Bency Salibio, 21, and Ia Qwerl Bency Salibio, 18, started their online thrifting and vintage business in 2021. “We saw the potential in an online business model during the pandemic, and as students we didn’t have any source of income, so we started decluttering our own clothes and posting them online for very cheap,” says Yzabel.
With family at the heart of their business, they hold familial values and ethics above all. “At first, we had no capital because it was just from our personal closet, but when our parents saw that we wanted to pursue this seriously, they were very supportive and helped us financially with capital. Now, we are proud to say that we have paid everything back to them and have made them into our investors, where they receive a certain amount of profit with interest,” says Yzabel.
The stereotypical image of teens in quirky outfits is usually what comes to mind when thinking about thrifting. But age is no barrier when it comes to this sustainable community.
“At first, I thought our customers were only in their teens and 20s but we were surprised to see the diverse range of demographics. Many times, we even have customers in their 30s and 40s. I realised over time that thrifting is for everyone, and for the older generation when they buy vintage pieces, it is a nostalgic experience to see the clothes they would wear years ago coming back in fashion,” she adds.
Coming out of your teens and starting a business is not the easiest thing to do, and age can often become a barrier when pursuing this unconventional path. “Sometimes older customers see that we are very young, and they do not trust us as much. I do believe that credibility and wisdom come with age but despite our age we are trying our best. We do a lot of research and older clients often ask us more questions than usual about our products and process,” says Yzabel.
Social media seldom paints the full picture. “People often think that because of our social media our business is booming, but we have our rough patches too. Initially, we went into loss but picked up the pace later. Also, since it’s a business with me and my sister, we have our moments of constant fighting, but managing this together has definitely made us more mature,” she adds.
Thrift Style – Jaimee Louise Cortez
A student of business management, Jaimee, 21, started her online thrifting business in collaboration with four of her friends studying at the same university. “We saw a growing trend of thrifting in the UAE, so we thought it would be the perfect way to make some money on the side. We started with zero funds in 2020, and sold clothes out of our closet, but eventually over time from the profits we made, we used it to grow our business,” says Jaimee.
She adds that juggling studies and the business does pose its own set of challenges. “It’s basically just time management, since we are a collaborative business between five people, we divide and assign the tasks between each other, depending on our schedules so that there is no burden on one person.”
The main challenge faced in this startup as a younger person is having the courage to speak up. “The courage to speak to suppliers, to be bold regarding our content, and overcoming our inhibitions helped us reach out to more people and build connections,” says Nathaniel Roxas, 21, co-founder of Thrift Style.
One might also wonder why there is the need to purchase from these thrift stores when you can just buy directly from the warehouses. “One of our main sources are warehouses from where we buy clothes in bulk. When you enter a warehouse, there are heaps of clothes all over the place and it can get very difficult to find good picks. We do that for you. Finding trendy and fashionable pieces of good quality is what we take pride in. These items are often not washed and are dirty. We do deep cleaning for our customers and make sure they get the best of the lot,” says Roxas.
Speaking of their future plans, Jaimee and Nathaniel add how they are hoping to expand to a physical shop someday once they have gathered more funds. Thrifting is definitely here to stay, and it seems like more and more people are taking up the initiative to go down a more sustainable path to fashion.