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Friday, March 2, 2018

Three Vintage Sellers on Individuality, Sustainability, and Business in the Digital Age

The online vintage shop takes each traditional component of the modern shopping scene and tosses it on its head. 

Shoppers don't pick up an item and bring it to a checkout counter. Users comment their zip code below a photo of an item to purchase it and receive an invoice within the hour. Browsers don't comb through a stack of mass-produced product in search of their size. They see a photo of a pair of 1970s jeans while scrolling through their Instagram feed--a one-of-a-kind item in one size only, for one time only.

More and more women are building businesses by selling vintage or thrifted clothing on online platforms like Instagram and Depop, and more and more women who want unique clothing are following and buying, creating a market for thrift store treasures that were once someone else's rejects. Below are transcripts of my conversations with three such women about their online shops, the appeal of vintage, and their digital business models.
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Patricia Nygaard, 25, owner of Instagram shop Maganda Pa
Where? Washington, D.C.
For how long? Since summer 2016
Shop: @shop_magandapa on Instagram
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What were you doing before selling vintage, and how did it lead you to found your shop?
I studied biology and chemistry in college and I was preparing to go to become a pharmacist. I worked at a pharmacy after I graduated undergrad, and it was not what I wanted to do for 40 hours a week. I worked there for a couple years, just to make money, not because I actually enjoyed it. I was kind of just throwing darts at a map--I was applying to random jobs in random places, and zookeeping in New Orleans found me. I was like, "What can I do with a biology degree that's not working in a lab?" and I love animals. I really didn't consider that hanging out with animals all day meant cleaning cages and picking up poop for a full time job. It was like having a dog x50.

While I was in New Orleans, I didn't know anyone, so I just spent my time going to local thrift stores. I'd always find all these random pieces I really liked, but they didn't fit me because I'm a size 16 and they only just recently started making nice clothes for plus-size people. All the cute vintage clothes are always, like, size 4. I wanted to have all these beautiful things, but I personally couldn't put them to use. My boyfriend was like, "Hello, you're finding all these wonderful things that you have access to, and you should just sell them to people who trust your curation and judgement." I started the store when I was living in New Orleans because my job there was over--I didn't want to be a zookeeper anymore--and now I'm back in D.C.!

Story behind the store's name?
"Maganda Pa" means "still beautiful" in Tagalog (I'm Filipino, and Tagalog is one of the languages in the Philippines). It kind of has a double meaning. I started the store out of frustration with the fashion industry and the fact that I saw no representation of women of color. I was upset about the exclusion of this huge group of people who were not able to relate to many models or shop owners. So, "Maganda Pa" meaning "still beautiful" is saying that, despite not feeling represented or visible in fashion, there is a space for you in what I've created. Even though it's just a small digital space, it is still here and you are still beautiful and you are still welcome here. The other meaning is that...these are secondhand pieces, and despite being unwanted by their previous owners, they are still relevant and still beautiful, and here I am presenting them.


Running an online business is different from manning a brick-and-mortar shop. Positives of this? Negatives?
I think that with any small business there are definitely a lot of downsides, but it's the upsides that count because you're pushing your vision and this dream that you have that you want to make prosper. The upsides are that I've met really cool people. On social media, I'm interacting with people's personal accounts and I have an easier way of connecting with  people because I can talk to them directly. Also, I'm at the whim of Instagram, a platform I have no control over. With their new algorithms, it's taken a weird turn on business. Trying to navigate those hurdles is a different set of challenges being an Instagram business, but there are challenges with every method of going about things.

  Has there ever been a piece that you intended to sell but fell in love with and kept for yourself?
That has definitely happened a few times, in which case I just have to part with it and let it go, because I don't even go out that much to places where I would be able to wear these beautiful pieces. There was this one purse that I loved--it was covered in Mother of Pearl tiles and had tortoise shell lucite handles. It was so stunning. I died when I had to send that off, but it went to a good home in Europe. There was this other purse that was this insane vintage 1950s Japanese fishing basket/purse...I also died when I let that go.


Why are vintage sellers blowing up right now? What place does vintage have in the fashion industry?
Going to a thrift store and having to sift through everything yourself--that's definitely fun, but it's a different experience. We've already done the service of finding them and curating them with these other pieces to give it a different understanding than if you just saw it randomly by itself amongst a bunch of junk.

I definitely think vintage has more of a spotlight right now because there's a focus on self-love, self-care, and individual expression, and you can really express yourself with these pieces that are one-of-a-kind that nobody else is going to have. These are the pieces that styles now are based on--these are the original ones. Everything is so cyclical, so it's cool to feel ahead of it and have the original thing.

How has selling vintage been fulfilling for you?
It's nice because it has been an actualization of my own interests and passions. It's cool in that regard and it's nice to be able to talk to people all the time and entire this community of people and getting to know people that I originally wouldn't have reached. It's been cool to enter this universal network of people with similar interests and styles who are just out here supporting each other doing cool stuff.

Go-to piece from your shop for a night out?
This yellow suit I had was so crazy, but it was the best outfit ever.
~~~
Masha Roush, 21, owner of Depop shop @mashar
Where? Hercules, California
For how long? Since early 2016
Shop: @mashar on Depop / @masharoush on Instagram


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What were you doing before selling vintage, and how did it lead you to found your shop?
I grew up in Bangladesh, and it was mostly the manufacturing environment there that influenced my relationship with fashion and vintage. Fast fashion companies have their stock manufactured in places like Bangladesh because of the low labor costs, and it's just not humane at all. The factories didn't have any air conditioning and health insurance didn't--doesn't--exist there. There were mountains of rejects, clothes that had little defects, like one stitch out of place. My dad brought back home whatever samples and factory defects he could find, and my whole family wore those clothes. We never really bought new clothes. 

Growing up in a Muslim family, I was the odd one out--at 17, I married my husband John, who is Catholic and American, after we met on this website called Vampire Freaks. We lived in North Carolina for a while, saving money to move to New York, and I thrifted a lot there because the malls didn't appeal to me. In Bangladesh, if you're not getting factory rejects, you make your own clothes. They weave their own saris in the villages, and in the city they buy fabric and take it to a tailor. The quality of everything (in Bangladesh) felt better, and I didn't like the mass-produced product in the malls. 

I collected a crazy amount of clothing and I decided that I'd try to sell it, because not only did I look at pre-80s clothing as an investment, but I also loved the thrill of finding the right item. 

After I gave birth to my son, it felt like I was doing nothing. Not that being a mom would be anything bad, but I’ve just always felt like I’ve been preparing myself for something big--I wanted my son to be proud of me and inspired by me. I’ve just come so far and done so much, and all of a sudden everything stops and I’m just sitting in my house, and it felt wrong, sort of. I wanted something for myself and myself only. I found this, and this is my thing.


How often do you buy stock for the store? Any favorite places?
My favorite places are antique fairs anywhere, suppliers, and lots of estate sales. Estate sales are mostly dug, so you have to know the right people or dig out advertisements. And check newspapers! I once went to an antique fair at 5 a.m. and we had to basically run and try to find the best thing before anyone else did. There's lots of sellers like us. This job, if you want to do it seriously, will make you broke. It will give you so much anxiety, because if you don't have the right stock, the money isn't going to be there.

Running an online business is different from manning a brick-and-mortar shop. Positives of this? Negatives?
Positives: I don't have to show up at work, pay rent, pay a mortgage, or pay additional utilities. That's amazing. Cons are sizing struggles, which arise because all vintage fits differently and I don't have a physical store for people to try things on in. Everyone's body is different, so the proportions (of the piece) might be confusing to someone. If the customer doesn't know how to measure themselves or their size (I get it, it confuses me sometimes, too), the piece may not fit them like they expected, and I'm afraid of letting people down in that way. Also, a lot of people who have not bought vintage before or are new to the scene will expect something to to feel and look like it's new, so I could feel more secure if customers could just touch it and see it in person to decide if they like it enough.

Why are vintage sellers blowing up right now? What place do you think vintage has in the fashion industry?                                    The feeling of wanting something unique is always going to exist, I think. That has existed in me forever. It's just--some people are not brave enough to be individual or go with what they really want. Everyone feels that, you, me, everyone wants to be unique and wear what they love. It's also the quality. You want a sturdy pair of pants that mold to your figure every time you wash them, and it's going to practically last you--maybe even your kids and grandkids--forever. 

How has selling vintage been fulfilling for you?
I'm making people happy--or at least I think I am--which makes me extremely happy. It's an amazing feeling of relief and happiness when I get a good review. I didn't think about the environment at first because I didn't think I could sell enough to make a difference, but I think I am making a tiny bit of difference, so that makes me feel really good. I'm extremely impulsive and I get tired of things really fast--this job is the thing I've stuck to the longest, besides my family. I have this fear that I'm going to die tomorrow, and I don't want to die miserable. If something were to happen to me tomorrow, I would be satisfied--I wouldn't feel like my life is a waste. It would be short, but I would be happy.

Go-to piece from your shop for a night out?
A pair of well-fitting 501s.
~~~
Danielle Guérin, 21, owner of Instagram shop Manteau Guérin
Where? San Francisco, CA
Since when? 2016
Shop: @manteauguerin on Instagram

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What were you doing before selling vintage, and how did it lead you to found your shop?
I worked in retail throughout my younger years and my college years. People would come into the stores I worked at and spend their entire financial aid check on clothing. At a certain point, I realized that people were buying stuff just to buy stuff. I knew they didn't need to buy the same shirt in every color, but my job was to sell. I was an Environmental Studies major in college, and so many things about the retail atmosphere conflicted with my core values--from the very basics like a store manager refusing to recycle cardboard to receiving items that smelled toxic. I left right when I graduated and found an awesome job working in sustainability in the apparel industry.

Through that job I got to meet a bunch of passionate sustainability professionals and work with companies throughout the value chain (brands, retailers, manufacturers, NGO's). I've always felt that it's so important improve supply chain impacts, but I've also always had this nagging feeling that if people could just buy less new sh*t the world would be a lot better off. We throw away SO many clothes every year in the USA--80 pounds per person, every year. There are so many beautiful things that get trashed! It is so wasteful and so wrong and SUCH a big opportunity. I have loved vintage shopping since I was a kid, so when I left my job to start consulting I decided to setup shop on the side. It has been a lot of hard work, but the most fun ever and totally worth all the hard work.

Running an online business is different from manning a brick-and-mortar shop. Positives of this? Negatives?

Running a brick-and-mortar shop has so much overhead. I don't know if I will ever be interested in fully doing that. Having an online shop means I can set up shop and run it from anywhere. When I started my shop, I was doing it out of my home which meant clothes and photography equipment everywhere. In a tiny SF apartment that gets a little overwhelming, so I eventually made the leap to rent a studio space where I could set up an area for photography, keep my clothes, set up a desk and a shipping station and all that jazz. Having a physical space to work out of that is separate from home has made my business feel much more real. I am going to be launching in-studio shopping appointments soon, which is really exciting for me. I think the hybrid brick-and-mortar model where you take appointments and sell online is great. It allows me to set a schedule that works for me as a small business owner, and not have to pretend I can be omnipresent. 

Has there ever been a piece that you intended to sell but fell in love with and kept for yourself?
That happens every day. I only sell pieces that I love, so if I love something enough to desperately want it for myself, I get it online right away. If I kept those pieces, I wouldn't be leading with my best, and what kind of shop would I be? But it is painful sometimes.

Why are vintage sellers blowing up right now? What place do you think vintage has in the fashion industry?
I think people are getting sick of having the same clothes as everyone else. Buying a vintage piece feels special, regardless of the price. I believe that people want to stand out and look and feel special. When you purchase a piece that calls to you and you're the only one who can own it, you cherish it. It's a much different feeling than running into a fast fashion store and buying the latest $8 trend. Frankly, I think a lot of consumers are over fast fashion. Times are changing and vintage is thriving at every price point--it's such a fun shift to be part of!

Go-to piece from your shop for a night out?
100% this Christian Dior skirt suit. I fell head over heels for it and it was adopted into a very loving new home.


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Monday, February 26, 2018

Yeezy and Balenciaga's Response to Consumption in the Digital Age

Back before Mother Modern Age birthed Instagram, and back before this newborn baby sprouted into a toddler and started pouncing through the invitation-only doors of fashion week, labels primarily advertised in print magazines, billboards, and television. Average consumers were accustomed to seeing a top or a pair of jeans in an editorial ad, ripping out that page from Vogue, and taking it to the mall in search of the physical treasure.

But alas, those times are not these times! Here's a piece of insight that's most definitely not new: technology is transforming our world and the way we interact with it. That conversation's been beaten to a pulp, and it extends to almost every aspect of our lives: learning and studying, working and applying for jobs, buying and selling, and...there it is...styling and consuming fashion!

With Instagram at our disposal, we can see what people are wearing all the time and buy things that show up on our feed. Kendall Jenner is photographed leaving a restaurant in Vetements jeans, the photo is immediately all over Instagram aesthetic inspo pages, and the jeans sell out the next day. We see real peopleeven if those people are celebritieswearing things in real time and real life rather than models embodying a character for a photoshoot. Clothing in its natural habitat in an off-guard paparazzi picture seems more authentic and accessible than clothing styled specifically to sell.

What if design houses could fuse these two methods of exposure together, though? Create the illusion of a paparazzi photo's off-guard authenticity in a calculated, professional advertisement? Why don't designers just turn Instagram pictures or paparazzi shots into ad campaigns?

It's no surprise that the first brands to try this are Yeezy and Balenciaga, two labels that have gained millennial cult followings in recent years. Kanye West executed his entire Yeezy Season 6 ad campaign over Instagram by recruiting dozens of stars to mimic paparazzi photos of Kim Kardashian wearing the new line. Kim began posting paparazzi photos of her in head-to-toe Yeezy in January, which seemed like a pre-emptive marketing tactic to the later explosion of similar photos that all dropped on the same day.











Similarly, Balenciaga's Spring 2018 ad campaign photos are literally a compilation of mock paparazzi shots:


Every business that has ever existed, even the age-old toddler-manned lemonade stand, has had to study the changing consumer market and adapt to its behaviors and interests. Fashion houses are no exceptionthese brands are taking the new way we consume fashion and running with it.

It's interesting, though, because brands always seemed to lead the fashion industry by starting the trends, controlling the market, and telling us what we want before we could figure it out for ourselves. However, with Instagram, a platform shaped by its users and their choices, the public has taken the reignsintentionally or unintentionallyand inherited a larger slice of the pie, so much so that brands are forced to keep up with us now.

Yeezy and Balenciaga aren't the only brands that have channelled their aesthetic into more casual and "youthful" collections over the years. Coach, Chanel, and Gucci, for example, have slowly transitioned from trademark luxury handbags and gowns to combat boots and street pieces.

As more and more sweatpants and oversized windbreakers pop up on the runways of the most popular, age-old brands, the influence of the millennial seems to reflect the appeal of platforms like Instagram: casual and instantly gratifying, like seeing people wearing Yeezy clothing while scrolling through photos of your friend's lunch and your cousin's dog.

While it's amazing that the public has influence over such a large industry, any sort of power imbalance has its downsides. Some feel that Instagram has launched the fashion industry into a spiral towards low standards, claiming that supermodels have been replaced by "talentless" social media stars and individual style replaced by oversaturated Instagram trends.

I guess that's just it, though: if we have the power to ruin fashion, we have the power to keep it afloatmaybe even to help it rise to a potential it has never fully fulfilled before. The question, then, is: before both brands and consumers can use their power for good, can they first identify what the fashion industry's own breed of "good" or "evil" is?
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Why Alexa Chung's New Label is One to Watch


British writer, model, host, and designer Alexa Chung launched her very own fashion label in May of last year. The label's nameALEXACHUNGis particularly fitting not only because...well, it's the designer's name...but because every piece looks like something that could've been pulled right out of Chung's own closet.

Fashion fans have viewed Chung as a style icon for years nowamidst her many career feats, she's always been an "It girl" known for her grungy yet sophisticatedly British style. Because of this, it's safe to say that much of the fashion world knows and understands her aesthetic, and her collection proves that there's a market for those who'd like to dress like her.

These people can try to mix girly and eclectic pieces to recreate her style, but nobody can do it better than Chung, who has evolved and refined her style throughout the years in a way that's allowed her to master it to a tee. She has something unique and uncopyable: a trademark aesthetic and an ability to radiate it in anything she wears. Her consistency in this, even amidst personal style evolution, backed by years and years of curation and experimentation, gives Chung her own tool belt and compass for navigating the industry. And now she's using these tools to bring brand new, self-styled pieces directly to consumers!

In fact, the ALEXACHUNG brand is possibly the most visible connection of personal aesthetic to professional creation the fashion industry has seen in some time. The "girl" the ALEXACHUNG brand seems to design for is very much reflective of Chung herself: eclectic and grungy yet girly and classic, always with a bit of British flare. 

Her debut collection for the brand (Pre-Fall 2017) exhibited a beautifully exciting mix of these accents in a way Chung has mastered better than anyone: she paired knit collared shirts with leather mini skirts, a floral dress with sparkly platform boots, and graphic t-shirts with the words "Screw You" across the front paired with flats and midi-length denim skirts.
Chung is knocking it out of the park. The debut collection was amazing, and the Resort 2018 collection that just dropped is a strong continuation of the established aesthetic. 

It'll be interesting to see where this conceptualization approach leads the brand in the future, though...what's the longevity of a brand based so closely off a designer's personal style?

Although Chung isn't obligated to show during every season of the fashion calendar, could the brand keep up with the demand to constantly pump out new merchandise? Chung has taken on a new role in which she must consciously channel her personal clothing preferences into a collection of new product...how will this affect the expression of her own personal style?

While it's interesting to anticipate the future of ALEXACHUNG, something tells me that Chung is going to provide answers that will make us wonder why we even questioned her in the first place. She has no reason not to show us exactly what she can do, which, with her 18 years of witnessing the industry from the inside, might turn out to be much more than we think. 
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

If You Could Assemble Your Dream Style Tribe, Who Would You Include?

Last month, Vogue.com published an article detailing streetwear's migration from a trend-focused sphere to a tribe-focused sphere. Writer Emily Farra claimed that 2017 street style became less about any particular piece(s) and more about embracing the "lifestyle" accompanying said pieces. The biggest street style stars picked their favorite trends and pledged allegiance to a tribe, whether it be the print lovers, "the suits,"  or the "less-is-more dressers."

I know this isn't necessarily what Farra meant, but the term "tribe" in relation to fashion made me think about who I would choose if I were to assemble my very own army of style powerhouses. There's something quite intriguing about that concept...it reminds me of my dad trying to collect all the best players for his fantasy golf team. Now I'm thinking about what my team would look like...whose style has influenced me over the years? What would happen if I could round them all up for one day of together-ness? One powerful walk down the street? One iconic photoshoot?

In no particular order:

1) Michael Jackson from the early 80s
Best piece: Red jacket
Skills: Ability to bring clothing to life through dance and performance
The Thriller video was the first video I had ever watched on YouTube and Michael's red jacket (as well as the similar jacket in the Beat It video) was the first fashion item I truly lusted over. I would dream about wearing it to the barber shop with my dad, and it seemed to represent power and confidence.


2) Sara Paxton as Aquamarine
Best piece: Blue highlights
Skills: Innovation, leadership, fearlessness, mystery
Because Aquamarine was my favorite movie growing up, I saw Aquamarine as the ultimate dream girl for a solid chunk of my life. Not only did her dual identity as half mermaid, half human lend an aura of mischief to her character that was palpable in whatever she wore, but she also managed to make anything seem exotic and beautiful. She styled a blue t-shirt as a dress 4 different ways and created her Last Splash #lewk by ripping the sleeves off a vintage costume dress.



3) Every girl who has ever closed a Giambattista Valli couture show
Best piece: TULLE GOWNS!
Skills: Consistency in delivery of jaw-dropping drama


4) Leandra Medine, founder, CEO, and EIC of Man Repeller
Best piece: Endless supply of sunglasses
Skills: Understands fashion as a nuanced concept with no rules
I physically can't talk about fashion or writing or the joys of life in general without referencing Leandra. She's brought a completely new element to the industry by conceptualizing fashion and the human interest in it in such a unique way, and she'll always be my biggest inspiration career-wise. She saw a gap in an industry she loved--a humorous-yet-intelligent-and-honest-writer sized gap--and filled it with grace, innovation, and creativity. I'll join any tribe she's part of. (Photo by Krista Anna Lewis, btw!!)


5) Aurora in the last scene of Sleeping Beauty
Best piece: THE COLOR-CHANGING DRESS! Her dress changed from blue to pink and back again as her fairy friends argued over which color looked best.
Skills: Ability to dance freely despite her dress continually changing color


6) Alexa Chung
Best piece: Grunge haircut and black eyeliner
Skills: Master of eclectic and grungy style with a constant presence of British sophistication, has used this aesthetic to pump out three incredible collections for her own label, ALEXACHUNG


7) TLC from the 90s
Best piece: Baggy pants with crop tops
Skills: Impeccable execution of baggy-cool aesthetic; unwavering commitment to the art of group outfit coordination

8) Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Best piece: Met Gala outfits in 2013 (Ashley in vintage Dior, Mary-Kate in vintage Chanel), 2016, and 2017
Skills: Small yet mighty; masters of messy blonde waves, smoky eyes, long coats, and piercing stares


9) A leopard or two
Honestly, I'd be thrilled if a leopard or two or three or four would be willing to join. They're born with a statement coat that unites them with a built-in tribe all around the world. Humans are out here working tirelessly to recreate leopard print into fabrics and textiles while these cats are stunting every day in a look that's uniquely theirs. It'd be an honor to walk alongside them (can you imagine, I don't know, each member of TLC walking a leopard?).


10) Grace Kelly in her wedding dress from her marriage to Prince Rainer
I believe that each outfit we wear can create a different version of ourselves, for better or for worse. To me, this version of Grace Kelly in her wedding dress radiates grace and elegance.


I guess I'll stop at a nice, even, double-digit number, even though I could go on and on all day. Who would you make sure to include in your own style tribe? I'd love to know! Feel free to comment down below and keep this wonderfully ideal fantasy going. Ever since I've started thinking about it, it's been difficult to stop, and I want to infect someone else.
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