Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo the sentiments of In Real Life.
It’s no secret that large retailers are struggling to pivot during the lockdown, with many like Robinsons closing down or announcing huge losses.
But there is opportunity in disaster. Smaller online stores, like Lazii Vintage, are popping up to meet local demand.
Young enterprising couple Angeline and Alvin took the leap of faith and opened their online store in August 2020. Three months on, here’s what they learnt so far.
One day, Angeline asked Alvin: “Do you want to sell secondhand clothes for a living?”
Angeline is a business student from Monash, and Alvin is a digital media student from One Academy. They met in 2018 through mutual friends at a Chinese New Year open house.
During the lockdown period, Angeline taught herself how to sew. She started thinking, “How can I make money from what I love? How can I sell my art in a sustainable way?”
That’s when she had the eureka moment of selling secondhand clothes to people who are in the practice of ‘thrifting’.
Thrifting refers to the act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, or a shop of a charitable organization, usually with the intent of finding interesting items at a low price.
People say, “Why would anyone consider buying a second hand item?” So Alvin told me how the fast fashion industry is a huge contributor towards climate change.
To top that off, virtually all large brands like H&M, Nike and Burberry burn their unsold clothes rather than repurpose them to maintain the illusion of scarcity.
As time went by, Alvin and Angeline started to gain more knowledge about sustainable fashion, and fell in love with the lifestyle too.
How they make the clothes from start to end product
“We usually go to second hand stores and handpick the clothing that matches our store’s aesthetic. Then we rework them before selling it,” Angeline shared.
Angeline reworks and sews the clothes, while Alvin produces the digital designs.
Opening up their business was a struggle in the beginning. Having no idea which demographic to market to or access to market research, they fell back on classic trial and error.
“It was only after we made various stylistic choices to the fabric that we started to get an idea of what people liked. Some were hot selling and some were not, so we tweaked our offerings based on that feedback.”
Since the thrifted clothes are reworked by hand, each one has a unique design.
“I think that is what’s fun about the concept of thrifting in general. When you find something, you know no one has the exact same outfit as you,” Angeline disclosed.
After two months of running the business, they hit a plateau and had no business growth. So the two lovebirds put their heads together and brainstormed and pivoted on their marketing strategy.
“We went from posting once a week to 3-5 times everyday. The more our followers saw our designs, the more they were reminded to buy from us,” Angeline shared.
The unique challenges Angeline and Alvin faced
“There have been times when we had disagreements with each other. It was hard to find a work-life balance, our business life was taking over our own personal lives, and I could not cope with balancing studies and working,” Alvin shares.
“One time, the needle went clean through my finger and I had to be rushed to the clinic to get stitches. While it was healing, it happened again! On the same finger, and in the same spot! I was so mad,” Angelina laughed.
Angeline is the type of person who wants to solve problems immediately. So her solution to this problem was to have a discussion with Alvin to set their priorities. “First were his academics, then business, followed by his hobbies only if there’s spare time.”
“Owning a business will have good days and bad days. For the bad days, you need to be mentally strong and positive as your energy comes off to your customers,” said Angeline.
“During our rainy days, I have to remind myself that I have to make it work, it’s my life now so I just have to pick myself up. I am also lucky that I have Angeline to encourage me,” Alvin says.
Over time, the business has grown.
“Starting out, we used Instagram DMs. Now that we get a lot of orders, it’s so hard to handle in a short span of time. So we opened up a website in October 2020.”
They try to create strong bonds with their customers. “We always interact with them very carefully and closely to give a personal touch,” Alvin shared.
Now, their orders have grown by 32%. By the start of December 2020, they’ll open their own physical store.
“We never expected it to pick up as it has right now.” said Alvin.
Angeline and Alvin have planned it to be a studio, or maybe a boutique. They will start seeing customers on an appointment basis — or maybe just a few walk-ins.
“Our room is so messy with hundreds of items of clothing that are just waiting to be released.” Angeline quipped.
Both students dropped out of uni to focus 100% on their boutique.
“I discontinued my studies in Australia so that I can focus on this full-time.” shared Angeline.
“Same here,” Alvin nodded. “I am dropping out of university so that I can put my 100% into this.”
Luckily, Alvin has understanding parents that are fully supportive of his plan. “I explained to them my “why” and I convinced them that I will work on this no matter what.”
“Although it’s important to get a formal education, people tend to stay in their comfort zone after getting the certificate. When you are in your safe zone, you tend not to grow,” Alvin said.
Angeline’s parents had differing reactions to her decision.
“My father was very supportive but my mother is always fretting about our futures. Lately she has been coming around, though.”
In future, they hope to expand their business internationally to Singapore and Brunei.
“Our goal is to inspire more people to contribute to sustainable fashion instead of fast fashion. They are usually the same, great quality.” Angeline shared..
They want this way to motivate people to do their own part in saving the environment.” Alvin said.
What advice would you give people who want to open their own business?
“Think to yourself: “Can I see myself doing this after 5 years?” Alvin resumed, “Open what you want to do and this will keep the passion burning despite the downfalls.”
Angeline said she would tell them how hard and prepared you have to be to open your own business.
“You have to realise you are going to be doing everything. All the hardships you have to endure, you must endure it professionally. Do your research. Even if you feel like you are thinking really far ahead, think further than that,” Angeline concluded.
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