The Perils & Potentials Of Shopping Someone Else’s Closet

By Julia Gessler
Zoë McNicholas of Yohozo reworked discarded materials like denim before becoming a clothing reseller. Photo / Nicole Brannen

When Rosie Carroll was a child, her mother took her and her brothers to SaveMart to shop for mufti day. Rosie took the plunge on a Lisa Simpson baby tee, a black skater skirt and a pair of chunky Pulp wedges, a fine, calculated choice for a day that occupies a place in young lives not unlike that of social media posting: where uniforms subsume a sense of individuality, mufti offers the infinite potential of communicating it.

As a teenager, Rosie worked one shift a week at her local Amazon Surf store, unable to afford the clothes she was selling but wanting them, or clothes like them. She spent hours on Trade Me searching, honing her keywords like woodwork. Later, she would pack her two-door Nissan Lucino to “the brim” with clothes and take them to community markets to sell on a Sunday.

Last October, Rosie opened her own consignment store, Nifty, a pink beacon in Christchurch. The store’s name reads on the front of the building in loopy red cursive, a love heart in place of a tittle.

For many, thrifting is a gateway to fashion, as much a means of finding relatively inexpensive clothing as it is something that appeals morally and attitudinally. To engage in “the hunt” for a price (more affordable), a purpose (a new coat), a promise (the gain of warmth) is to also recognise that you are someone that shops consciously and confers an aura that has progressively grown over the past decade: that it’s “cool”, by any conceivable metric, to buy secondhand.

As Mark Cowie, general manager of consignment company Recycle Boutique, which has 13 stores nationwide, from Dunedin to Mount Maunganui, neatly told me: “Sustainability has moved from perk to priority.”

Rose Hope of Karangahape Rd store Crushes. Photo / Supplied
Rose Hope of Karangahape Rd store Crushes. Photo / Supplied

A 2022 report from resale platform ThredUp and retail analytics company GlobalData projected that the sales of used clothes would reach an estimated global market value of NZ$345 billion in 2026, doubling in size from 2021. And though it’s a different experience to thumbing through dresses shoulder to shoulder at one of Auckland’s more high-end Tatty’s — the shoes shrine-like, the shopping serendipitous — up to half of secondhand dollars, the report added, will come from online resale by 2024.

Luxury US consignment company The RealReal, which also sells furniture and art and has calibrated a reputation for rigorous authentication, has risen with the velocity of an aircraft (it now has more than 28 million users) since its inception in 2011.

Local digital marketplace Designer Wardrobe, which facilitates sales as a sort of go-between, has attracted nearly 300,000 members, who also use its rent services, a kind of return scheme that comes with optional rip and stain protection packages. “Sellers are actively searching for user-friendly avenues to extend the lifespan of their items,” says the brand’s founding director, Donielle Brooke.

But selling, as in buying, can be difficult for both professionals and neophytes. “The fast fashion industry has been steadily rising for years and as a result, our clothing donations to op shops reflect that,” says Rosie, who feels like resellers have been “feeling the heat” for this. “It’s not that resellers are purchasing all the ‘good stuff’; it’s that poorly made fast-fashion pieces are filling up the racks. On top of this, many thrift stores are facing a massive excess of donations, with only 10-20 per cent of clothing donated actually getting sold.” The rest, she says, are disposed of or sent abroad.

It’s a sentiment echoed, not least by the New York Times which, last year, published an article despondently titled ‘The Golden Age of Thrifting Is Over’. Rose Hope, of Karangahape Rd darling Crushes, which sells a small, curated assortment of pieces and runs regular clothes-swap events, said that the amount of sorting they have to do “to find anything decent is really understated”, citing the glut of products from behemoth brands like Zara and Shein over the last five years.

Rose describes the wave of fast fashion as colossal, a blend of garments, social media and young people feeling the pressure to purchase another kind of currency: relevancy. “We know that the average person only wears an item of clothing seven times,” she adds, “but now that clothing is even cheaper, [you] never have to recycle an outfit. With the cost of Earth’s resources to make any garment, the exploitative labour and the waste being created in a climate crisis, ‘looking cute’ has never been so dangerous.”

For Rose, it feels intimately tied to the malleable idea of value. “We’ve essentially been brainwashed into thinking a T-shirt should cost $5 and that translates to secondhand clothing, too. The expectation of keeping up with those fast-fashion price tags can be hard to grapple with.”

An ensemble from Yohozo. Photo / Sophie Miya Smith
An ensemble from Yohozo. Photo / Sophie Miya Smith

In high school, Zoë McNicholas wanted to be a fashion designer. But after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories and killed more than 1100 people in 2013, something in her shifted. She spent time reworking discarded materials, mostly cotton T-shirts and denim.

At the end of 2020, in Auckland, she launched a resale brand, Yohozo, what is now a tight online edit of kitschy vintage that feels like a ready-worn survey of the delightful and the precious: marigold-yellow trousers, a striped Bari Jay gown with a fluted skirt, long skirts and silk scarves, a purple three-part suit that Fran Fine might have worn.

“Throw on some shades and prepare yourself for a whole new view through rose-tinted lenses,” reads the About page, above a trippy graphic of undulating flowers. “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” another line teases further down.

Like any business, the vision that Zoë built has been an investment, from sourcing to laundering, repairing, photographing, listing and advertising. “There are costs involved that I never considered, from software subscriptions to taxes I didn’t even know existed,” she says. “I can really relate to the couples in Grand Designs who sheepishly disclose at the end of every episode that they spent double their budget.”

Zoë admits she anticipated it all growing quicker; she has had to teach herself to be patient. “Most of my earnings are put back into the business and, slowly but surely, help it to grow. Even when there’s an opportunity to pay myself, I instead think of a million things I could buy for the business. It’s a labour of love.” It’s also a kind of journey: “Too often we tend to play it safe; vintage gives you the permission to get lost and find yourself, or as I like to say, ‘Take a trip down the rabbit hole.’”

A look from Silly Billy Vintage. Photo / Supplied
A look from Silly Billy Vintage. Photo / Supplied

Friends Evie Davis and Sydney Reynolds, two Torontonians who now co-run Silly Billy Vintage, a trove of glass goblets, beaded mini purses and silky slips you can find online or hung on racks in their stall at selected Auckland markets, say their business keeps their “inner child alive”.

You can see it in the flouncy tulle that radiates the energy of a Disney princess belting at the top of her lungs, the cottage-core vibe that settles over their picks as sweet and soft as strawberry shortcake. “It’s become our form of escapism.”

But while their clothes connote, to some degree, a gussied-up fantasy, there is perhaps nothing more real than the scale of their ambition. “As a whole, if we could take better care of what we already have, embrace the imperfections of our clothing and try to keep pieces in circulation, we might see a decrease in items ending up in the landfill,” say Evie and Sydney. “Circular fashion is hot, stains are in, distressed is best, you get it.”

More resellers to know

Online and occasional market stall reseller Waves Vintage finds clothes that feel enduringly cool, and that have seen pop-ups at both Sully’s and That Looks.

Self-described as “the cool older sibling you always wished you’d had”, this Auckland store has secondhand finds as well as a mix of nice things made in New Zealand. 8 Durham St East, Auckland central.

Wellington’s Cuba St is all the better for this consignment shop specialising in vintage from the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Junya Watanabe and Miu Miu. Also partial to an excellent window display. 134 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington.

Parnell’s popular vintage destination boasts a strong array of designer pieces, from Giorgio Armani silk blazers to Roberto Cavalli dresses and Jean Paul Gaultier boots. 3/99 Parnell Rd, Parnell, Auckland.

Siddhi Smith is at the helm of Ponsonby institution Encore Designer Recycle, where you’ll find Camilla dresses, Sass & Bide jeans, Karen Walker blazers and more.

Find embroidery, sterling silver jewellery and muslin mini dresses, among other things from this Māori-owned Instagram store.

Albany’s Painted Bird Vintage has a soft spot for pieces from the 40s to the 70s (think mohair capes and occasion dresses), specially chosen by owner-stylist Stephanie King. 1 Titoki Place, Albany, Auckland.

This New Lynn favourite specialises in retro finds. Expect print-laden shirts, graphic sweatshirts and charming vests. 1 Riverbank Rd, New Lynn, Auckland.

Diane Ludwig’s Instagram store is a veritable emporium of vintage and NZ-made, from houndstooth jumpsuits to chore coats to pieces by Alexandra Owen.

Focused mainly from the 60s through to the 90s, Instagram store Noon Goods offers a lovely curation replete with floral blouses and vintage Levi’s.

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