With the country’s growing frugality frenzy, we look at some of the young people who are starting their own businesses amid the pandemic, as they juggle education and entrepreneurship
From an Indian mother’s worst nightmare, as she sheepishly declares, “second-hand clothes?”, or an American hipster teenager selling his stuff from his garage to make a few extra bucks in a Hollywood movie, thrift has slowly but surely made its way to the UAE. On the brink of the pandemic, the internet has witnessed the rise of this sustainable fashion medium, which has made its mark by putting an end to fast fashion and giving people access to affordable clothing. But who are the hidden stars behind this fast-growing phenomenon?
Amidst the glitz and glamor of the city, lies the unpretended reality of students and young people who start their own frugal business. Some of them are just teenagers finishing school, and others are attending university, juggling between studies and business. Whether it’s the financial struggles that have arisen due to the pandemic or the dream of gaining financial independence at a young age, these students have set the bar by contributing to the country’s growing thrift scene.
Shop ’til you drop – Princel Mamaril
Everyone has their own unique story behind a startup, but this one is wonderful. Twenty-year-old Princel is a first-year interior design student and one of the youngest to start her frugal business, which she started in high school.
“It’s a funny story; I started my business three years ago because my parents had a friend who was giving away his cat and I wanted to take care of it. But my parents agreed only on the condition that I have to pay for all the hospital expenses, food and all the living expenses that I need,” says Princel. “I didn’t have enough money to take care of the cat, so I started to get rid of my clothes and realized I had a lot of clothes I didn’t use anymore, so I thought why not just sell them.”
Princel was one of the few early adopters of the sustainable movement. “It was hard for me at first because back then, in 2018, online frugality wasn’t a thing. So it was difficult for me to get customers, and the first customers were my friends,” says Princel.
Just as Covid-19 turned the world upside down, it did the same for the thrift community, except in a positive way. “As the pandemic happened, some of my packages were on hold for months and when everything went back to normal, I noticed that some people started doing business online on Instagram, so the community grew bigger and flourished,” she adds.
With the hope and optimism that comes with youth, Princel embraced this change. “I was really happy, even though now it meant there would be a competitor, but it also gave me a chance to be known in the community,” says Princel.
In a world where fast fashion is growing rapidly, the pursuit of sustainability has become very important. And that’s exactly what thrift stores are all about.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about sustainability because my only priority was to make money for my cat. But as time went on, I started to find articles online about how thrift stores are helping the environment by helping people reuse items and avoid buying from fast fashion corporations. Until then, I didn’t know that I was helping the environment, but when I realized that, I started promoting sustainability as a concept,” she adds.
Juggling academia and work, given the current climate of competitive frugality, can also be hectic, Princel says. “In the beginning it was difficult to cope with schoolwork and work, but over the years I learned to plan everything. Apart from my university and work, I also do an internship at a social media company so it can be difficult at times, but the schedule goes a long way,” says Princel.
“Back in school, when I had projects, I didn’t want to ask my parents for money because I had my own income, so I would pay them because I think it’s not fair that they already pay school fees and now they have to pay for additional things.” For its long-term plans, Princel plans to source products from other countries and sell them in the UAE.
Watching the bloomers enter the community was a refreshing learning experience for Princel. “One thing I’ve noticed in this community is that people tend to have a mindset that makes them feel demotivated, but determination and persistence are very important to get through it,” she adds.
Dapper Styles – Samantha Nicole
RJ and Samantha founded Dapper Styles Dubai
Samantha and RJ are the founders of Dapper Styles, which has grown into one of the well-known thrift businesses in the game. Their success even prompted them to expand, starting their own marketing agency called Dapper Media Lab.
“Since childhood, I have always dreamed of having my own business, especially in the field of fashion. My partner is also very entrepreneurial, he always says that he doesn’t want to work for someone else and likes to be 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 my partner worked for wasn’t doing very well due to the pandemic, so I encouraged him to start a business similar to mine,” adds Samantha. “We’re both really into fashion and this job gave us the opportunity to use our talents. He’s a videographer and photographer and manages most of the social media, and since I’m 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 work. “As my course is business management, you are really encouraged to build your skills. Some of my classmates also have their own business. One of my classmates has a phone case business, and another is a baker. It helps us apply what we learn in the classroom to real life and share our experiences with each other.”
Although online sales are now in vogue and touted as one of the most convenient ways to conduct business operations, the age-old in-person sale has its advantages.
“During pop-up events, we serve a lot more people because otherwise we don’t always know who the people we’re selling to are behind the screen. Here we can meet children, families, tourists and adults, it really makes a big difference when you have a physical place to sell because we can build better connections,” she says.
Sustainability and prices are among the key factors that attract people to thrift. “We offer two types of clothing; one is thrifted and the other is vintage. Thrift items are cheaper so they are affordable for people, while vintage pieces can be a bit more expensive depending on the brand, quality and age of the piece,” says Samantha.
“Before we even started our store, we were already supporting sustainability because we mostly shopped at thrift stores. We never imagined that we would open our own store and contribute to the well-being 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 thrift 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 throwing out our own clothes and posting them online at a very cheap price,” says Isabelle.
Yzabel Bency Salibio (left) with Ia Qwerl Bency Salibio
With family at the heart of their business, they hold family values and ethics above all else. “In the beginning, we didn’t have capital because it was only from our personal closet, but when our parents saw that we wanted to do this seriously, they were very supportive and helped us financially. Now we can proudly say that we have returned everything to them and turned them into our investors, where they receive a certain amount of profit with interest,” says Yzabel.
The stereotypical image of teenagers in odd clothes is usually what comes to mind when you think of thrift. But age is no barrier when it comes to this sustainable community.
“At first I thought our customers were only in their teens and twenties, but we were surprised to see a diverse demographic. Many times we even have customers in their 30s and 40s. Over time, I realized that thrifting is for everyone, and for older generations when they buy vintage pieces, it’s a nostalgic experience to see clothes they wore years ago come back into fashion,” she adds.
Getting out of your teenage years and starting a business is not the easiest thing, and age can often become an obstacle when taking this unconventional path. “Sometimes older customers see that we are very young, so they don’t trust us as much. I believe that credibility and wisdom come with age, but despite our age we do our best. We do a lot of research and older clients often ask us more questions than usual about our products and processes,” says Yzabel.
Social media rarely gives the full picture. “People often think that our business is booming because of our social media, but we also have our rough patches. At first we were losing, but later we picked up speed. Also, since it’s a business with me and my sister, we have our moments of constant bickering, but working together has definitely made us more mature,” she adds.
Frugal Style – Jaimee Louise Cortez
Jaimee Louise Cortez
Business management student Jaimee, 21, started her online thrift business in collaboration with four of her friends who are studying at the same university. “We saw a growing trend of frugality in the UAE, so we thought it would be the perfect way to earn some money on the side. We started with zero funds in 2020 and sold clothes from the closet, but over time we used it to grow our business,” says Jaimee.
She adds that juggling studies and business does present its own set of challenges. “It’s basically just time management, since we’re a joint business between five people, we share and assign tasks to each other, depending on our schedules, so there’s no burden on one person.”
The main challenge this startup faces as a younger person is having the courage to speak up. “Having the courage to talk to suppliers, being bold about our content and overcoming our inhibitions has helped us reach more people and build relationships,” says Nathaniel Roxas, 21, co-founder of Thrift Style.
One might also wonder why there is a need to shop at these thrift stores when you can buy directly from the warehouse. “One of our main sources is warehouses where we buy clothes in bulk. When you walk into a warehouse, there are piles of clothes everywhere and it can be very difficult to find a good selection. We do it for you. Finding stylish and modern pieces of good quality is something we pride ourselves on. These items are often not washed and are dirty. We do deep cleans for our clients and make sure they get the best out of the lot,” says Roxas.
Talking about their future plans, Jaimee and Nathaniel add that they hope to one day expand into a brick-and-mortar store once they raise more funding. Thrift is definitely here to stay, and it seems more and more people are taking the initiative to go the more sustainable route in fashion.