Forget the boutiques, thrifting may just find you that fashion gem

Shopping at garage sales and hospice shops, thrifters find fashion gems to satisfy a growing appetite for high-end second-hand clothes, writes Leonie Wagner

19 September 2021 - 00:01
Former footballer Pinky Matjekane has created a thrifting niche selling high-end shoes.
Former footballer Pinky Matjekane has created a thrifting niche selling high-end shoes.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

It's a Wednesday afternoon in the Johannesburg CBD. De Villiers Street is a cacophony of blaring music, hooting taxis and hawkers pushing their goods.

One can be heard shouting: "T-shirts for R10!" Another yells: "Leather jackets, R100!" Vehicles can barely make it down the street as hundreds of shoppers trawl this outdoor shopping centre, sifting through heaps of clothing - T-shirts, jackets, jeans, dresses, underwear. On each table are cardboard placards with hand-written price tags: R7, R10, R20, R50, R100.

We're in Dunusa. To the untrained eye it's mayhem, but to Amber Rossouw and Pinky Matjekane, it's a thrifting paradise.

They are the new generation of thrifters who buy vintage designer clothes at charity shops, thrift stores and markets and sell them on social media.

Rossouw, 23, started thrifting as a teenager. The Pretoria illustrator was introduced to thrifting at the Arts on Main market in Johannesburg. Initially she only bought clothes for herself but started running out of wardrobe space.

"I basically got to the point where I had too much stuff and I had to find a way to get rid of it. There's a market called the Vintage Square Thrift Fair in Pretoria that I've been attending for years. So I thought maybe I'll just get a stall there for one month. I was surprised by how well it went, and how much I enjoyed it," Rossouw says.

Throughout 2018 she kept going back to the market and realised she could turn it into a side hustle while studying. In October 2018 she started her Instagram page Thrift Culture.

After graduating in 2019 from Open Window college in Centurion, Gauteng, she was unable to find a job as an illustrator and settled for a corporate job as a graphic designer. She was still only posting periodically on her Instagram page. It wasn't until the lockdown hit and she lost her job that she found herself with ample time.

If a T-shirt has a hole, the simple fix is to cut it and turn it into a crop top.
If a T-shirt has a hole, the simple fix is to cut it and turn it into a crop top.
Image: Masi Losi

"In some way I'm glad the lockdown happened and I lost my job. There was nothing else to do so I thought I'd just sell all the clothes I have on Instagram. Weirdly enough, thrifting wasn't that big of a thing back then. It kind of bloomed last year, in, like, a matter of three months," she says.

At her home in Pretoria East, her study-turned-office holds black storage boxes, one for the items she's sold and another for those that haven't sold and which she'll take to the next market, and a plastic shelf with fabric offcuts. She also has a railing with new items, colour co-ordinated, that she's yet to upload on her Instagram page. Rossouw runs a tight ship.

On Mondays she does deliveries, on Tuesdays she sources clothes and on Wednesdays she takes pictures and uploads them to her Instagram page. See something you like, start bidding. She says this is to add to the fun of it all.

She doesn't need to trek all the way to the Johannesburg CBD for clothes because there are several hospices, charity stores and other thrift stores in Pretoria where she can get her stock.

Quality is a priority. She doesn't buy "fast fashion" and tries to get unique vintage items. Her motto is "There's nothing that can't be sold again" and she's also learnt that people don't mind wearing worn-out clothes.

If a T-shirt has a hole, the simple fix is to cut it and turn it into a crop top. Missing a button? No problem, sew on a new one or wear it without a button. She's wearing a black sleeveless cropped corduroy shirt missing a button. Rossouw proudly states that all her clothes and shoes are second-hand, with the disclaimer that this doesn't include underwear.

One of her challenges is finding unique items to sell. In August she struggled to get anything and says this is the nature of the business. Luck and patience play a big part.

There's nothing that can't be sold again
Amber Rossouw

"I really enjoy digging through stuff to find a little treasure, that feeling I get when I find something cool, it's like I just won the lottery.

"I remember when I started selling, when I'd go out sourcing, sometimes I get to the hospice [shop] and I'll just see all of the things I have to go through and I'd just turn around and leave thinking I don't have the energy for this. But recently I get in a zone where I want to go through those clothes, it's just kind of therapeutic in a sense," she says.

Her passion for thrifting isn't just linked to the joy of sifting through pre-owned clothing; it's about the environment too. Rossouw is all about sustainability and doing her bit to save the planet.

The fashion industry has disastrous impacts on the environment. Fast fashion has made clothing more affordable, but at a greater cost to the planet. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, just behind the oil industry.

According to the UN Environment Programme, textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of water globally. In many countries, untreated toxic waste from textile factories is dumped into rivers. A lot of clothing ends up in landfills.

"The amount of waste that ends up in landfills, it's just ridiculous and the fact that it doesn't decompose... we need to start rethinking. I don't think thrifting is the answer, but it's a step into a more ethical way where we can make fashion that's ethically and sustainably made," Rossouw says.

Over in Fourways, Johannesburg, former Banyana Banyana footballer Pinky Matjekane also has a passion for fashion and a purpose behind her thrifting business. Matjekane, 37, was introduced to thrifting in the US when she was studying at Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University.

"I first met these guys in the US in around 2010/2011. I wanted to come back home to SA and I had too many clothes that I didn't want to give away or sell. So a friend of mine introduced me to these guys.

They have a shipping company, but they also do thrifting. So basically they thrift clothes, shoes, bags from the US to different countries in Africa. They get the clothes from charities, runways, some are donations from different organisations. From there they have guys in different counties that distribute the clothes," Matjekane says.

It wasn't until she was back in SA and working as a marketing manager that she revisited the idea of selling clothes. She started off with bracelets and scarves. Like Rossouw, Matjekane also lost her job during the lockdown. And this also gave her an opportunity to grow her thrifting business.

"In 2019 I was still working and during lunchtime I'd go knock on office doors selling clothes. I started having a database of people who would buy from me. In 2020, when Covid-19 hit, my business boomed.

I really enjoy digging through stuff to find a little treasure, that feeling I get when I find something cool, it's like I just won the lottery.
Amber Rossouw

"Most people didn't have anything to do except scroll on their phones," she says.

"I realised that I'm happy doing this and I can make more money from thrifting. It's been amazing. So what I'm looking for moving forward is to probably get a shop. We still have people who are old school, who want to come and feel and touch and fit," she says.

At her Fourways apartment, large carrier bags are filled with designer shoes, Gucci loafers, Bottega Veneta boots, Prada brogues, Thom Browne shoes and Dr Martens boots. Matjekane knocks on the heels of the shoes to demonstrate their authenticity.

Initially she sourced her stock in Dunusa, Small Street and Marabastad. But she's since been collecting items from charities in the US and Europe. Some people have also directly contacted Matjekane asking her to sell their items.

Her niche is vintage designer shoes. But with certain high-end brands like Gucci and Versace, there's the risk of acquiring fakes. Having travelled extensively to the fashion capitals of Europe, Matjekane has learnt to spot the real from the fake.

She has an app that helps to verify the item and she authenticates her stock with a leading outlet of second-hand luxury goods based in Sandton.

The footballer, from Soshanguve , Tshwane, also cares about the harm the fashion industry does.

"Buying second-hand clothes is actually eco-friendly, but you are also giving clothes a new life. Most importantly, it reduces chemical pollution that can cause . diseases."

There are hundreds of social media users getting into thrifting. For Rossouw it's great that everyone is "jumping onto the thrifting bandwagon". She was initially concerned that with more people selling thrift fashion online, she'd struggle to find unique garments, but that hasn't been the case.

"I have the opportunity to create awareness for a more sustainable way to live. That is really what I've always wanted to do," says Rossouw.


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