Making a career out of sustainable vintage clothing with Vintagewknd
28-year-olds Eileen Tan and Eden Tay turned their love for thrifting vintage clothes into a full-time job.
From a side hustle to a full-time business, 28-year-old Eileen Tan and Eden Tay have certainly come a long way with their sustainable retail brand, Vintagewknd.
The couple, who share a love for vintage clothing, have rehomed over 36,000 vintage items through their online and physical store located at Serangoon North and numerous pop-up events.
With over 33,000 followers on Instagram, the brand is known for their wallet-friendly vintage and reworked pieces in styles spanning from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
“Our vision is to focus on the reworked side of our brand to make clothes that are sustainable yet trendy. We do not use new fabrics at all so we hope to provide people with a better alternative,” Eileen said.
Since 2018, Vintagewknd has also released several reworked clothing collections. They work with garment waste factories in developing countries that help to produce the clothes as an alternative to the fast fashion industry.
Youthopia spoke with Eileen and Eden to find out more about what it’s like running a vintage fashion store full-time.
Turning thrifting into a Carousell passion project
The idea first started when the couple was travelling around Europe in 2015. Eileen, whose wardrobe was often filled with vintage finds from 1950s dresses to bold printed shirts of the 1980s, bought plenty of clothes at thrift stores there to add to her collection.
With extra vintage clothing from their trip to Europe, the couple then decided to sell their clothes on Carousell. They thus started Vintagewknd — a name inspired by their love for retro fashion and their time spent together as a couple during the weekends.
Their goal was to offer vintage clothing at an affordable price. And with a wide selection of blouses, dresses and apparel in various abstract prints, it was not long before they began to notice a growing demand for their classic pieces.
“We used to be ‘knee deep’ in a lot of the clothes at my house and we also modelled some of these pieces and took photos,” said Eileen.
For three years, they continued to operate Vintagewknd part-time from Eileen’s home as they juggled their time between school and work. Eileen was working at an oil and gas firm while Eden was studying full-time at the Singapore Institute of Management.
“Back then, we would do everything ourselves, we would be physically there to manage the pop-up stores and after that we would pack and mail out the packages we sold online,” said Eden, who handles administration, logistics, finance and customer queries, while Eileen manages the marketing and styling of the clothes.
Every three to four months, the duo travelled to Japan, Korea and other Southeast Asian countries to visit their suppliers’ warehouses for deadstock fabrics and vintage apparels on top of school and work.
“When we had to travel for sourcing, Eden would have to study on the plane while I worked on my stock listings for work,” Eileen said.
“I think having to commit so much to the brand also meant that we can’t spend as much time as we would like together. It was frustrating at first, but I think we learnt how to compartmentalise our time [for each other],” Eden said.
Taking the leap of faith to run Vintagewknd full-time
To celebrate Vintagewknd’s third anniversary in 2018, Eileen and Eden held another pop-up booth at Bedok Mall. This event in particular was a significant milestone for them.
“We really put a lot of effort and time into our pop-ups, so we felt we were ready to consider going into business full-time with sufficient experience and money,” Eileen said.
By then, Eileen had gained some work experience and Eden was already planning to look for a job after graduating from university.
With a small investment of $2,000, Eileen and Eden decided to work on Vintagewknd full time and expanded their business into a physical store at Serangoon in 2018.
“I think we felt both excited and apprehensive. Pursuing the opportunity and investing our time and money in our ideas meant we would have to sacrifice the financial security of being an employee and take on the responsibility of our own business,” Eileen said.
Despite the initial concerns, the couple was confident in their vision to make sustainable fashion accessible. Having built a strong customer base who were largely supportive of their brand, they decided to give it a try going full-time.
Growing their business
On top of running their store, Eileen and Eden also conceptualise the themes for Vintagewknd’s collections and manage their online content.
Running a physical store led Eileen and Eden to meet more customers in person, especially during their warehouse sales organised once every few months.
“For me, I enjoy communicating with the customers. It’s the best part as I can talk and engage with them,” Eden said.
But running a physical store also meant added responsibilities for the couple.
“Running the store can be challenging and taking care of the online side of our business is quite a 24/7 task since customers expect to reach us anytime, not only during office hours,” Eileen said.
The duo then expanded their team to four full-timers who assist them in videography and social media management. Having a team of full-timers helped them manage the business better and create more ideas for the brand.
“Even though we have worked with many part-timers in the past, I think employing a full-time team now gives us a significant sense of responsibility towards our staff. Being an employer is pretty different from being an employee,” Eileen said.
Challenges of running a business during COVID-19
As retail businesses took a hit because of COVID-19, so did Vintagewknd as Eileen and Eden were unable to organise their warehouse sales.
“The space used to be packed and then there would be queues down the entire corridor through the lift but obviously that’s extremely dangerous now so we can do that,” Eden said.
“I think we were financially going up and down, which was rather terrifying,” Eden said.
COVID-19 also affected the supply of Vintagewknd’s items and there was an increase in shipping and materials costs due to the borders being closed.
“Ultimately we’re still dealing with the constant changes in stock flow, however I think our main challenge during this period is on the consumer side. With the economy dipping and many uncertainties, it is difficult to maintain our sales,” Eileen said.
With in-store sales affected, the duo engaged with their customers through Instagram Live videos. Thankfully, they managed to continue making sales as customers shopped via their online store.
Eileen continued: “We’re actually really glad to have each other and our team to depend on when things get stressful.”
Advice for those who want to start a business
Before going full-time, both Eileen and Eden had very different career plans as they juggled between their business and personal lives.
Drawing from their collective experience as business owners, Eileen advises those who are interested in running their own businesses to start off as a side hustle first.
“There’s definitely a lot of ups and downs if you want to make a leap even as a side hustle. You always need to prepare for the downs and you cannot get complacent. On good days, you have to save [money] for a rainy day,” Eden added.
They also encouraged youth to pursue their interests and work hard while they have fewer commitments.
Eden said: “If you have the idea, you will regret not trying. The longer the wait, the bigger the regret.”