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Fashion

Loop Garms: The Store Changing Up Singapore's Vintage Scene

A large claim? Possibly, but not one without merits.

Say “vintage store” and the first thing that probably comes to mind is memorabilia from popularly referenced decades such as the ’60s and the ’70s. This is not the case at the chimeric Loop Garms, which bills itself as a “vintage/new/used clothing store”. Opened in February, the store was started by 26-year-old first-time entrepreneurs, Fengjia Sai (commonly called FJ) and Isaac Ang.

Loop Garms founders FJ Sai (left) and Isaac Ang

If the multi-faceted nature of the store sounds confusing, it wasn’t a haphazard choice. Sai says Loop Garms is meant to reflect their philosophy of being accessible. “We try to bring in things that will allow our customers to experiment in a way they may not be able to in other stores in Singapore. One thing we don’t want to do is limit ourselves, because the moment we do that, we (also) limit the different profiles of customers that come in. That goes against what we want to be – which is (being) inclusive and welcoming!”

The inclusive vibe is not the sole reason the store is doing a roaring business but it’s certainly part of Loop Garms’ offhanded charm. Located beneath an innocuous HDB block on Veerasamy Road, the store is no more than a minute’s walk from Jalan Besar station. Walking in, it’s almost as if you’ve stepped into an old-school neighbourhood barber – the store is a no-frills space decked out in racks of ’80s/’90s apparel such as fishing vests, plaid pants, sports jackets and a wide variety of movie/band/graphic T-shirts from brands such as Nike, Adidas, Fila and more. Prices start from $10 for T-shirts and caps, $35 for outerwear and $50 for bags.

Keeping things in that same egalitarian spirit, Loop Garms does not reserve items – the duo posts daily Stories on Instagram (@loopgarms) showcasing what’s available to their 8,500-strong following – and things tend to go quickly, especially for rare pieces such as Supreme x Nike Air Max 98 sneakers, which saw fans queuing for hours before the store opened.

Given that the majority of their audience comprises of youths as young as 14 to those in their 20s, it’s small wonder that you’ll also find plenty of memorabilia from the ’90s and ’00s, such as Game Boys and X-men comics (Sai is a big fan), though those are usually from Sai and Ang’s own collection and aren’t for sale.

Here, we speak to the duo on what goes on behind the scenes at Loop Garms.

What’s the story behind the name?

“Garms” is just a shortened version of ‘garments’, which is what we deal with pretty much! “Loop” is in reference to the buy-sell-trade nature of what we do – used clothes find a second life when they come through our shop. “Loop” is also from the expression ‘stay in the loop’, so there you go!

What prompted you guys to get into this business?

We were really into vintage clothes back when in polytechnic, but at that time we didn’t have Instagram shops, Carousell, or any of those easy trading platforms to look for stuff like that. We bought stuff that we liked from eBay, and paid stupid shipping prices for them.

So anyway, yes we’ve always had an interest in vintage clothes, whether it was collecting them, buying them, or wearing them. Starting the store was a way to pay homage to our passion for vintage clothes, and also as a way to allow like-minded people to connect with one another.

A joint trip to Japan sometime towards the end of our poly years opened our eyes to the vintage/thrift/buy-sell-trade scene that was beyond the borders of Singapore. We saw big shops like Kinji (a famous second-hand store located in Harajuku) and were completely overwhelmed with the experience of looking through racks and racks of clothes to find things that really spoke to us.

It was an experience we wanted to bring back to Singapore but alas, we were only young poly students back then with duties to fulfil. After the trip, life happened – we continued on with our studies, went to NS, went to uni, and went out to work – until we finally revisited the idea of bringing back that wonderful experience we had overseas, and opened Loop Garms earlier this year.

You’ve stated that Loop Garms is a vintage/used/buy-sell-trade store. Where do you source most of your buys from and from who? How does the “trade” part work?

We have regional and international contacts to help us out with that! As much as we can, we go down to pick the items personally, but when we cannot, our contacts help us out by sending the items over.

Customers are more than welcome to bring down items to sell to us – we’ll offer them either cash, or store credit. For cash, we’ll give them about 30 to 40 per cent of what we’ll sell the item for, and then for store credit, we’ll give higher, about 50 to 60 per cent. The percentages depend a lot on the model and make of the item, and whether the item is something that will move or sit in the store.

Store credit is kinda like a voucher, say if we offer them $20 store credit, and if they see something they like in the store that’s $25, they only need to pay $5 up front for the item. There are occasions where we’ve done straight trades with customers, depending on our valuation of the item!

Vintage used to focus more on clothes from the 50s and ’60s – yet the look at Loop Garms seem to cater to people seeking specifically for the ’90s. Would you say this is what differentiates you guys from “traditional” vintage stores?

We think it’s easier to talk about the 90s simply because it’s a period of time that we were from – so talking about it and advocating the styles from that era makes sense because it’s something we’ve personally experienced.

What really separates us from other vintage stores in Singapore is the fact that we try to bring in a huge variation of items. Also, we don’t want to declare ourselves as an “only vintage” store, which is why we described ourselves as a “Vintage/New/Used Clothing Store in Singapore” on our Instagram profile! Certain vintage stores in Singapore have a “look” to them, e.g. they may only want to bring in band/movie/graphic tees, or they may only want to bring in granny dresses and bell bottom pants, but for us, we feel like the possibilities are endless.

How do you verify the authenticity of the pieces you bring in?

A lot of it is based on our own experience – what we’ve learnt from our own love for vintage pieces, and what we’ve learned from other customers and friends as well – and a lot of Googling. If at any point of time we feel like we are unsure about something that we’re buying in, we’ll pass on it totally just to be truly safe.

What are some Holy Grail pieces that have previously sold?

The definition of Holy Grail pieces differ for everybody, but we’ll just mention some of the items that were dear to us!

We’ve sold a Jordan cap before, it was stunningly embroidered, with a beautiful Jumpman logo as its clasp – we can’t remember how much we put it out at, but it’s likely $39.90 or so. When that went out, we were a bit sad because it was such a pretty cap. So when we came by two caps with similar designs, we decided we’d keep them for a bit before we are emotionally ready to sell them again.

Not exactly a “vintage” piece per se, but we’ve also sold a Supreme x Nike Air Max 98 at a price that everybody else said was a steal for what the item was actually worth. But to be honest, on our part, we just wanted to do the community a good one and put it out at a price that was friendly!

You don’t advertise but you’ve racked up a following of more than 8,000. What do you think factored into such a loyal following on social media?

We think part of the reason why we’ve managed that kind of following is because we only have one social media outlet, and that’s Instagram. In earlier days, we actually created a Facebook page too, but then we realised that we had absolutely no time or hands to manage that, because it’s just the two of us running the show.

Loop Garms is located at 635 Veerasamy Rd, #01-148

Photography Zaphs Zhang