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Fashion

The Revival Of The Vintage Store In Singapore

Amidst a growing interest in sustainability and nostalgia, the vintage fashion scene in Singapore is getting a reboot.

With sustainability being the latest buzzword and fast fashion speeding its way out of relevance, there seems to be one direction that fashion is headed – to the past.

Vintage is back in style, after falling off the radar somewhat in the last decade – when the era of minimalism ruled with the clean and stark silhouettes created by the likes of Celine’s Phoebe Philo and Jil Sander’s Raf Simons. But when celebrities like Kim Kardashian-West are seen painting the town red in vintage Mugler and Alaia, it’s clear that the rest of the world will follow.

Going Vintage In Singapore

The past few years have seen a steady interest in vintage clothing with a cluster of boutiques popping up in Singapore in both the brick-and-mortar and digital space. One of them is Baju Mama Vintage, co-founded in 2016 by singer/songwriter Lou Peixin, 27.

She started the business because she felt that affordable vintage wear in Singapore was scarce at the time. “We specialise in women’s clothing and accessories from the ’50s to the ’90s,” she says. “We get our pieces from all over the world – sometimes when we travel, other times online. We also have pieces sourced locally, and we try to get pieces from different eras.”

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Azzurra La Mantia, owner of A Vintage Tale

The interest in vintage has always been cyclical, she believes: “The interest now can be attributed to the growing awareness among the young, including celebrities of our generation, about the impact of fast fashion on climate change, and the sustainable nature of vintage.”

Read More: This Miuccia Prada Superfan Has Been Amassing A Prada Wardrobe Since 1987

“The use of social media has made it easier for fashion inspiration to be shared, especially to a younger generation,” says Azzurra La Mantia, the Italian-born owner of The Vintage Tale, a charming little boutique in the heart of Joo Chiat. She moved to Singapore two years ago, where she noticed a lack of vintage boutiques compared to the proliferation of fast fashion stores.

“I would love to see more interest in vintage fashion as not only does it promote sustainability, it gives people the opportunity to gain knowledge about the history of fashion,” she says.

“The interest now can be attributed to the growing awareness among the young, including celebrities of our generation, about the impact of fast fashion on climate change, and the sustainable nature of vintage.” – Lou Peixin

Sustainability and individuality

For some time now, there has been a pushback against fast fashion and fashion brands in general about the high wastage in the industry and the effect it has on the environment. For woke millennials too, there has been a move towards less consumption, recycling, and upcycling, which are all the values that the vintage trend represents. Another aspect is individuality, especially in this Instagram era, when authenticity and originality garner the most likes. And what better way to stand out than to style oneself in one-of-a-kind clothes.

Even before the advent of social media, Tracy Phillips, 42, founder of lifestyle marketing consultancy Ppurpose, understood the allure of vintage fashion. She discovered it in her early teens, when she would mix and match clothes from different eras. “If you really love clothes and being creative with your looks, having access to every decade is mind-blowing – and that’s what vintage allows.”

Read More: Watch Video: Curing Our Shopping Blues During Isolation With Vintage Store Owner Azzurra La Mantia

Kelly Yeo, a pioneer in the vintage clothing scene in Singapore, agrees about the unique appeal of vintage. The 43-year-old owner of Deja Vu Vintage explains that because of the smaller scale in production in the old days, everything was usually custom made and limited to just one piece. And with prices of vintage dresses averaging at $100 at her store, “it’s really well-priced for something that’s one-of-a-kind without having to custom make it”.

Doing good while looking great

Cheryl Ow, 43, always feels good when she buys vintage clothes. A fan since her 20s, the professional make up artist is content knowing that she is helping to reduce the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills, “even if it’s only by a little bit”.

While she usually went for thrift shop buys when she was younger, her tastes have since become more discerning, as she scours the racks of stores like The Vintage Tale for well-curated luxury pieces such as a Fendi Monogram shoulder bag or Givenchy jacket.

For marketing executive and photographer Amiera Raushan, sustainable fashion isn’t just about buying from eco-conscious brands. The 26-year-old says: “Vintage shopping, clothes swapping and thrifting are some ways to fulfill the desire for something new, without being environmentally irresponsible.”

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Dustbunny Vintage is one of the few vintage retailers here which carries luxury handbags like Chanel, Hermès, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.

Vintage taboos

What about the stigma of hand-me-downs and the taboo that comes with buying a used garment? With almost three decades of being in the vintage business in Singapore, Pia Chew, founder of Dustbunny Vintage, feels that “the stigma is not a thing anymore.” In fact, she has a good number of customers from China in their 20s and 30s who are very savvy and well-informed on vintage fashion.

Lou echoes the same sentiments for Baju Mama Vintage, adding that she has many customers who purchase vintage pieces for Chinese New Year. “The New Year tradition has always been about buying new clothes… [but] it seems like one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And in our case, we’re hopeful that the stigma is slowly but surely fading with our generation.”

“If you really love clothes and being creative with your looks, having access to every decade is mind-blowing – and that’s what vintage allows.” – Tracy Phillips

Covid-19 and beyond

Like other aspects of retail, the vintage boutiques suffered a hit during the circuit-breaker when shops were not allowed to open. “We did see a drop in sales from April to June,” says Dustbunny’s Chew. “For those three months, business dropped by 65 per cent. But now, it’s back to normal.” If anything, she says, “With more time on their hands, consumers will be more discerning when picking out fashion for themselves.”

For Baju Mama, which is a purely online business, Ms. Lou says, “We didn’t see any change in consumption habits as a result of Covid-19.” Going forward, vintage players are confident that its appeal is here to stay.

Says La Mantia, “Many luxury fashion brands are already taking inspiration from the past, especially the iconic eras such as the ’70s and ’80s. The clothing from these periods holds distinctive features which I feel are eternal. So I do feel that the trend of wearing vintage clothes would be constantly growing.”

Photos Joel Chan, Yeng Meng Jiin, Gavin Foo, Baju Mama Vintage & Dark Horse Vintage

This article first appeared in The Business Times.

DUSTBUNNY VINTAGE
When Pia Chew opened Dust-bunny Vintage in 2003, there were not many fast-fashion retailers, so options were very limited for the more budget-conscious. But more fast fashion brands started creeping in towards the later part of the 2000s and local brands started feeling the competition.   Chew’s success in keeping her business afloat lies in constantly reinventing the brand to stay relevant to the consumer. “Reimagining or reworking a vintage dress, for example, is one way to meet this challenge,” she explains. Dustbunny Vintage is also one of the few vintage retailers here which also carries vintage luxury handbags like Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton, to name a few.   Dustbunny Vintage is at 2A Keong Saik Rd A VINTAGE TALE
Her background in the luxury fashion industry for a decade definitely helped to shape her passion with fashion. When Azzurra La Mantia left her job, she started her online vintage store in Italy in 2015. But her husband moved his business to Singapore, where  La Mantia decided to transition from an online store into a brick-and-mortar one.   Just like her grandmother who owned a fashion boutique in the 70s, Ms. La Mantia feels very connected to vintage fashion because she feels that giving clothes that are still in great wearable condition a new lease of life is a great way to champion a more sustainable future. “Besides, it is nearly impossible to find such timely workmanship and distinguishing characteristics in fast fashion!,” she says.   A Vintage Tale is at 277 Joo Chiat Road DEJA VU VINTAGE
Kelly Yeo left her corporate job to pursue her passion for all things vintage when she opened Deja Vu Vintage in 2006. “There were two other vintage stores that started about the same time (Op shop & Granny’s Day Out), but we are regrettably the only one left standing,” she says.   Yeo’s positioning for her boutique is quite different from the rest of her competitors. She takes pride that Deja Vu Vintage is one of the few vintage boutiques in Singapore that sells premium vintage clothing. She says: “Over the years we have started stocking a range of rare and valuable designer labels such as vintage Chanel, vintage YSL and vintage Pucci.” Situated in Millenia Walk, Yeo’s business strategy in sourcing for premium vintage is on point as many of her customers are high net worth individuals.   Deja Vu Vintage is at #01-70, Millenia Walk DARK HORSE VINTAGE
“When I first moved back home from London, I missed the weekend flea markets, thrifting and car boot sales,” says Jasmine Chee, 35, owner of online vintage store Dark Horse Vintage. Chee noticed the lack of individuality in the local scene. “It was flooded with either high street retailers or blogshops,” she laments.   Local fashion was “generic, safe and lacking individual style”, so she started Dark Horse Vintage to fill the gap. Chee feels that the most challenging part of the business is educating her customers. And she takes it upon herself to share her knowledge about the vintage pieces she carries – how to style it and incorporate it with the existing pieces in their wardrobe, as well as care and storage.   Shop Darkhorse Vintage online BAJU MAMA VINTAGE
According to Lou Peixin, “If you’ve ever gone vintage shopping, you’ll know that it always feels like a treasure hunt.”  Lou who is the co-founder of Baju Mama Vintage and also a singer and songwriter has been a vintage fan since she was a student. According to her, “finding out about the history and provenance of every vintage item” is what appeals to her.   “For example, many Japanese vintage clothing pieces are embroidered on the inside with the name of the original owner,” she explains. Championing diversity in the female appearance is one of her brand’s core messages so Lou makes sure that the clothes they source come in a variety of sizes and styles.   Shop Baju Mama Vintage online