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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.