In a world where we’re all considering our impact on the Earth, “eco-conscious shopping” has become a mainstream marketing tool. Consumers are asking about where their clothes come from, who made it and want alternatives to fast fashion in the interim.
I’ve been thrifting since 2012 and witnessed how this activity entered a rebranding of sorts. Prices have skyrocketed and how those who have no other choice but to shop secondhand are being priced out of an eco-system they helped start.
But things are changing – there are people who are intertwining their politics, social awareness and love for affordable pieces into a business that doesn’t just aim to make a profit.
One of these collectives include Len’z BooTiek – run by my friend Youlendree Appasamy. She’s a writer, one third of the digital collective, Ja Magazine and a femme with a MA degree. We spoke about our love for fashion, brown gal eco-feminism and how thrifting helped us find ourselves.
What’s your history with thrifting and secondhand shopping?
Secondhand clothing was a way of life for me as a kid – I’d wear hand-me-downs from older cousins or young aunts, and that was how clothing shopping went. As I got older, I *hated* that the only new clothes I got were on sale, or on Diwali (it’s a tradition to wear new clothes to celebrate Diwali in). But my aya (grandmother) would always have dope pieces in her closet – she’s a bit of a hoarder – and in her own stock, as she and my grandfather sold knick-knacks, ornaments and second-hand clothing in Durban.
As a teenager I remember waking up at 3/4am to pack up the bakkie and set up stall in town. Those experiences definitely sparked my entrepreneurial spirit when I moved to Jozi – my grandmother helped set me up with some stock she had, as well as with her trusty fanny pack for markets .
The secondhand clothing industry is a way of life for many people who don’t have access to shop in stores/malls. Looking cute shouldn’t be something only rich people do – my grandparents use to sell brand name items and vintage pieces for R5 – R30!
What prompted you to create Len’z Bootiek?
When I moved to Joburg, I was a market fiend – I love flea markets and car boot markets because nostalgia and loneliness, and through my grandparents, I knew what gems lay hidden in unusual places. But, after two years of this, my small bachelor apartment couldn’t fit everything in! And people always asked me where I got my pieces, so I decided to sell some of it (after creating an IG post where I asked my friends if they’d be interested in buying some secondhand clothing I had). This was around 2017, when I started doing my MA, so had some time to spare (read: distract myself from the rigour and fuckery of the academy).
Initially, I was only thinking about selling to friends, and didn’t think of it as a business per say. I had no start-up capital, no clothing rail and paying for a stall was out of the question, so I held little Len’z BooTiek ‘pop-ups’ at my flat in Joburg! They were more successful than I thought they’d be.
Since then, I’ve been focusing more on the Instagram page. It’s still very much a ‘friend of a friend recommended me’ typa place, but I like that.
I try to ride the line between being a Big Boss Lady ™, and just fucking around with fashion and clothes because I like it. I love styling, I love colour, and I love creating weird looks – so Len’S bOOtiek is just a place where I house all those loves. And if it helps me financially – all the better!
And what’s the significance of the spelling/name/etc
LOL! When I created it (and all of it’s funky spellings) it was trying to imbue the project/business/idea with a sense of playfulness. You can’t standardise the name. (I’m an Aquarian and we do these things…).
Also I wanted to play with this idea of an IG Boutique. Very fancy, very pricey (for what!?) and often trying to sell you the same old, same old with little to no thought put in about the piece, or the people they’re selling to. LeN’s BooTiek is not those things.
Have you seen a change in the kinds of people who thrift?
Hmmm, yeah! At university you introduced me to a world of young people thrifting – something catered towards us, and not purely for utility’s sake. And since starting Len’z BooTiek, sustainable fashion has become a commodified thing, so you’ll have people looking to recycle/upcycle clothing, or on ‘no-buys’ (from fast fashion outlets). I just find it really funny because if you know, you know it’s been done for decades by Black and Brown families who were skint on cash, and recycled clothing and used second-hand clothing all the time.
How has thrifting intertwined with your politics, eco-feminism etc?
Firstly, I created Len’z BooTiek as a way of making my understanding of the politics of aesthetics and fashion known and tangible. I am a huge fan of fashion history, and learning how clothing and adornment, like earrings or other jewelry, has performed certain functions at certain times has only helped me further articulate my feelings about fashion and personhood. Fashion can be a radical thing to engage in!
And I want to prioritise that with Len’z BooTiek e.g. when I make earrings, I like making letter earrings that are sweary or that include Lucille Clifton poetry extracts. Wearing those earrings make me feel powerful. And I don’t always feel powerful because of the ways of the world, and the people who reproduce systemic fuckeries.
Fashion and self-styling can be a hugely freeing and feminist act.
Secondly, thrifting is a conscious practice – you are deliberately deciding to re-use something that has been discarded, and that has a positive ecological impact.
I’m not too sure these days if there is such a thing as ethical consumerism, but thrifting feels close to that ideal. And I think about the ways in which I source clothing too – buying at hospices and charity shops, or from people whose sole livelihood is selling second-hand clothes is something I prioritise, so I feel like my money is going to the places it needs to be
Lastly, as much as I’m averse to squads, I like feeling the energy of a collectivity, drawing on the power of collaboration and creative people helping each other out.
Through Len’z BooTiek, that praxis has manifested in things like photoshoot collaborations with friends, or selling at markets with The Foreign Experiment. I like sharing things, and with the support of my fabulous and wonderful friends, things have flourished and the community grows.
Check out LB’s Instagram and have a look at some of Youlendree’s writing