Bonnie and Clyde: Resurrected and recycled clothing

Submitted by: Tholakele Nene, Thursday, January 31, 2013

<p>Bonnie and Clyde promotes the concept of reuse by restoring vintage clothes for resale (Image courtesy of Jessica Rich).</p>

Bonnie and Clyde promotes the concept of reuse by restoring vintage clothes for resale (Image courtesy of Jessica Rich).

Bonnie and Clyde is an upmarket vintage clothing boutique that promotes the method of upcycling and reuse by taking old, previously worn clothing from before the 1980’s and giving the items a modern twist before hanging them up for the consumer. “It is largely considered that the 1980s was the first time we saw mass production on the scale we know today”, says Jessica Rich, owner of Bonnie and Clyde. The idea behind the boutique “is to add value to existing products” rather than selling brand new pieces, says Rich.  

The business idea was sparked by Rich’s passion for the environment and love of vintage. With an intense environmental background accumulated from years of working in the environmental management field, Rich was inspired to “reinvent last century’s classics for the 21st century” through a unique method of upcycling. Upcycling is the term used when converting waste materials or products that are no longer being used into new materials or products of better quality.

Nestled behind the Corner Café, in Glenwood, Durban,  the three year old business is run and managed by Rich and caters for “anyone seeking individuality and looking for that item that makes a statement“,says Rich.

Promoting reuse and reduction

Rich collects old items from both international and local designers, flea markets, attics and church bazaars. The items collected are then assessed for suitability and whether they can go into the shop or require “touch-ups” before being sold. Rich washes, re-buttons, re-zips and in many cases alters them before displaying them in the shop. The idea is that “If you come into the shop, you see something you like; you buy it and can wear it immediately”, she says. “Everything at the shop is off the peg”, says Rich.

The clothes collected are repaired and washed before entering the store

Less energy and resources are used to bring old clothes back to life at Bonnie and Clyde than compared to making a new item from scratch. “I basically take an old dress, wash it and send it to the seamstress and she replaces a missing button, a zip or fixes a hole and we put it back in the store. This means that because the shop is using second hand clothing, we are reducing the need for new fabrics to be produced using raw materials”, explains Rich. The business also upcycles left over material and accessories and uses it towards creating new items. For example, some of the jewellery at the store is made from old earrings, buttons and brooches that can no longer be worn. In this way these items are repurposed and are prevented from ending up at landfill sites.

Benefits for the environment

Speaking about the environmental benefits of selling reused clothing, Rich says, “In terms of benefits for the environment I’m profiling the concept of quality and it’s when you start looking at lower numbers in production with higher quality fabrics that have stood the test of time that you see the benefits of a more artisanal approach in the original production. This coupled with the multiple ownership of each piece means real sustainability. In addition, I think Durban’s climate allows people to wear the same dress for twelve months of the year which contributes to the minimisation of environmental impact. I think that’s important, basically re-using is ideal; I’m not going out and commissioning new fabrics to be made.”

The business also extends into recycling by making postcards that can be re-used as stickers around the house or business, which in turn “brings a bit of beauty to the world and your fridge” she adds.

And instead of printing pamphlets and flyers to advertise her business, Rich uses the social networks to market her business, saving on both energy and paper which would otherwise add to landfill waste.

Moreover, the shop gives back to the community by promoting local business. Rich partners with a local cobbler, seamstress and jeweller in making and fixing pieces for her shop.

Benefits to the customer

The business is not only a vintage heaven for the consumer but it also provides “quality cuts that are better and more affordable”, says Rich. Some of the stock is from overseas and some is local, giving the consumer a variety to pick from. Moreover it saves them from purchasing “flimsy fabric” that tears easily, “they get more worth for their buck” and if the customer is unhappy with their purchase they can always bring it back, she says.

The benefits of running a store that sells reused clothing 

Jessica Rich, owner of Bonnie and Clyde,  is passionate about giving back to the community and the environment.

Besides enjoying the business because it feeds into her hobby, Rich loves the idea that she can contribute to job opportunities, promoting of local skills and encouraging a culture of upcycling and recycling. She enjoys meeting new customers  everyday, the “great wardrobe” she gets from the clothing she collects and also having a sustainable income.

However, says Rich, for anyone considering a similar business they should consider that the market is quite small and “you will make marginal profit”. Moreover, she adds, you have to consider the threshold  of “what are people willing to pay”. So the business is more of a passion for the environment and vintage clothing then it is for making a quick buck and one has to also be aware that stock takes a while to find.

“A lot of my clients go to the same charity shops that I do but they have to take the risk that there’s something wrong with it (item) and they often have to get it altered and it just gets stuck in the cupboard  because they don’t have time to go to a seamstress - it’s a lot to do. So I’ve tried to balance my costs against getting everything done, against being reasonable. Increasingly I have been getting people coming in and selling their own stock and then I get the story behind the clothes.”

In an economic crunch people will buy less and often of higher quality which needs to last. Bonnie and Clyde provides customers with a unique opportunity to enhance their individuality while also playing a vital role socially, environmentally and economically.

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Tholakele Nene