This thrift maven is not only drastically growing her own local, inclusive, sustainable business, but she also empowers others to do the same.
Wits graduate Gabrielle Onay has redefined much of the second-hand scene in Johannesburg through their thrift store “Crybaby Thrift” and popular sustainable flea market “Picnic and Thrift”.
Born in 1999 in Johannesburg, Onay describes herself as a “seichel” – a Yiddish term which is associated with someone who uses ingenuity, creativity, subtlety and nuance in their work and life.
While doing her undergraduate BA degree in sociology and Portuguese – she would later achieve an honours in sociology – Onay wanted to find a way to make money as a university student to not only feed her cigarette addiction but to pay for fees.
With a lifelong interest in fashion, “thrifting” (the reselling of second-hand items) and passion for sustainability, culminated in her online business. Onay hates everything about fast fashion due to its harmful effects on both labour and the environment. “[Big companies] have proven themselves as bad for this earth,” she said.
In 2018, she began marketing her second-hand clothing on Instagram using the name “Crybaby Thrift,” which gained a substantial following and quickly expanded into selling merchandise made with upcycled clothes. In the process of upcycling, Onay uses businesses run by other Wits students to print and embryoid designs.
In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Onay said that she believes that a new future of exchange is dawning – with thrift being its new currency. “Sustainability is our generation’s way forward,” said Onay.
In 2019 Onay, alongside sustainable gift shop owner and close friend Ruby Prager created a market, Picnic and Thrift, comprised of young business owners from the university community. Onay described them as “the thrifters of Wits”.
Underestimating their pull, Onay and Prager needed to find a bigger space after attracting several hundred visitors to their own backyard in Houghton. The monthly market attracts around 2 000 visitors, with around 40 thrift and sustainable product stalls.
The market also prides itself on being a “queer-friendly space” – one which allows members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community to not only grow and support their businesses but allow for free, unfiltered self-expression for attendees. Truthfully so, the event has become very much synonymous with the Johannesburg queer scene.
Rewoven, a company that sells materials and products made from textile waste, came across Onay’s work, and wrote the following:
“Crybaby Thrift sits in the heart of queer eccentric culture – it is a curated and unique brand that is centred around sustainability, high fashion, and ethical consumption and development. Crybaby Thrift is also a community and small business development hub.“
Onay describes this as intentional to change a narrative around the Joburg queer community as “not just being associated with hard nightlife.” She describes the space as “lovely, gentle and welcoming.”
Prager described their pure happiness at witnessing Onay’s business and personal growth. “Watching Gabi [alongside other student businesses] grow in the space that they have, has been incredible. I cannot wait to see what they do next. I cannot wait to see what we do next.”
As much as Onay has achieved in this sustainable business adventure, she says that she is just getting started. So, watch out fashion industry – Gabrielle is coming for you one pre-loved item at a time.
FEATURED: Thrifter and businesswoman Gabrielle Onay sorting through her upcycled Crybaby Thrift clothing products. Photo: Seth Thorne
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