Online shopping keeps students en vogue and in the money

University students, who are expected to have low disposable incomes, are also self-proclaimed big spenders in the world of fashion. However, their love of trending fashion has also encouraged them to be entrepreneurs by contributing to thrifting culture.

A group of fashion loving third-year students wearing thrifted items clothing for a friendly lunch at Mall of Africa. They held their masks in their hands as to keep covid-19 from ruining their style. Photo: Thobekile Moyo.

On March 23, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown which was intended to last 21 days but was extended into an indefinite phased lockdown. The national lockdown called for a temporary closure of the economy, as the South African public was under strict orders to remain homebound, only exiting to purchase essential items.  

Clothing sales during level 5 lockdown were rare due to the closure of retail stores –; until the government made provisions for South Africans to buy winter attireIn order to lower the risk of the spread of covid-19, a switch to online shopping was recommended and, the retail fashion industry rose to the occasion.  

According to a survey conducted by UNCTAD52% of participants agreed they have found themselves shopping online more often than they did before the covid-19 pandemic. The participants were canvassed from nine countries, including South Africa. Among the participants currently in university, 58% admitted shopping online more frequently, compared to before the outbreak of covid-19. Since the outbreak, online fashion sales increased by 2%. 

DrMarike Venter de Villiers is a senior lecturer and head of the marketing department at Wits University, specialising in fashion marketingVenter de Villiers said that despite an increase in online sales, she has observed a decline in the sales of fashion items in South Africa, due to three main factors.  

“Firstly, because retail stores were closed for several months during lockdown. Secondly, because students have been cash-strapped with less disposable income. And thirdly, with the ban on social gathering, students were not going out and socialising so they did not have a need to buy and wear the latest fashion items,” said Venter de Villiers. 

Despite the retail fashion industry experiencing a decline in sales, according to Statista (a business data platform), revenue in the fashion industry in South Africa is projected to reach US$1258 million in 2020 with an annual growth rate of 12% between 2020 and 2024, which would result in a market volume of UD$2035 million  by 2024. If retail fashion has been struggling, then wherwill the supposed market growth come from?   

Alongside online shops, the emergence of studentrun thrift businesses selling pre-owned clothing to fashion-forward consumers may end up being one of the main causes of the projected growth. The new wave of environmentally conscious Millennials and Gen Z has also contributed heavily towards the growing popularity of pre-owned clothing, thus creating a large market for ambitious university students.  

A boom in online thrifting

“Before lockdown came into play, there has been a sharp increase in secondhand clothing sales, clothes swapping, fashion bartering and customising old clothes. This is largely due to the rising awareness of the sustainable movement and policy makers encouraging brands to comply to the circular fashion economy,” said Venter de Villiers.  

Online thrift seems to be experiencing a boom during the national lockdown, and university students are a significant factor in that achievement.  

“During lockdown, with specific reference to customising old clothes, there has been a rise among Millennial consumers, mainly due to the following reasons: They did not have access to retail stores to buy fast fashion items; they were cash strapped and could not afford to buy new clothes on a regular basis. And students had more free time at home (with universities being closed, and not doing their usual part-time jobs),” said Venter de Villiers. 

Robyn Evans (22) and Juliet Markantonatos (22) are two finalyear BA theatre and performance students who started a thrift store on Instagram during lockdown called What What Thriftselling secondhand clothes. These, they have acquired by rounding up the old clothes no longer worn in their households and carefully selecting pieces from the clothing bins at the secondhand market in the Johannesburg CBD.

Their target market are fashion connoisseurs who appreciate the charm of a faded t-shirt and the nostalgia of a pair of brown bellbottoms once worn by a disco queen in the 70s. Thrift culture has revealed the timelessness of goodquality fashion, catering to people with different and unique styles, ultimately keeping the trendsetter alive.  

As they sat side by side during our interview, Evans and Markantonatos proved themselves to be quite well in sync with each other, as they seamlessly alternated in answering each of the questions during the interview. Much like two parts of a whole, they were able to finish each other’s sentences and complement each other’s statements, which is a good quality to have as co-partners in a business. 

“We started this business based on what we saw as a public demand among students like us, which is affordable fashion. Thrifting is an affordable business to get into because of the low startup costs. Juliet and contributed R200 each in the beginning, which we managed to double through our first round of sales to make R400 profit,” Evans said.  

This combination of a brunette with an 80s pinup look, and an edgy blonde is a perfect formula to create a carefully curated Instagram store, in hopes of making enough money to support a finalyear university student’s aspirations for their first year of complete independence.  

 “Our main inspiration for starting this business came from wanting financial independence as finalyear students with concerns for our future. We felt as though we needed to start making an incomebecause the pandemic has proved itself destructive to the economyWe are hoping that the money we make here could fund the projects that start our careers,” Markantonatos said.  

Social media’s contribution to keeping the fashion industry alive

Anthovene Burricks (23) is a computer science student, fashion designer and Lisof Fashion School graduate, who not only studied the trends in the fashion industry but also admits to being one of the people who puts a lot of her money into buying fashion items, ever since Instagram awakened her consumerist spirit within.  

“As students we are always looking for ways to get new clothes in order to change our aesthetic, and our biggest barrier is always a financial one. Instagram is one of the reasons why I started spending so much money on clothing in the first place. Instagram has also made the re-wearing of clothing seem abnormal. I think it’s why young people are always seeking to buy new clothing,” said Burricks. 

Married couple Twiggy Matiwana and Sindiswa Magidla-Matiwana wearing unique and earthy thrifted dresses for an event. Photo: Thobekile Moyo.

An article by Metro UK titled ‘One in six young people won’t wear an outfit again if it’s been on social mediaunderlined the claim by Burricks. 

According to a survey orchestrated by Hubbub, 41% out of 1 000 people between the ages of 18-25 feel there is pressure to wear a different outfit each time they go out. In this same survey, 79% of the people between the ages 18-25 admitted to having been influenced by social media platforms when it comes to their taste in fashion. Instagram came in first, with 55% of participants using it as their primary source of inspiration, while Facebook came in at a close second.  

Furthermore, 30% of the participants surveyed admitted having watched clothing hauls on YouTube, where influencers unpack and try on all the clothing, they have purchased on shopping spree. So, could we say that social media is now the main source of temptation when it comes to shopping? 

“Across all generational cohorts, as well as market segments, the industry experienced financial losses. However, online sales have increased, especially among Millennial consumers, as they are the most tech-savvy generation and spend hours a day on their smartphones,” said Venter de Villiers. 

The cost of an online thrifting business 

Shipping costs with courier companies have proved to be a turnoff for both the buyer and the seller. According to Shopify’s ‘Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce Shipping and Fulfillment’, shipping may generally make up around 37% of the cost of each unit sold. However, when dealing with thrift fashion, shipping could constitute up to 90% of the total cost.  

“Some couriers will charge over R100 as the starting price for shipping, which can increase depending on the travel distance and sizeSo, in the beginning we would select a meeting point and specificy for all our customers to pick up their packages. This would work quite well for us, since the majority of our customers were from Johannesburg North and are Wits students, much like us, who understand the financial inconvenience of using courier companies,” Markantonatos said.  

While the fashionmongers satisfy their need to shop by scrolling through online shopsthey may stumble upon a website called Yaga, which turns out to be thrifter’s heaven 

Yaga is an online marketplace where people can sell their used clothing, and thrifters can purchase oneofakind fashion items that are ready to part with their owners. It also makes the seller’s job easier because of its readily available, accessible and affordable shipping options.  

Anette Apri, the head of Yaga’s marketing team, said, “Yaga’s mission was to make online selling and shopping as seamless and as safe as possible and provide everyone an easy way to keep their items in circulation, while also earning some extra money by doing so.  

The shipping options on Yaga include PAXI and AramexPAXI, being the cheapest shipping option, makes use of Pep’s stores as drop-off and pick-up points for the user, and costs only R59 for the sender. Alternatively, Aramex is a courier that delivers directly to the receiver’s door, and costs R100.  

Yaga intended to alleviate the shipping dilemmas that small online business owners experience on Instagram and Facebook. We found that businessminded people would often get held back by the daunting idea of having to negotiate with couriers, and the excessive shipping costs, so Yaga has put forward the best two shipping options for users to choose from,” said Apri. 

While browsing through Yaga, one will find several stores owned by university students who are marketing to their own age groups. 

“We have captured the audience we were aiming for, which in the majority is between 20-35 years old. However, I have found that during the lockdown period, people between the ages of 19-26 have been particularly active in both buying and selling on our platform, which greatly contributed to the boost in activity on our site,” Apri said. 

Even though lockdown has seen a sharp increase in the sales of pre-owned clothing, it has also been held back by the valid fears that society has about covid-19.  

“When covid-19 hit the world, consumers became paranoid about hygiene matters around the idea of secondhand clothes. There is still a risk associated with this practice as the virus stays on fabric for several hours, and consumers are paranoid that they might contract the virus,” said Venter de Villiers. 

The future of fashion

Despite the hindrance that covid-19 has placed on the pre-owned clothing market, Venter de Villiers believes in its ability to eventually overtake the retail fashion industry.  

However, when viewing this from a sustainability point of view, it is an imperative stepping stone towards creating a more sustainable fashion industry. Should we see the secondhand clothing market grow, it will most likely have a negative effect on fastfashion retailers,” said Venter de Villiers. 

By contributing to the popularity of pre-owned clothing, university students are also promoting more sustainable fashion, which seeks to counterbalance the 10% of carbon emissions produced by the fashion industry annually (according to UNEP). The question of whether retail fashion will become obsolete because of the rise in popularity of thrift fashion might not be necessary, after considering the struggles retail had already been facing before the covid-19 outbreak.  

According to News 24, retail fashion stores such as J Crew, Neiman Marcus and Forever 21 are facing bankruptcy, which has encouraged other stores such as H&M to switch to online sales exclusively, much like Zara.  

Instead of interpreting the struggle of the retail fashion industry negatively, it could also be the consumers discarding their old habits, in order to repurpose their finances and realise their priorities.  

Even though retail clothing sales have been struggling, since lockdown restrictions started lifting and consumers started to go back to normal life, there has been a shift in the demand for different clothing categories. For instance, activewear sales reflected a steeper increase in comparison to fastfashion items. Likewise, there has been an increased demand for durable, quality clothing as opposed to fast fashion,” said Venter de Villiers.  

FEATURED IMAGE:

A group of fashion loving third-year students wearing thrifted items clothing for a friendly lunch at Mall of Africa. They held their masks in their hands as to keep covid-19 from ruining their style. Photo: Thobekile Moyo. 

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A taboo economy waits for revival

Louis Botha Avenue is a street in transition where small businesses that once thrived are battling to attract customers, but with the prospect of revival there lies hope for the future in a declining economy.

PERCHED on an oil-stained wooden table, a bicycle wheel spins and wheezes. Each spin reflects the light from a headlamp worn by a slender, spectacled man whose hands are blackened from the greasy wrench he wields to loosen and tighten wheel spokes.

 “There is no school that will teach you how to fix bikes or learn the industry. I had to learn from grassroots level,” says Vimal Daya, who runs Bhanis, a bicycle shop on Louis Botha Avenue in Orange Grove, Johannesburg.

“It’s been tough, as I had to learn things from scratch, but over the years I have managed to teach myself.”

 The dark room is filled with bicycle parts and wheels, making it a minefield for the clumsy. Daya runs Bhanis with his older sister, Jyoti “Judy” Daya. The shop, tucked away on Louis Botha, has been operating since 1982.  

“I’ve become good enough at repairing and fixing bicycles. I think I am more mechanically proficient than academically proficient,” says Daya. He laughs in the flickering half-light, the result of a power cut caused by yet another bout of load-shedding. But these are dark times for the once thriving business.

 “It has been terribly tough. We are basically just surviving,” says Daya, shrugging as he searches for a tool in the jumble of his shop.  

Vimal Daya, runs Bhanis Bicycle shop with his sister Jyoti ‘Judy’ Daya. The 45-year old began working at the shop in 1992. Photo; Lwazi Maseko

A once thriving street which has fallen prey to ‘lawlessness’ 

Daya has learned along the way on how to repair bicycles, “fixing bicycles isn’t just about changing tubes and tyres, a bicycle can have a unique problem, which keeps it interesting.” Photo: Lwazi Maseko

Louis Botha was once a bustling street, but it has been battered by a troubled South African economy with problems ranging from high unemployment to crime, poverty and increasing competition from Johannesburg’s many malls.

The origin of the street dates back to 1876, just after the discovery of gold in Johannesburg. It has since become a vital thoroughfare that runs for more than 9km from the edge of Hillbrow to the border of Sandton.

The stretch of Louis Botha in Orange Grove has fallen victim to urban decay, with many businesses now characterised by informal trading, shebeens, churches and cash-for-scrap shops that have car parts spilling onto the pavement.

There is some hope for Louis Botha, though, because of Johannesburg’s “Corridors of Freedom” project, which partly intends to revive its economy.  

“The ‘Corridors of Freedom’ are one of the ways in which the City will transform entrenched settlement patterns that have kept many marginalised communities at the outskirts of the City, away from economic opportunities and access to jobs and growth,” according to the South African Jewish Report.

The development plan can revive Louis Botha’s economy “if it is done right”, says Noel Hutton, the director of NPC, a non-profit corporation that works closely with the Louis Botha community.

“Louis Botha is a very narrow road … to get everything envisaged and planned is impossible,” says Hutton, adding: “There will be no place for pedestrians; there are so many issues to do with that particular corridor before you get outside of it.”

Roger Chadwick, NPC senior project manager, says “physical mobility in Louis Botha is nil. It is dangerous to walk in.”

Chadwick, who has lived in the area since 1995, says the lack of security has affected the economy.

“Louis Botha is a river of crime. You can’t divorce economics from the social fabric.  There are a lot of forces that are having a negative effect on business. Why would I want to trade on Louis Botha Avenue if there is no law, order and enforcement?”

City of Johannesburg PR councillor Strike Rambani agrees that the underlying problem in Louis Botha is “lawlessness”.

“If the social issues can be improved, then we can improve our economy,” says Rambani, who has lived on Louis Botha for 20 years.

“We are getting upgrades in Orange Grove, but it is going to be a long process,” says Chadwick.

The “Corridors of Freedom” will redevelop an “effective public transport system”, Rea Vaya, which will increase foot traffic as more people travel through Louis Botha and residential developments, “which will stimulate opportunities for small-scale operators.”

But for Vimal Daya the prospect of thriving in today’s economy is a distant dream.

“For the past three years the biggest challenge in the business has been surviving, because of this whole economic crisis our country is going through right now,” says the 45-year old bike enthusiast.

His rent is roughly R15 000 a month: “To meet the rental obligations has been a challenge,” he says, “especially in winter, as it is not a good period for the cycling business.

“Things get tight, you can’t meet some of your payment obligations and we’ve run into trouble, where suppliers have stopped supplying us because we have taken too long to pay them off.”

The business has not been making a profit for the past three years.

Daya employs one person, who helps to repair bicycles.

“It is not viable to employ people because business is so bad, it doesn’t pay me. Each month the expenses tend to increase and we need to have the money to meet those expenses,” says Daya, adding that “things like going on holiday and going to the movies, the extra things you deserve in life, we had to make major cutbacks on.”

But Bhanis is not alone in its struggle to survive and thrive as a small business.

The shop is stocked with new bicycles which can be mistaken for second-hand since the wrappings have peeled and punctured tyres sit in the shop, collecting dust.

“Customers won’t buy new bicycles, but rather fix their old ones, which is more affordable,” Daya says. If a customer wants a bicycle he will show an image of the one he wants and will order it. “My stock size has shrunk,” he says.

“A good bicycle in the 1990s would cost you R800,” says Daya. “Today the same quality bicycle will cost you R2 500, which is a huge jump. Back then things were cheaper and people could afford them,” he says with a fleeting smile.

 Marian Laserson, 83, community activist and architect who has lived in the area for most of her life,  remembers Orange Grove as a thriving, energetic neighbourhood.

“We had an excellent bus service so people could go do their shopping,” she says. “When crime started to escalate, people started using their cars more and wouldn’t come to Louis Botha because there is no parking. Louis Botha started to die.”

Marian Laserson, says the lack of security on Louis Botha and the many illegal businesses has had a negative impact on the economy. Photo: Lwazi Maseko

The ‘nineteen-ninetines’, when it went downhill 

Daya says during the 90s all four major banks were a quick walk away from his shop. When the banks and major stores such as Markham’s and Foschini closed down it had a negative impact on his business.

An old clothing store, which sells iconic brands such as Dickies and Umbro, two brands which were popular in the 90’s and are making a comeback. Photo: Lwazi Maseko

Chadwick also remembers the banks’ pull-out as a big blow to business on the street.

“When Standard Bank moved out we threw our toys out; then FNB followed. We said no, you are killing Louis Botha,” he says.

Despite the declining economy, Bhanis is still well supported by regular customers.

Ilan Guest, a coach at Mandeville Wheelchair Rugby Club, uses Bhanis for fixing punctures, fitting tyres, buying tubes and replacing bearings on wheelchairs.

The service is “good value for money”, says Guest. “He is very cheap; too cheap in my opinion.”

Even with no customers, Daya remains busy fixing bicycles, arranging stock and attending to finances and administration.

He is philosophical about his circumstances, believing it is better to face challenges in life than to abandon all hope and walk away from them.

The business is his only source of income, and walking away will escalate his “personal problems”.

Daya hopes his business will improve, and although he is sceptical, “we remain positive and try to survive”.

 The good old days

Next door to Bhanis Bicycle Shop is Yogi’s Den, an old-school clothing store stocked with classic brands such as Dickies, a vintage work-wear brand fashionable in the 90s, and Umbro, an 80s athletics brand which has since made a comeback.

The shop is dark, cramped and piled with pants, sports t-shirts and men’s formal shoes.

Sifting through the morning newspapers, Narendra Daya, balding but athletic-looking, wearing a Levi t-shirt, bracelet and a wooden beaded necklace, is taking a break from the day’s business.

He runs his fingers along each page of a newspaper, occasionally leaning forward to watch the passing foot traffic.

“When it’s dark nobody wants to come in, so all I do is sit and wait,” says Narendra.

The 60-year old is the owner of Yogi’s Den, which was founded by his older brother, Yogi, and has been running on Louis Botha Avenue since 1977 after moving from the centre of Johannesburg.

“If someone, could give me money I would sell this business and buy apartments because everybody needs housing these days, that’s where the business is,” says Narendra Daya, who has lost his passion for selling and running a store.  Photo: Lwazi Maseko

Yogi’s Den is overcrowded with unsold clothes.

“Business is not good and all we are trying to do is survive,” says Narendra. “When we first opened, the rent was R200; now it is R10 000. We manage to make the rent, but it is tough. Business was good in the 70s, 80s and 90s, but by mid-2000 it wasn’t so good.”

Narendra remembers the days when customers would stream into the store, especially on weekends. “We couldn’t just sit and talk like this,” he says. “People would be saying give me this, give me that!” He points to the rows of clothing covering the shop.

“I remember back in the day when Yogi’s Den was the place to go to get deals” says Noel Hutton, who was a regular customer in his university days.  “I still have some of the clothes I bought from there 120 years ago,” he says with a laugh.

When Hutton lived in Sandringham he would use the bus to go to Louis Botha.

“It was vibrant, there was a lot going on, it was a hangout place. Saturday nights, that’s where you would start your jols.”

Narendra Daya, owner of Yogi’s Den, an old school clothing store which has been operating on Louis Botha in Orange Grove since 1977. Yogi’s Den, which was a thriving store, but has been struggling due to the declining economy, “we are just surviving,” says Daya, who sifts through the morning newspapers waiting for customers.

Revival in a declining economy

Down the street from Bhanis and Yogi’s is a shop with a pink, black and blue store front and a cherry logo.

Inside there is an overpowering smell that brings candy to mind. Welcome to Taboo, a shop that sells sex toys and adult DVDs. Behind the counter is an array of pills, herbal plants and “puffs” – herbs crushed and rolled into joints.

The owner of the shop, a cordial man wearing glasses and a Superdry t-shirt, introduces himself as Mark. He asks that his surname not be used, as some members of his family do not approve of the nature of his business.

“I would not be able to survive solely on the sex stuff,” says Mark, who once worked in the corporate world and “will never work for anybody again”.

Taboo sells “flavoured herbal mixtures” that do not contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, and are therefore legal according to current South African law.

The “puffs”, as Mark explains, come in various flavours such as coconut, cherry and mint. They cost R55 each and the rolled herbal mixture is R20.

Taboo has been operating on Louis Botha since 2012. Mark says the business is doing relatively well, thanks mostly to the pills, puffs and herbal mixtures.

He looks up to greet a customer. The man, eyes hidden behind sunglasses, asks for a cherry-flavoured puff. He is disappointed to learn the flavour is out of stock.

“I brushed my teeth this morning only to get here and find the cherry is not available,” he laughs.

Mark says that being friendly and welcoming is part of his business philosophy. He has found a niche in the market and has made the most of it.

Outside Bhanis, a man walks in with a blue and green child’s bicycle. He leaves it on the floor for repairs and rushes out to his parked car. Daya thanks him and waves him goodbye. As long as there are customers on Louis Botha, as long as there are people to serve them, the street and its businesses will survive.

FEATURED IMAGE: Vimal Daya, runs Bhanis Bicycle shop with his sister Jyoti ‘Judy’ Daya. The 45-year old began working at the shop in 1992. Photo; Lwazi Maseko

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COOL KID: Bookstore “bookie”- Moshe Mashela

Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Photo: Lameez Omarjee

With dreads hanging over his eyes and a backpack, Moshe Mashela looks like a typical student.  However, this third year BCom Law student has a cool job as part-time staff manager at a bookstore.

What are some of the challenges you face in juggling a part-time job and university?

The biggest challenge is time and energy. You have less time for school, but you manage your time properly.  Luckily, shifts are flexible.

 What are some of the difficulties of the job?

It’s retail so there are difficult customers. The worst ones try to get their way by shouting at or insulting staff. One of their favourite lines is: “Call your manager.” Most people are nice and reasonable.  The women are pretty decent, although you sometimes get hit on by old men and women, which is not cool.

A challenge is when people describe books they are looking for too vaguely. We just plain don’t have a mental index of blue books with red writing about a lady or a cat, so we usually tell them there’s not much we can do without a title or an author, or a key word at least. No matter how vague a description, we’ll still do our best to help them find it.

 What are some of the best things about this job?

Interacting with people. You meet really nice people at bookstores and you have to get to know them to know what kind of books they like, and recommend something else they might like.  You also learn a lot from them. They end up recommending books to you. The staff, which has become more of a family than anything else. The books, obviously the books. And, I’m not going to lie, it helps to have an income.

 Any funny stories while you’ve been at work?

There’s this little boy, he sincerely thinks that he’s a wizard, and is convinced that we’re hiding our “real” spell books somewhere, and keeps asking for them. There was a lady once who asked for a book she saw in a dream. People sometimes get mixed up and ask for books by Jane Eyre, or when the next installment of Anne Frank’s diary will be released.