As well as studying for a PhD in Victorian and Edwardian Art, 27 year old Alex Gushurst-Moore is the founder of StashRak, an online platform for selling secondhand clothing and accessories. Based out of Cambridge, Alex has created an amazing accessible site where her aim is to provide customers with affordable preloved clothing and promote and encourage circular fashion. I wanted to find out from Alex, what inspired her to set up her business, why its important to make secondhand more accessible and how she goes about sourcing items for the site...
What made you decide to set up StashRak?
"I'm a long time lover of secondhand clothing. As a teenager I developed a voracious appetite for fashion and would trawl through eBay to find cheap designer clothing. Fast forward a decade: as a student I had moved around a lot and found it difficult to unload "stuff" every time I did. So, I began developing a "yard sale" app that would allow people to sell their stuff from home. It totally flopped, but during the process I developed a love of business. Soon after, I redirected my energy to what has become StashRak. I like to think we're in the "MVP" stage of the business."
Where does your love of secondhand stem from?
"Initially, it was a financial thing. As a teenager and then a university student I didn't have a lot of money. But I loved being experimental with fashion and evolving my style frequently. So shopping in charity shops and on eBay became an economically viable way of exploring that passion. Now, my love of secondhand and vintage is very much connected with a desire to do better for the planet. Like most people, I'm trying my best to lead an increasingly "carbon neutral" life and in my opinion reducing and reusing is absolutely the best way to do that."
What advice would you give to someone who is new to secondhand shopping?
"Don't be afraid! There are so many options for shopping secondhand nowadays. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, there are some pretty gnarly thrift shopping experiences that will bear great fruit (like the Goodwill bins in the USA). Alternatively, if you want something that more closely resembles the traditional retail experience, curated vintage shops like Retold and A Curated Life offer a great service. They will source the best, care for the clothes, and send to you in responsibly sourced packaging. Vestiaire Collective is a bigger business doing something similar. In short, there is something for everyone. If you want to shop more sustainably, look around: I guarantee that you will find something that suits your lifestyle."
Why is it important to make secondhand clothing more accessible?
"Shopping secondhand has only been taboo since the Victorian age. The middle classes were sold the proposition that in order to seem successful and dignified you needed to buy new. During the twentieth century that marketing device, coupled with rapid technological innovation, amounted to the fast fashion industry. We're only now becoming aware of the incredible environmental cost of that retail landscape. In order to challenge and reverse the negative effects of fast fashion, we all must buy less and use what we have more often. So, I actually think that the biggest responsibility of the secondhand clothing industry is to become more visible, which it can only do through becoming accessible. Fashion influencers will inevitably play a big role in this, but it's up to the retail industry to reverse the negative (and wrong) inheritance of that Victorian attitude."
What do you look for when sourcing clothes?
"We source clothes in two ways. People can sell with us (see later in the interview for more info) and we also buy from charity shops, vintage stores, and online to resell. When we source directly I look for items that conform to trends, but also items that are well made from biodegradable fabrics. Items such as these are definitely best sellers. When people sell with us, we accept all clothing unless it is irrevocably damaged. I really believe that every item of clothing, regardless of what brand or style it is, has a second, third, fourth, etc. home. An item that's not for me might be perfect for you!"
What inspires you creatively?
"Oh wow. Great question. So much! As an art historian, I'm always immersed in history, images, objects, etc. So, I guess my work is a constant reference point. There are a few people that inspire me to be a better business person and leader: the art curator Mary Rozell, the business woman Kendra Scott, Jacinda Ardern. I watch Youtube pretty religiously and get most excited about new Wear I Live, BJonesStyle, and Iz Harris videos. The two businesses that I just think are so, so unbelievably fantastic are One Scoop Store and Manifesto Woman. I also love Strange Moon Vintage (I bought my first blouse from her yesterday after seeing you wear one Harriet!) Of course, I have a handful of friends that consistently inspire me to create and try to be a better person. And my superhero is probably William Morris, because he combined the beautiful with a belief that business could advance the social wellbeing of all people."
Where do you think the future of fashion is heading?
"It has to be secondhand and small batch clothing. National and international bodies are placing increasing pressure on businesses to justify their carbon footprints, and soon there will be no other way to be but sustainable. That being said, there will always be a space for fast fashion brands because, despite their atrocious track record for human rights violations, they do offer something important: an affordable option for low income households. This actually leads me to say something about sustainable fashion that I feel very strongly about: it is important to raise the profile of secondhand fashion. Part of that process is making secondhand clothing aspirational. However, there must always be an affordable secondhand option. As a student who has (for my entire adult life) been on a very restricted budget, it's important to me that StashRak has a reputation for being affordable. Not the so-cheap-I-can-wear-it-once kind of affordable, but the I-have-a-clothing-budget-of-£20 kind of affordable. Ummm... I got off track there but I hope that answers your question!"
Why is slow fashion and sustainability important to you?
"I have not always been a minimalist. Loving fashion and maximalism often go hand in hand, but with the advent of Konmari I totally changed my attitude to the clothes that I own. I am so grateful to be able to buy beautiful things and I only now have an appreciation of that. Slow fashion and living sustainability have helped me to be more reflective and mindful of what I already have. That's really important to me."
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to set up their own online shop?
"Do it! The best piece of business advice that I was ever given is to start. Don't have seed funding? Raid your own closet and home for things that no longer "spark joy", start an Instagram account, and voila! Not a penny has been spent. Don't ever worry about failing or what other people will think: failing is good and people are good. And don't worry about everything being "perfect" at the beginning. Part of developing a platform or a brand is reworking, reimagining, restyling, etc."
What plans do you have in store next for StashRak?
"Since we launched in October 2019, StashRak has been working with a small group of sellers to develop a selling tool that is easy to use. So, we will be "going public" with that in the summer. We are a cottage industry team of three at the moment, but hiring staff is the next step. Of course, in ten years time there will be a StashRak on every high street corner... you heard it here first!"
Follow StashRak on Instagram - @stashrak
And check out their website - www.stashrak.com
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