People turn to fast fashion because it’s easy. It’s simple to click through a slideshow of images and hit “add to cart”, wearing a new piece in four-to- seven business days. But as we’re becoming increasingly aware, though fast fashion is easy and cost-effective on the surface, it’s having a decidedly negative effect on the planet. Best friends Orlaith Croke-Marin, MA ’20, and Melissa Chapin, ArtSci ’18, are working on a solution: startup Bel Ami Vintage.
Bel Ami Vintage is an online thrifting destination for people who want unique, stand-out pieces, but who are wary (as they should be!) of fast fashion’s lack of conscience. It preserves the affordability of fast fashion but is sustainable and brings with it a sort of culture. “[We were] finding that even though fast-fashion provides cheap options...we started going thrifting and realizing that we were getting the most compliments on thrifted statement pieces,” Croke-Martin and Chapin explained.
Thrifting isn’t something everyone can do—it takes a lot of time, requiring patience as well as an eye for pieces with potential. Bel Ami lets everyone experience the thrifting culture, with the same ease as less sustainable, mainstream online options. Croke-Martin and Chapin do the hard work themselves, devoting whole days to finding pieces. “[We’ll] modify them to be cuter, like cropping or making some kind of alteration while still preserving the vibe of the piece,” they said. “We try and find things that are trendy but still unique and not mainstream.”
Getting Bel Ami off the ground was a big task, but Chapin and Croke- Martin managed to launch in about three weeks. “It was pretty intense... definitely a lot of work,” said Croke-Martin. Having no real experience with web design, creating and operating the website presented one of the biggest challenges. But the brand has already seen significant success: “We get [a lot of] people reaching out to help, which we didn’t really expect,” the women explained, who work with a handful of different models and photographers, the majority of whom reached out wanting to be involved. Thrifting, however, is something Croke-Martin and Chapin still do alone. For both women, this is their first real venture into the retail space. Chapin worked a retail job in high school, but didn’t see it becoming a career path, and Croke-Martin is entirely new to the space. A delegate at QRF 2018, she credits some of her motivation to start the brand to what she learned at the conference: “My first experience talking about retail was actually at QRF last year...I’d never really experienced it before,” said Croke-Martin. She credited the conference’s panels and keynote speakers as a big source of inspiration: “[The conference] really opened my eyes to how accessible it is to start your own kind of business,” she explained.
In terms of what’s next, both Croke-Martin and Chapin are happy with where Bel Ami is for now. Chapin has a move to Toronto planned for September, and at that point the brand will expand to Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area in addition to Kingston. “We’re just happy to share our passion for thrifting.”