Anyone who’s ever been thrifting knows there’s an art to the perfect find, and no one knows better than the founders of local vintage thrift shops Bimba Vintage, and Alma Zen. We spoke with them about how thrifting and vintage shopping in Buenos Aires has grown, and why they see the future of shopping in secondhand clothes.
These two shops, located in the downtown area and in Villa Crespo (as well as online), have seen the rise of vintage and thrift stores in Buenos Aires, and have also witnessed many Argentines struggle to stay afloat through economic insecurity. Cecilia Malm Green, Alma Zen’s founder, understands the need to stay buoyant through financial tough times: “My shop has adapted to the social context since 2006, and we knew we were going to have to adapt ourselves to the socioeconomic situation of the country.”
In regards to the scene, Jazmín Rodriguez from Bimba Vintage considers that thrifting culture in the country has also changed a lot in the past years and not all reasons have to do with pricing. “As an economic reality, thrifting provides opportunity for many to stay fashionable while still operating on a normal salary. But in addition, thrifting presents a moral and political commitment. Vintage is important to preserve the good, to recycle, and to allow people to dress further outside of what the market dictates or what the prices of shopping are.”
Normally, economic markets dictate the clothing that is sold in stores, and there are limited options for consumers, as large brands are able to produce clothing en masse, export cheap labor, and slash their prices so as to drive customers away from smaller, locally-owned clothing stores. This causes consumers to have not only fewer options, but lesser quality clothing as well. One way to combat this, to support local businesses, find cheaper clothing, reduce your ecological footprint, and find pieces that aren’t as common or are more fashion forward, is to shop at thrift or curated vintage stores.
“For me, secondhand clothing is important, not only because of the ecological issue (to continue using something that still has a lot of useful life) but also because vintage garments have a quality and make that in the present day someone would have to pay a fortune to get,” highlighted Alma Zen founder.
A common thread between the owners of these shops is that at one point there wasn’t access to secondhand clothing, particularly for those looking for higher quality or higher fashion, and the vintage movement emerged from a personal desire for a higher-end secondhand option.
Rodriguez from Bimba Vintage elaborates, “Six years ago, I started with the business. At first I bought a small sum of vintage and added pieces that I personally had, in which moment vintage in Argentina practically wasn’t known and it wasn’t easy to find really good pieces. That motivated me to continue wearing vintage, and also generated my necessity to sell [secondhand] vintage.”
The movement of secondhand-made-stylish was born out of a desire to not only make high quality clothing more affordable, but also a drive to provide options for clothing outside of what’s sold by big-box stores. Inverting norms and paying homage to the styles of yesteryear (or yester-decade) are key pieces of what it means to thrift and shop vintage today in Buenos Aires.
“Bimba Vintage was started because I really liked European fashion […]. I felt that the only way that I had to access that was through vintage. […] I love the red carpet style and I believe that vintage allows you to access another type of clothing, without time, without the bigwigs that dictate fashion year to year […]” explains Rodriguez.
Because in reality, thrifting is born out of a love for fashion, and the beautiful part of the hunt isn’t how fierce you look at the end, but it’s in the hunt itself, the creativity, the appreciation and love of fashion. The passion is palpable when these shop owners talk about their craft. “My mission is to create a selection of vintage oriented to fashion, with different sizes and ranges of prices,” continues Rodríguez. “I like to be able to sell to the whole world. It also could be international, very inclusive. Fashion is associated with snobs or risk; for me it’s a way of expression, to tell who we are the way we can. And I like that, through vintage, more women can express themselves.”
Rodriguez and Green continue on to reflect on the growth of the industry: “These days I see a growth that amazes me. When I started the concept was almost unknown. I believe that in five years, a big part of the population will consider secondhand.” Rodriguez says.
Green emphasizes community in the future of Alma Zen. “I believe Argentina always is a challenge and for the five years that come we want to keep growing and making Alma Zen a space where people meet and get to know people with free bohemian spirit, and a love of vintage and art in general.”
Rodriguez concludes with some sage wisdom for new thrifters. “People need to free themselves from what the outside imposes. How to dress, how much to pay, and how much conscience of responsible consumption. To wear vintage, you have to have personality and I believe that there are more people who are inclined to try.”