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Watching clothing stores across the country shutter amid COVID-19, Joshua Akom scratched his head in wonder: "What happens to fashion and its consumers when the world still needs to shop?"
But the answer, he says, has become quickly obvious — a return to the local thrift shop experience, just not in brick and mortar — "something that exists in the four walls of the internet."
"In a weird way," Akom told the Free Press Thursday, "this pandemic’s strangely been a blessing in disguise for fashion consumers to confront important realities about the most sustainable way in getting their clothes."
And born out of that "blessing," is the Winnipegger’s new online-only outlet called Thriftsome, delivering curated and vintage second-hand clothing at affordable prices to doorsteps from coast to coast.
From custom-made windbreakers and bomber jackets to suede shoes and unique plaid pants, a laundry list of gently worn clothing is available at the website — with a special discount for Manitobans and free delivery in Winnipeg.
"We definitely knew that now is the right time to be opening something like this," said Akom. "When people either can't go to stores or feel hesitant to do so, they need the right place that makes them feel welcome without hurting their pockets."
He added that a major focus in the outlet's inventory has been placed on millennial buyers, who would otherwise form a bulk of the majority that quickly grabs something from a retail store at a mall. But so far, he said, it’s mostly older buyers building traction at his business.
“In a weird way, this pandemic’s strangely been a blessing in disguise for fashion consumers to confront important realities about the most sustainable way in getting their clothes.” – Joshua Akom
"The dream is, of course, to get younger people to consume something ethical and environment-friendly," said Akom. "It's just hard when they're used to a certain way and don't exactly know how they can do better."
And that's why "more than being able to turn a profit," he said, his business is focused in creating a space for ethical buyers in the province.
The Ghanaian-Canadian came to Winnipeg to study civil engineering at the University of Manitoba in 2015. While he always knew fashion was his calling, he said he was hesitant to join the industry because of the adverse environmental impacts it created.
"I just didn’t want to add to something that's already doing so much harm to our world," he said.
But Akom's store isn't the only Canadian business that's found the coronavirus pandemic has pushed them to go greener and online.
Professor Diane-Laure Arjaliès, a leading expert in sustainable finance at Western University, said eco-friendly businesses like Akom's "are definitely the future."
"If there's one thing the pandemic did, it definitely pushed our markets to go online out of sheer necessity or willingness," said Arjaliès. "And being online is inherently something that produces less carbon emissions, which for the fashion industry has only ever been high historically."
A survey by HSBC Bank from August found more than four out of five Canadian businesses believe their review of operations due to COVID-19 will enable them to rebuild their organization on firmer environmental foundations.
"...If we want to see a future where we can exist, it needs to be sustainable like our business is." – Joshua Akom
And a poll by RBC this week shows Canadians consumers are the ones driving that demand for increased digital solutions to engage with firms they frequent, with 86 per cent customers saying businesses will need to offer an end-to-end digital presence to be successful.
About 90 per cent business owners say moving online should be considered less a "nice-to-do, but rather a key priority for forward-thinking businesses," according to the RBC survey.
"At the end of the day, I'm not naïve to think that I or anyone who supports a business like ours can change everything completely that's wrong with the clothing industry," said Akom.
"But I know that if we want to see a future where we can exist, it needs to be sustainable like our business is."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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