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This 28-Year-Old Left the Oil and Gas Industry to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business

Vintagewkd

Creating sustainable fashion with a vintage vibe may sound like a daunting task to most, but it didn't stop 28-year-old Eileen Tan from quitting her job to embark on the journey.

After leaving her full-time job in the oil and gas industry in 2019, Tan set out to make Vintagewknd a sustainable alternative to fast fashion — all in the name of minimizing the waste that she witnessed in the fashion industry.

Her dream was to design and create vintage clothing by using old fabrics and making them look brand new. But that journey was not always easy.

"It's a lot about the mindset. People and corporations are interested to [push] trends fast and hard. So, things to do with the environment get lost in the process — which is something that of course we struggle with as well, like creating sustainable clothing," Tan recently told CNBC's Inside E-commerce.

Making sustainability stylish

Tan, together with her partner Eden Tay, first started curating and selling vintage clothing on a part-time basis on online marketplace Carousell in 2015. It wasn't until 2019, when they took the business full time, that they started focusing on sustainability.

With all the material for their reworked clothing coming from garment waste factories and production lines, upcycling is key to their business. Upcycling refers turning waste materials or unwanted products into something useful, and in this case could be bags or clothing.

Vintagewknd's co-founders Eileen Tan and Eden Tay.
Vintagewknd
Vintagewknd's co-founders Eileen Tan and Eden Tay.

The duo have since left Carousell to set up their own e-commerce store and branch out to other social media accounts such as Instagram, where they have over 34,000 followers. Their marketing efforts are now primarily focused on TikTok, where they film niche styling videos based on themes like Winnie the Pooh, Pokemon, and television shows from the '90s.

When asked about the level of demand for sustainable clothing, Tan said that sizing and price points are barriers to entry as clothes tend to be made in smaller batches, making the products more expensive.

Shifting consumer habits

But the outlook for sustainable products could soon change.

According to a study by consultancy Bain & Company and social media giant Facebook, recently renamed Meta, more consumers are now looking at sustainability when it comes to making purchases.

"Up to 90% of customers want to buy something from a sustainable brand or retailer. 85% of them are willing to pay significantly more for that," said Gwendolyn Lim, Partner at Bain & Company. "So, if the platform is able to work in this idea of sustainability, that could also be a game changer."

Tan said the customers of Vintagewknd are generally receptive to the idea of keeping the sustainable message — even in fashion.

Even as retailers like online fashion brand Zalora have publicly made sustainability a priority, Tan hopes other companies will also catch that vision. "In order to make a global impact, larger fashion corporations do have to make the change," she said.

Vintagewknd's co-founders Eden Tay and Eileen Tan.
Vintagewknd
Vintagewknd's co-founders Eden Tay and Eileen Tan.

As for future business plans, Vintagewknd is experimenting with making homeware or gift products, said Tan.

"There is just so much waste in the world. I will definitely look into [diversifying our product range]," she added.

Don't miss: She co-founded a $1 billion fintech start-up in Asia — and wants to show other women they can too

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