I’m pretty sure one of the planets was in Lucozade when I scheduled my meeting with Tukiya because everything that could possibly go wrong that day, did. I got a flat tyre a mere 500 meters from home and the garage closest to me announced – via handheld sign by the way – that they would be closed for the next hour. In a fit of slight panic, I called to let her know what had happened and that I would be running very late. A breezy voice answered, “I’m just doing a clothing drop at the moment. Then I have to go to a casting in a couple hours”. “Will you still be available to meet later this evening?” Relieved, I agreed, and Tukiya and I ended up meeting at her apartment later that day.
The drop that Tukiya was referring to was at Better Half where she has just started stocking some of her clothes. Her online store, Tukiya’s Closet opened in January this year and has been growing steadily since. The Tukiya’s Closet Instagram bio reads: “Sustainable online store – a selection of once off, quality preloved and vintage pieces”. Talking to her, I got the sense that not only is thrifting something that Tukiya loves because of how sustainable it is but also because it’s a great way to curate a unique style. Tukiya wants to help you stand out, not blend in. “Shopping second hand is more about finding quality, well-made clothes and really beautiful, unique pieces that fit your personality” she says.
This marriage of sustainability meets style also shows in how she packages her items. “I print out cards to each of my customers. I used to do it at the printers close to my house as they were also very big on sustainability. I'm now trying to move into boxes because a box can always be reused.”
Tukiya also works as a model and when I met with her, she was fresh off of a casting. I ask her about her outfit – a blue button-down shirt with relaxed fit, straight leg jeans and white ankle boots. Pointing to her shirt she says, “This is Lukhanyo Mdingi. He’s a South African fashion designer. My jeans are second hand and my shoes are second hand.” While making a cup of tea, Tukiya mentions that her partner works as a menswear designer.
I caught up with Tukiya and found out what drives the woman behind the sustainable online store Tukiya’s Closet.
Lerato: What’s that like, having two fashion pros living in one household?
Tukiya: It’s nice because I feel like we’re always bouncing ideas off of each other. He helps me a lot with my creative work. I might put together concepts and then he’ll be like, ok, maybe change this, maybe do this. I’ll ask him about certain styles or even, what would you buy this for? That sort of thing.
Lerato: The pictures that you post on the Tukiya’s Closet Instagram page, are you taking those here in this apartment?
Tukiya: We’ve just moved into this place so right now, we’re trying to find a new space to shoot from. We need to find a place with good lighting.
Lerato: Who takes your photos?
Tukiya: Sis’ Du takes my photos. She’s my kid’s nanny. She went home to KZN for the week, but she usually takes my pictures.
Lerato: Oh ja, we’re in level 1 now. So, people are out in these streets.
Tukiya: (laughs) Ja! People are living it up! So, when we initially started, my partner used to take my photos. We would take basic photos in the same spot and then over time we started coming up with different ideas like, ok, let’s put up a backdrop, let’s put in this plant, let’s take this out. As he got busier, I would do the set-up myself and I would set up a chair for Sis’ Du and she started helping out more and more.
Lerato: And then you’re taking photos for the week?
Tukiya: Ja, so usually I’ll go sourcing and get a bunch of clothes and then I’ll say, ok, this is for my next drop. And then with that I’ll also create content. I’ll take snippets and different photos on different outfits that I can use for a longer period of time. And that’s mainly for the purpose of selling clothes.
Lerato: Between modeling and now owning your own thrift store, I assume you’re very passionate about fashion?
Lerato: What would you say sparked your interest in fashion?
Tukiya: It goes so far back that every time I think about it, I recall another memory and I think, oh, maybe it started there. I think it started when my older sister announced that she was no longer interested in studying law and wanted to study fashion design instead. I watched her get her start in the fashion world. When I moved to Cape Town I worked at Wendy’s (a thrift store in Observatory, Cape Town). After that I spent about a year and a half working at markets – trying to make a bit of money while I studied…
Lerato: What were you studying?
Tukiya: Marketing and communications
Lerato: Oh, cool!
Tukiya: I think it was all these little things that kept happening that resulted in my love for fashion. When I sit back and try trace my background, I think it was a long time coming. For the longest time I treated selling clothes as a sort of side hustle and it wasn’t until I had resigned from a job that I was very unhappy in that I thought, let me try and pursue a career selling clothes more seriously.
Lerato: And when you were starting, who or what similar businesses inspired you?
Tukiya: I really love Thrift Happens, Better Half and Wolf Vintage Store. I liked that they were removing this stigma from thrifting. For lot of black people that I know, secondhand clothing is attached to the inability to afford. Shopping second hand is more about finding quality, well-made clothes and really beautiful, unique pieces that fit your personality.
These clothes tend to last you a long time as opposed to a fast fashion item that might not. Those are the things that I was thinking of when I was laying the foundation for my business.
Lerato: These days, so many businesses are thriving off Instagram alone. What made you decide to take the extra step of creating a site for your store as opposed to keeping it as an Instagram only store?
Tukiya: Whenever I’d post on Instagram, for like three hours, my head was like this (she mimes looking down and typing away on her phone) and people would be in my DMs. I’d spend my day posting – responding – posting. When I moved to a website, I had more time to get everything organised. I’ve taken the pictures, curated the collections, taken the necessary measurements. You get there at your own time, at your convenience and shop. I get to my landing page and it says who bought what item. I’m not constantly going back to messages and DMs.
Lerato: Did the quarantine change your busines?
Tukiya: Entirely! Another reason why I started my site. I saw such a decline in sales. I used to stock at Grandfunk Retro in Observatory. When they closed, I realised I needed to do a bit more to get my clothes selling. It’s been good and it’s been bad. There’s been a rise in people being more conscious about how they’re spending their money.
Lerato: People also became more conscious about supporting black businesses in the past few months. Did you feel like you benefited from that at all? And what are your thoughts on supporting black businesses?
Tukiya: When the whole BLM movement happened and all of these people were sharing local businesses and black business and whatever, I was like, ok cool. If you want me to send something I will but I wasn’t like, eternally grateful for it because I also saw it as a trend. I want some sort of longevity. I want to be noticed not because I'm black. I want to be noticed for what I do. I would like my work ethic to speak for itself. I want the quality of my products to speak for themselves.
Lerato: I get that.
Tukiya: And it’s stopped now. That’s why I feel like it was a trend.
Lerato: Do you partake in fast fashion at all?
Tukiya: I have bought a tank top here and there, but I don’t do it as much as used to. I think my priorities have shifted.
Lerato: How have they shifted?
Tukiya: I want to wear fashion that is more sustainable. I also like how older clothing was made. The quality of the garment means that you are able to keep items for a very long time. I think we should focus on making people more conscious. The tricky thing is, fast fashion is cheap. So the call for people to stop buying fast fashion is a little bit classist. We have a lot of moms and parents who rely on fast fashion brands for their children, for themselves. More than anything, I think there’s an education job that needs to happen.
I don't see a lot of people being able to buy the fast fashion brands’ “sustainability” ranges because they cost like, 100 times more than the rest of the clothes in their stores. I do however see the rise of second hand shopping. I think that’s more realistic for more people.
Lerato: What are some tips for people who want to thrift more? What kinds of questions should you be asking a vintage store selling on Instagram?
Tukiya: You must buy from people who are willing to refund you your money. I personally refund people. Any business that’s singing about sustainability but doesn’t provide refunds – they’re fake. They’re a hoax! Usually it’s a sign that the business is not confident in the product that they’re selling. The next thing is taking a measuring tape and measuring yourself. And then shopping with online shops that put up very specific measurements. For example, if I sell jeans, I must specify that they’re high waisted jeans. So, the measurement above the belly button and then your waist and then your hips. It has to be that specific. Ask for fabric specifications and ask what the condition is the garment in. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional pictures of the item if you want to see more.
Lerato: Finally, what are your future plans for your business?
Tukiya: I want it to be taken seriously and to be considered in the same way startups are considered. I want to hire a team of really cool, black women. I want to be able take a step back and not be as involved as I am right now. I want to have departments!
Lerato: (Laughs) Oh, that’s when you’ll know you’ve made it?
Tukiya: Yes! That’s when I’ve made it. When I have a business with departments!