Viva Vintage: A Chat with Friperie’s Owner About Running a Business Under Quarantine
Click to read in Spanish
I think it’s safe to say we’re all living in a unique situation. It’s a time when we all have to support each other in order to get through it. For small businesses, this is essential. If you’ve taken a walk through Malasaña, you know the streets are full of vintage shops, each one with its own style. This got me thinking…There are initiatives like Cuando Volvamos, SalvemosNuestrosRestaurantes, Adoptaunbar and more for restaurants. And although clothing boutiques and shops can collaborate with Cuando Volvamos (and there are some incredible artisans and vendors there, take a look!), the platform isn’t necessarily outfitted for this sector. Of course shops could move their sales online if they hadn’t already, but I wondered, “Are people buying clothes right now?”
Friperie Vintage, touted by Vogue España as “where the cool people of Madrid shop”, is a small business that has much more to offer than its diverse selection of classic Levi’s and military jackets. It also forms a part of one of the most bohemian neighborhoods in Madrid.
I asked the owner, Xin Jing, if I could ask her some questions about the quarantine, her experience as a business owner, and her advice for rocking those Levi’s 501’s. Despite being incredibly busy adapting to the new situation, she answered immediately, “Yes, of course!”
I think her response reflects the spirit and attitude of Friperie—friendly and willing to help.
With no further introduction, I present Xin Jing, Friperie's owner and vintage denim guru. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
When I think about Friperie, I think about versatile pieces that, depending on who wears them, can be worn countless ways. I think that your pieces give your clients the opportunity to find their own personal style.
That said, what do you think about this quote?
"Style is something each of us already has, all we need to do is find it."
–Diane Von Furstenberg
We all have our own taste, body type, favorite color and design; there’s not one style for everyone, but you’ve got to find what’s right for you based on your lifestyle, your job…your style of living. For me, there’s no such thing as good or bad style because everyone appreciates a different aesthetic. The only and most important thing is to feel good in your own skin, to love yourself and that you feel comfortable and confident with yourself and your style.
Where do you personally find inspiration?
I find inspiration online like on Pinterest, blogs and on social media. Movies and TV shows are also great resources to find out what the styles were during different time periods and across different cultures. A lot of my inspiration also comes from the street, I love people watching to see how people dress these days, young people, old people, etc.
How would you define the Friperie look?
I would love to define the Friperie look as simple, minimalistic and casual with a touch of elegance and vintage.
Let’s go back to the beginning, how did everything begin? Where did you find the courage to launch your own business?
I am the owner of Friperie but I don’t consider myself the founder because, in reality, the shop was passed on to me by a friend upon retirement. He introduced me to this new world. I worked with him for a while and he was my “master” of vintage fashion for many years. I fell in love with the sector, decided to stick with it and carried on his project but I started to give it a touch of “Xin’s style”.
Since you got started, you haven’t stopped! You already have two shops in Madrid and you “recently” opened a new Friperie in A Coruña (Galicia). How has the Friperie world expanded?
I’ve been with Friperie Madrid for four years and I’ve had many good, and some bad experiences in different aspects of the business. Every day we’re more stable and more well-known. People come from cities all over Spain and from other countries. I’m a restless person, so I usually have a lot of ideas and I like to mix things up so I don’t get bored. For me, it’s an absolute dream come true to have various businesses and get to travel for them. In reality, the idea to expand first came up in conversations with friends. I told them my ideas, they supported me and I made the decision to take the risk and go for new projects.
Have you noticed any differences, in terms of style or demand between the two Spanish cities?
I have the feeling that yes, there is a difference, but I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. I took pieces from Madrid to A Coruña that I thought would sell really well there, but I ended up bringing them back and selling them here in Madrid. Maybe it’s because of the difference in weather; maybe because of all of the rain in A Coruña, the people look for things that are more practical. And in Madrid, people want everything.
How have you adapted your business to the new “normal”?
Now that we can’t open the shops because of COVID-19, I’m taking advantage of social media to showcase styles and to sell online. This helps me cover fixed costs. Thank God I spent time at the beginning to build a social media presence, so now I have a great follower base (not so many, but very loyal). So yeah, it’s been a huge help to get through these difficult times. I feel really fortunate for this and I’m so, so thankful for the different ways my followers have shown their support.
I have always admired your transparency and attention to detail every time you post something to sell. You include all the necessary photos and measurements so that clients can make a more than informed purchase. How long does it take you, on average, to upload one item for sale?
It makes me so happy that people see all the work that goes behind what we do because
honestly, it’s not easy. As it’s vintage, when we upload the information and pictures, it’s to sell and make a profit off of one specific item. It’s not like in other businesses where they can upload the pictures and the measurements to sell the same product on a massive scale. Friperie is a lot more personalized.
Now it doesn’t take me as long because I have more experience, but at first I took forever with the measurements, different models, all of it. Now, every Saturday I do an Instasale; in three hours I can post about 20 items. I’m sure that once some of my colleagues can work, we’ll be more productive.
Now, every Saturday I do an InstaSale.
From what I’ve seen, you have some strict guidelines when it comes to deciding what pieces you will sell or not. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
I’m so strict because this project is my own, it’s like my baby and any comment someone makes about the shop is really a comment about me. That’s why I control everything I can because every time I hear something negative, I have a heart attack. I’ve had clients complain about the behavior of my colleagues, about the quality, the price, details of the pieces-- and although these aren’t errors on my part, I take it all very personally. I understand the complaints because I’m also a client of other businesses and if I had a bad shopping experience, I’d complain just like anyone else. That's why I’m taking so much care of the details everyday so that people feel comfortable with me and with my business.
How did you become a vintage expert, specifically vintage denim?
I’m no expert, there’s still so much to learn. The story about becoming specialized in jeans comes from my personal experience because I could never find jeans that I liked until I found vintage jeans like Levi’s, Wrangler, Lee, etc. When I started this business, I wanted to have something special because I saw that many of the vintage shops had almost all the same suppliers and the same merchandise. If you don’t have something “special”, over time you’ll just be one more and you won’t survive the competition. On top of that, for a lot of people my shop is relatively expensive compared to others, so I needed to find a way to stand out, particularly through the quality of the products we offer.
Is there anything you’ve sold that you wish you’d kept for yourself?
I can’t stop thinking about this one pair of vintage cowboy boots (even though they weren’t even my size), some really old Levi’s and many more things. If I could, I’d keep the whole shop in my house.
Besides the quality, vintage clothes are a sustainable way to dress; how much does sustainability influence your decisions as a business owner?
Honestly, when I started this business, I didn’t think about sustainability at all, it was just a business I liked. However, I started to take it more seriously the last few years because now we’re talking about the environmental impact all the time. And the truth is that the massive production of “fast fashion” really worries me. At work we try to use paper bags, we reuse tags, we create new pieces with old clothes or extra fabric; sometimes we give away materials… Although they’re small actions, they’ll help some.
While I’ve noticed backlash against larger retailers as they debut their spring and summer collections, I’ve noticed considerable support for neighborhood businesses. What has your experience been?
I worry about the production of new fast fashion but I don’t have a problem with these businesses because I buy basics like tees from them. The support for family businesses is so important in Spain because the path to become autonomous or to start an SME business is really difficult, especially if you have employees. The costs and the taxes are hell. People think that you’re rich because you have several businesses but in reality, it’s incredibly difficult to keep a business afloat.
Do you think that the Friperie Family is even more loyal now?
Really loyal. I would say 70% of sales come from our regulars. I met a lot of my clients in person when I worked at the shop and I love when they greet me with “Hello Xin!” because they already know me. I remember a lot of my clients and their families’ names.
Many clients buy vintage Levi’s in the shop and then come back with the whole family to shop. I had complaints and problems with a few clients because of problems with a few pieces but I did my best to resolve them adequately, and now, they are some of my most loyal clients. I get lots of messages saying, “My friend recommended your shop!” etc. These things make me really happy and inspire me each day to improve the business and to come up with new ideas.
Sometimes you post street-style inspiration, from both Western countries and China. What differences do you see between the street style in China and in Spain, specifically?
This is a really interesting question and yes, I do see quite a difference between the two places. In China, I think because of the influence of Japanese and South Korean fashion, people want a more “oversized” look. I have a lot of Chinese clients here in Spai, or from China online, and there hasn’t been one person that has asked me, for example, for jeans in their size; instead they always ask for 2-3 sizes bigger. When you ask them about their style, they always say “I want something that fits me loosely” they have in mind exactly what they want and it’s their own style.
In Spain you can tell that people want a more true-to-size fit and a lot of people like to “copy” influencers, often times clients show me a picture of an influencer saying, “I want to look like her”. If I hang up a photo of just a pair jeans on the wall, no one looks at it twice, but if I post a picture of an influencer or a model wearing something similar, I sell it on the spot.
What is one moment during the quarantine that has pleasantly surprised you-- because it was so kind and human?
At the beginning I was really worried about sales because a lot of people have been furloughed and have less money to spend on extras, but then when I did the Instasale, I was surprised by the interest shown by my clients—I sold most of it as soon as I uploaded it. For the Instasale I post more selected pieces with a different price range because I don’t want to spend one hour uploading a picture and taking measurements of basics you’d find in the shop to earn five euros. On top of that, the shipping costs make the prices more expensive but I haven’t received even one complaint so far because of the price or the shipping cost. In fact, a lot of people have paid me first to reserve pieces and they don’t want them until we open the shop back up. I feel really fortunate to have clients that are so kind and generous.
I feel really fortunate to have clients that are so kind and generous.
What is your quarantine uniform?
Vintage jeans with a tank top or tee. I post pictures of my looks on Instagram every day. I put jeans on to keep me fit so I don’t have to buy all new clothes after the quarantine (and so much good food).
What are your top 3 tips to pulling off vintage denim?
I just have one piece of advice and that is that you feel comfortable when you put them on, that’s it.
Don’t think, just answer...
Coffee or tea?
Book or Kindle?
Book, I love the smell of the pages 📖
Favorite place to drink and hang with friends?
The beach close to my shop in A Coruña 🏖
Levi’s or Wranglers?
Concert or Play?
Salty or Sweet?
"Alaska" by Maggie Rogers.
I’ve been listening to it for a while now.
I don’t know why haha ❤️
How can we get our hands on some one-of-a-kind Friperie pieces now?
For now, just through Instagram. You send me a DM and we’ll sort out sizing and all that information privately. Meanwhile, I’m working on a shop web page to make the process easier and more secure.
So there you have it. If you have the means and want to support Xin or any other small business, you can be sure it's greatly appreciated. I would love to hear about any small business you love, so reach out! And don't forget to check out the Friperie Instasale on Saturdays, you won't regret it!
If you're already daydreaming about your first Saturday after the quarantine, take a look at my plan (spoiler: there's lots of food).