Whether you’re searching to find the perfect vintage leather jacket or simply looking for ways to spice up your wardrobe, thrifting is definitely the way to go, and Durham is the place to do it.
Being an affordable, fun, and environmentally conscious way to shop, thrifting has gained lots of popularity, especially within the past few years through Tiktok and Instagram. Granny Chic Boutique and Topanga Canyon Vintage are two secondhand clothing shops downtown that are helping to develop the thrifting scene in Durham. With strong beliefs about the value of thrifting, yet vastly different clothing styles, both stores hope to provide a place to shop for unique clothing pieces while also hoping to create new opportunities for the community.
Granny Chic is located in the space previously occupied by the Main Street Makery. The owner, Elizabeth Catalena, originally opened in Contoocook, NH last February, but moved the store to Durham earlier this summer. Her store provides a variety of clothing, accessories, and homemade gifts, and she takes inspiration from many different parts of fashion history, whether it be the Victorian era, styles from the 60s and 70s, or simply something cool she saw a person wearing out in the street. In general, Catalena wants her store to be an ode to old styles and aesthetics- as if you were to walk into your grandmother’s closet.
Curating the collection takes a while, but Catalena’s process allows her to find pieces of the highest quality for the store. Rather than going to chain thrift stores like Savers or Goodwill, Catalena will visit people’s homes and rifle through their old boxes of clothes to pull two or three pieces. “I look for quality, and I want natural fibers, but I also try to find things that I can rescue, things that normally would end up in a landfill somewhere,” says Catalena. “I’d rather bring them in, rescue them, do some mending on them, and put them out for sale.”
Saving and reusing pieces is at the heart of the store, and Catalena hopes that her shoppers will embrace a similar mindset. “I like to see people shopping the past instead of buying in the present. There’s very little need to buy new, especially clothing, and everything is already out there. Just go and find it. It’s an adventure,” says Catalena.
As someone who has always loved to create things, Catalena also hopes to expand the store soon for her “maker space.” This area in the store will be used to teach sewing classes and the process of upcycling, which is when an old piece of clothing is made into something completely new. Catalena loves taking things from the past and forming them into modern designs, so many pieces in the store are things she has upcycled herself. She hopes the “maker space” will allow others to learn how to create and reuse some of their own clothes.
Just across the street on Jenkins Court is another thrift store: Topanga Canyon Vintage, which first opened shop last spring. This store is all about encapsulating the diverse, lively, and free-spirited atmosphere of Topanga Canyon, California, which is situated between San Fernando Valley and Malibu. “I grew up in California and we had places for people who sort of had an alternative lifestyle, like punk or metal,” says Joan Brown*, the manager of Topanga Canyon Vintage. “We basically went to stores and we could get together and have discussions and make our own clothes, and so I’m trying to bring that spirit into this space here.”
The pieces in the store are inspired by the lifestyles of these Californians as well as their passion for art and music, and the collection changes fast as the manager spends multiple days a week searching for new and unique items to bring in. Topanga Canyon aims to offer low prices too, in order to be accessible to as many people as possible. However, this does mean a shopper may miss out on finding an expensive, vintage piece. “If you’re looking for a perfect 1950s prom dress for $300, this isn’t your store, but if you want an $18 one that’s been converted into something else or patched-up a little bit, we are your place,” says Brown.
Topanga Canyon Vintage is also focused on combating several issues found within the fast fashion industry, especially the social impact. “We want to make sure that everyone feels included when they come into the space because we’re all different sizes, and it doesn’t matter what your gender is, we just want you to leave with something you’re comfortable in,” says Project Manager, Jahmilha Crook.
Crook also noted the store’s beliefs in making positive environmental impacts. She assures that all items have been previously owned or recycled to offset pollutants created by clothing production and to prevent over-consumption.
Clio Grondahl (‘23), another student who enjoys thrift shopping, says that this is one of the main reasons she thrifts at stores like Topanga Canyon Vintage. “I’m taking Environmental History right now, and I’m learning about this huge detriment that fast fashion can have on the environment. So thrift stores reusing these pieces is really helpful to stop all the excess from being sent somewhere to be burned,” explains Grondahl.
Although it may seem like just another Gen-Z trend, the thrifting scene is still continuing to develop within the community. Not only will shopping at both Granny Chic and Topanga Canyon Vintage help to support local businesses, but it will also further promote the ideas of sustainable fashion and buying clothes second-hand.
“Trends do go away after a while, but I’m hoping that this becomes an ingrained part of our culture so that we reuse a lot more of what we have and minimize waste,” says Grondahl.
*name changed for anonymity