Thrifting is becoming an essential tool in a world that increasingly rejects fast fashion, and Ladi Kazeem is among those making a sustainable life work for him – a situation that came about completely by chance.
Kazeem is a celebrated seller on the online marketplace Depop, and has amassed a following of 181,000 people for his ability to procure high-demand vintage T-shirts from around the globe. There was never a dull moment in his world as he switched an unassuming hobby into a life-sustaining business.
He spends his days hunting for rare T-shirts around the world and chatting with people online about vintage clothes. “Some vintage places have items upon items curated over the years just sitting there,” he says. “Why would I ever go back and shop new when I know there are warehouses full of stuff?”
Kazeem was thrifting before he even knew what it was. For him, it wasn’t about buying gems but simply having a cheaper option at the age of 17, when he became “effectively homeless” after his mother died. “When I was younger, I was into Fred Perry, but the T-shirts were so expensive, so I’d go to vintage shops and find much cheaper versions with no visible differences,” he says. Growing up in Middlesbrough, there were a few vintage shops around his college so he would go early, buy the things he liked and give away the stuff he realised he wouldn’t wear.
Given the demand for his castoffs, he soon realised there was potential to earn a living from his hobby, and after moving to London, thrifting was how he survived. “I had an idea what was valuable, so I’d buy a T-shirt, take it to this buy-and-sell shop in Notting Hill and give it to them to trade.”
Soon, things became less about survival and more about curation and growth. “I found a bunch of T-shirts in the middle of nowhere and decided I would structure things. So one week I’d do hip-hop T-shirts and the next week I’d sell rock T-shirts and then film ones, and then before you knew it, it had turned into a business.”
His business is relatively straightforward: buy cheap vintage items, sell them at a higher price. Still, there is an art to knowing history, culture and fashion and being able to spot valuable items. “With T-shirts, you need to know about the fabrics, the process of production, the year certain bands came out, and what T-shirts correspond with what dates. I know T-shirts inside out, so I know exactly what I’m looking for.”
Most of Kazeem’s sales happen through Depop, where customers can choose to pay with PayPal. He says that the service has revolutionised the world of buying and selling preloved goods by providing an added layer of protection for sellers. “When I didn’t know PayPal existed, I was trying to get people to send money directly to my bank account – PayPal has brought protection to both buyers and sellers.”
Kazeem buys and sells T-shirts all over the world, and PayPal makes selling goods internationally accessible. “Everybody is on PayPal these days, which makes things so much easier. Through PayPal, it is more straightforward to sell to different currencies.”
Since lockdown, Kazeem has shifted from the world of T-shirts to posters, and has launched his online vintage poster store Surrealism Habituary. “I needed to start diversifying because the T-shirt market was so oversaturated,” he says. “I put some posters up for sale, and they all sold out on the same day. I started searching for more and realised nobody was searching for the art I was looking for, so they were there for peanuts.”
Collecting posters requires the same skill and knowledge as clothes, he says. You have to know what you’re looking for to find valuable items: prints from the 1980s or from a publisher that went into liquidation years ago tend to be worth more.
Though Kazeem’s business takes him all over the world, his heart will always belong to Middlesbrough, and he hopes to do more for his hometown. “I want to move back to the north of England and open a small shop. The vintage shops I had in my area growing up aren’t there any more.”
He still gives back to the region, though. “I donate to the food bank because I could have done with a food bank when I was there,” he says. “I often donate £50 here and there, and once the woman from the food bank called to tell me I was the main donor!”
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