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Reviving retro: How YYZ Clothing is bringing vintage styles and sustainability to West Durham

As the loose-fitting fashions of the early 1980s and 1990s make a comeback, West Durham has found its vintage haven in YYZ Clothing.

Launched six years ago by 23-year-old Josh Solomons, the store has filled a void for local enthusiasts in search of retro styles, making it easier to embrace the trends of the past without the hassle of a distant search.

Solomons highlighted the convenience YYZ Clothing brought to the local community: “Before, you’d have to travel to Toronto or Whitby to find vintage stuff, and the [trip] would just add to the cost.”

He operates his business as a joint venture with EastVintageShop (EVS), located near Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering. EVS, co-owned by three individuals, specializes in vintage items, selling both online and in a collaborative retail space.

Solomons’ passion for thrifting began in ninth grade, driven by necessity and the fun of discovering new items. This passion for thrifting soon developed into a business. “Eventually, I started to see there was a way to make money doing it,” Solomons said.

During his high school years, he set up social media accounts to buy and sell clothing, bootstrapping his way without any loans. He said initially lack of financial resources “sucked.”

Over time, online sales increased, and he was able to open a shop. He attributes his success to his girlfriend and a close friend.

“She took it to the next level with quality control, aesthetics and just wanting everything to be done professionally,” said Solomons. “And my boy, he’s done all my graphic design for me, and he’s never taken a dollar out of me, both of them have been a huge part of YYZ’s success.”

The impact on sustainable fashion

The fashion industry consumes 79 trillion litres of water annually, according to statistics from the UN 2023 Water Conference; and the fast fashion epidemic is linked to eighty per cent of textiles being incinerate or left in landfills.

Against the backdrop, sustainability is the main goal of YYZ Clothing. Solomons is dedicated to mitigating the adverse impacts of fast fashion by advocating for the purchase of second-hand clothing, positioning YYZ Clothing as a beacon of eco-conscious fashion practices.

Solomons highlighted the fashion industry’s significant issues, such as the high consumption of water and abuse of human labour, noting these harmful aspects are often either unknown or ignored by many.

Continuing his commitment to sustainability, Solomons not only sources from thrift stores but also explores estate sales and, predominantly, rag houses for his inventory. He said he is “extremely picky” with the clothing he acquires and doesn’t like grabbing plus-size items unless they are from rag house where they would otherwise be shredded

Despite the demand for oversized clothing, he doesn’t think it’s ethical to buy sizes that aren’t always available for people who need it.

A rack of clothing in East Vintage shop/ YYZ Clothing, Jan.17, 2024. The clothing they sell is bought from thrift stores, rag houses, and estate sales. They hope to reduce the amount of money going into the fast fashion industry.

Positive feedback from the customers

Solomons said the customer feedback has been positive, with many customers returning repeatedly.

“I’ve almost become friends with them [repeat customers] in a sense,” said Solomons.””The way we run it, the jokes we make, and the music we play, people enjoy that, and because of this, they come back often.”

Alejandro Lartiga-Fernandez, 19, is one of these repeat customers. He found the store last year while looking for thrift shops with “crazy finds.”

“[What] keeps me coming back is the owners,” Lartiga-Fernandez said. “They don’t make you feel forced to buy stuff.”

Solomons hopes to open an independent shop with his girlfriend who is a nail technician. However, he remains uncertain if this path will define his entire career, expressing concerns about the financial viability of the vintage clothing market.

In the future, he said he might have to take on another career, and he is okay with that, and that money is not his main goal.

“Success is always about being proud of what you do, being happy with what you do,” said Solomons. “I would say that’s textbook for me, just being powered, and being happy with whatever you’ve chosen to do in your life.”