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We Started This: Second-hand, first choice

We Started This and Marimekko collaborate to get second hand Marimekko items back in business.Anne Salomäki

Not everyone believed in Sara Nyyssölä’s business pitch when she announced her idea of buying and selling pre-worn clothes. Now, she and her team have proven the doubters wrong.

The We Started This (WST)* store is eye-catchingly classy. The space looks huge, and although the selection is abundant, there’s plenty of room to roam around between the racks.

The backroom is another story; there are bags and boxes everywhere. The business is busy, which is a slap in the face for those who thought selling second-hand clothes wouldn’t arouse customers’ excitement. WST has grown from a website run from Sara and Laura Nyyssölä’s childhood home basement in 2013, to a massive shop near central Helsinki and an online store that ships high-end fashion to different corners of the world.

WST receives the items from people who either pop into the shop or ship them over, decides which ones suit their standard and then puts on the price tag. When the piece has found a new home, the initial owner pockets half of the money. The concept proves that people really are willing to rethink their choices when it comes to fashion.

“I figured people would buy more second-hand if the process was easy and stylish – similar to buying new,” Sara Nyyssölä recalls. “Turns out, they really do.”

Eco- and wallet-friendly fashion

Sara and Laura have grown up wandering around Finnish flea markets. As a teen, Sara noticed her friends weren’t as keen on the hobby that felt like treasure-hunting to her.

During her studies, Sara spent six months working in Hong Kong, where she learned a lot about online sales. She started to develop an idea of offering a new platform for second-hand fashion. Some deemed it a dead end, but fortunately, Sara found believers: once she was back in Finland, Laura and another friend, now-CEO Marta Jaakkola, jumped onboard.

After two startup programmes, plenty of hours spent hosting popup shops and a lot of flea market meandering, there’s no doubt WST has found its place. Second-hand fashion is finding new fans, and WST has sent packages not only all over Finland, but all over the globe.

“People still want to update their wardrobes, but they’re looking for ways to do it more sustainably,” Sara explains. “We provide them not only with “new” clothes, but also a place where to recycle the ones they no longer use.”

Laura (left) and Sara Nyyssölä in their We Started This store near central Helsinki. Image: Anne Salomäki

Fashion brands are recognising the trend too: for example, there is a second-hand store for the Swedish fashion brand Filippa K in Stockholm.

WST is keen to collaborate directly with brands, and a year ago, the world-renowned Finnish design brand Marimekko started to organise its second-hand sales through WST. The company sets up a popup collection desk in a Marimekko shop, customers bring their pre-owned clothes, and then WST sells them forward.

The concept has been very well received by global fashion fans.

On a mission of ethical consumption

In addition to the Nyyssölä sisters and Jaakkola, WST has a fourth owner. So far, the company has been able to bootstrap its own growth, and there’s been no need to seek investors.

The workload is proving quite heavy for the small team. At some point, there’ll be a need for spare pairs of hands, especially when marketing efforts will be focused further away from the homeland.

Many European countries, such as Sweden and Germany, are well acquainted with second-hand shopping. Sara Nyyssölä is aware of the challenges WST might face further away.

“In Finland, we’re used to recycling and siblings wearing hand-me-down items of clothing when they reach a certain age, but this is not the case everywhere,” she notes. “When I lived in Hong Kong, there seemed to be no market for pre-owned fashion.”

WST’s advantage in comparison to many online flea markets is that every piece of clothing is curated by the company. The sisters take pride in being picky about what makes it to their site and shelves. No fast-fashion brands pass through the filter.

As second-hand shopping has grown trendier in the past few years, many other sites have popped up to tap the market. That doesn’t worry the Nyyssöläs in the slightest.

“We’re all in the same boat, helping ethical consumption and normalising second-hand buying,” they say. “Whoever manages to support that mission, we’re only happy to see it happen!”

WST wants second hand clothing to be a genuine alternative to buying new. Image: Screenshot / We Started This

*Known as Vestis since 2018

By: Anne Salomäki