Ēnterview with Amarga Vintage, by Gema Coello
It is believed that the past always comes back (not necessarily to haunt us!), and this is no exception in the fashion world. Among the trends that have resurfaced in recent years, we have mom jeans, scrunchies, bell-bottoms... and second-hand shops.
What we used to consider as a last resort (buying clothes that are not new) is now the latest fashion statement. And, in the case of Amarga Vintage, this is no different.
The first time I walked into Amarga Vintage I didn't feel like I was in a store. Without realising it, I had just entered a home, a small community where everyone is welcome. Its owners, Yolanda and David, wanted it to be that way.
Amarga was born in 2016, but it was not until late 2018 that this dream became a reality. This small shop is located in the picturesque Barrio del Oeste of Salamanca, one of Spain’s top student cities. But it hasn't always been like this. Yolanda and David tell me, with enthusiasm, how their second home came about: "We used to hold flea markets in Salamanca, in different bars, before opening the store. But we have always shared a passion for vintage and second-hand fashion — it is very important to differentiate between the two. We decided that this project had to lead us somewhere, beyond being a hobby or giving us economic remuneration. That's when we took a leap of faith and opened the store".
This project has grown organically, as Yolanda proudly tells me. Born in Badajoz, a small Spanish city, she explains how her options were limited when it came to shopping: "At the age of 14, my friends and I started going to a charity shop in town. But that was 10 years ago, and there weren't as many vintage stores as there are now. That's where it all started. On Fridays, instead of hanging out in the park, we would go to the store and look around to see what we could find. Shopping there also served as a way to tell ourselves apart from the rest, in terms of fashion style".
It was then when Yolanda understood that fashion went beyond clothes: it was a form of expression. "I've always had trouble finding clothes that I like and that I also feel good in. Vintage clothes have helped me understand myself, love myself and be myself".
Yolanda is a young 26-year-old entrepreneur who decided to take a risk and pursue her dreams — she used all funds from her master's degree to open Amarga Vintage. She confesses, with a hint of pride in her eyes, what the most rewarding thing about running a local business is: "The good part is that, even if things don’t go well, having direct contact with our clients pushes me forward. For me, the most rewarding thing about Amarga is having faith in what we do: from selling a product to creating a campaign on Instagram. Seeing how what we have put so much effort and dedication into pays off is the best part of all. It gives me an indescribable sense of self-worth." David is also clear about this: "The most inspiring thing about owning a small business is having one-on-one contact with our clients.”
However, they both assure me that having your own independent business is no bed of roses: "You also have to be prepared for failure. Being so young, you are also overwhelmed by the thought that you are in charge of both your destiny and your business. Sometimes you feel lost.” One thing Yolanda confesses is that she is very attached to her business — and this can be a double-edged sword: "If your personal life isn’t going well and you let it get to you, then your work will be affected as well”.
When it comes to running a business, regardless of its dimensions or sustainability policies, we must bring mental health into the conversation. In an age in which we are glued to our phones and where businesses thrive online, it is essential to separate our personal life from our professional matters. But this is not always easy: "It is impossible for me to break away from social media," Yolanda sighs, "I am working on it, but it is complicated. Anxiety seems to be my best friend, and it affects me quite a bit. I have to learn to disengage, because if I don't, I won’t enjoy what I’m going. I always wake up thinking about what I have to do that day.”
We began this interview by talking about the trends that are making a comeback and, with them, the great giants of capitalism: fast fashion companies. David sees it clearly: "People are buying much more fast fashion now. The 80s and 90s, which are the styles we sell the most often, are currently a trend, so these big companies are taking advantage of it.” On the other hand, Yolanda is unequivocal in her approach to this matter: "Since we opened the shop, we knew that fast fashion was something we couldn't compete with — nor do we want to. After all, they are the ones who set the trends, but they also give value to vintage clothing. The fact that we have the original clothes from the 80s and 90s, and they decide that they are back in fashion, makes our store more valuable".
It is clear that the consumer sets the pace in all markets, and the fashion industry is not excluded from this reality. In Amarga, they have defined two specific types of customers: "On the one hand, we have those who want to lead a sustainable life, and so they want to buy these clothes. On the other hand, however, there are those who are looking for certain garments... but cheaper. Especially from well-known brands. They come looking for Levi’s jackets, Lacoste polo shirts... You can't control why people buy in vintage stores, and you have to respect every reason. After all, they are boosting the local economy and, in general, doing something good".
Yolanda and David’s philosophy of life is also present in their business: "Live like you think.” We all have to do what we can within our possibilities — but we can always do more than we think. It is very important to keep in mind that sustainability is not about spending money on sustainable or second-hand clothing: "Consumerism is still a problem. People don't know how to take proper care of their clothes, and we all get carried away by trends. We have to buy good quality clothes — but always keep in mind that ‘quality’ isn’t necessarily a synonym for ‘designer clothes’". Moreover, they highlight the importance of learning how to read clothing labels: "You can buy the best-quality sweater in the market, but it will get ruined if you don’t take proper care of it.”
Despite the fact that fast fashion consumerism continues to skyrocket, these young entrepreneurs hope for a better future: "Our customers are between the ages of 20 and 25, but we also have ladies over 60 coming to the store. We believe that, nowadays, young people are much more educated about fashion sustainability than they used to be.”
Because if all roads lead to Rome, all roads also lead to sustainable fashion: "People support this kind of business for various reasons: because they want to dress differently, for mental health reasons (we do not follow the harmful standards set by fast fashion), because they wish to boost local commerce, because they are looking for good quality but cheaper clothes, or because they really want to know who their money is going to. All options are valid".
Something that really caught my attention about Amarga Vintage was their work ethic. Their business reflects their way of life, as well as their personal and consumer values. At the same time, Yolanda and David handpick their vintage clothes during their trips, which makes them even more special: "This way, customers also carry a part of our adventures with them". When they arrive at the store, they wash all garments with organic products.
In addition to taking care of all the details of their selection of vintage and second-hand clothes, they also collaborate with small, independent, Spanish brands: "These brands are not necessarily ecological in terms of materials, but they are ecological in their production. Sustainability also includes the human factor. We collaborate with those who share our values of feminism, support for the LGBTQ+ community and whose aesthetics are similar to ours".
A mere glance at the store is enough to understand that there is a great amount of time, attention, love and passion behind this project. Yolanda and David do not miss the opportunity to encourage all artists and entrepreneurs who are taking their first steps into the industry: "Do not be afraid to get in touch with other businesses. We are not better than anyone else. We are all learning. You will go far if you’re respectful and passionate about what you do.”
Something that worries me (and many others) is what happens to the clothes in (sustainable) stores when they do not get sold. Do they throw them away? Do they give them away? Amarga Vintage has a great solution to this issue: "We hold flea markets with the clothes that didn’t get sold, and we lower the prices — 5, 10, and 15€ are our go-to prices. We save for next season those items we couldn’t sell in the flea markets. The good thing about this type of clothing is that it eventually becomes a trend again".
Vintage clothing is back in fashion, yes, but not for everyone. Even today, in Spain, there is a certain prejudice against buying second-hand clothes: "This is true especially among people between the ages of 30 and 60. We have to explain to them that this is a store like any other, where clothes are properly washed and cared for". Beyond the reluctance to consume this type of fashion, one thing is clear: the fact that it has become a trend is a problem.
It always comes as a surprise to me when I see some vintage clothing stores offering plain (designer) garments at exorbitant prices. And this is a growing practice: "Everything is a business," explains Yolanda, "We always choose a reasonable price that will give us a decent profit margin, but we can't do anything about those people who are willing to pay 100 € for a designer polo shirt". Without a doubt, the consumer holds the power. However, David explains something that is key to remember: "Oftentimes you pay that much money for the quality of the product. We've had Zara jeans from 20 years ago, and they were in perfect condition. Nowadays, this is almost never the case — planned obsolescence is very present in our closets".
As the interview came to an end, we discussed the future of sustainability, as well as the future of Amarga Vintage: "Sustainability is not free from capitalism, and that is why it can lose its essence. It's normal to get lost and not be able to do everything perfectly," states Yolanda. The dream of this couple is to grow, but always at their own pace and paying attention to all their steps. Their ultimate aspiration is to create a space that serves as both an art gallery and a clothing store. A concept that, without a doubt, will revolutionize this industry — after all, fashion is art.
The support of family and friends has been crucial to make this dream happen, especially from an emotional-support point of view: "They have never doubted the project, but they were pleasantly surprised when it became something big.” From Amarga Vintage, and also from ELOQUĒNTIA, we wish to send a very clear message to young people: "Don't be afraid to get out there. Are you afraid? Fine, then do it with fear. But do it.”
All our projects have been affected by the pandemic, and in the case of Amarga, this is no exception: "The store is a meeting point, a safe and happy place to enjoy fashion. And now that's impossible." COVID-19 has taken its toll on them, especially in terms of mental health. Despite this, they do not lack enthusiasm: "You have to survive. You're the only one who's going to get your business off the ground. You may have anxiety, you may cry... but nothing worth having comes easy.”
The Amarga Vintage family is, without a doubt, one of the most special ones in Salamanca. Yolanda and David are the proud owners not only of a store, but also of a second home for themselves and for the whole community. A space for conversation, safe, open, fun and, without a doubt, responsible.
Amarga Vintage is a true example of what a sustainable business should be like in every way.