When the pandemic hit, Thrilling, an online marketplace that offers vintage and secondhand clothing from small businesses around the country, cut its commissions for the first two months. After brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to close their doors, and thus lose their main source of income, founder and CEO Shilla Kim-Parker knew that those owners needed every dollar they could make. Thrilling then released custom-printed vintage T-shirts to raise money for the 100+ stores it carries (you can still purchase them or donate to stores here). When protests started around the country, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, Thrilling curated a collection of clothing from Black-owned vintage stores — although, as a Black woman, Kim-Parker had amplified these businesses since the start of Thrilling, giving them the exposure they desperately need in a fashion industry that still prioritizes whiteness.
Kim-Parker, whose prior careers were in industries ranging from finance to media and nonprofit arts, founded Thrilling as a way to support local businesses. “My grandparents started the first Black-owned business in the small town of Kinston in North Carolina in the 1940s, and it was a dry-cleaning business. At the time, the world was against them, and they suffered a lot of harassment and abuse and trauma and violence, but managed to survive and thrive for 50 years,” Kim-Parker told me over a Zoom call last week. “I’ve always had a lot of kinship for small business owners and helping support their place in the world.”
A vintage lover, Kim-Parker grew up secondhand shopping in New York City. “It’s my favorite and only way to shop. I think it’s where you find high-quality, well-made, one-of-a-kind items that are also truly environmentally friendly,” she said. She saw Thrilling as a way to not only support these stores but also broaden their customer base by making the offerings available online: “Secondhand and vintage business owners have been very frustrated about the lack of support from the tech community in helping get their business out to more customers around the world. I started this business to really partner with them and help bring them more revenue, so that they can continue to build their business and continue to be cornerstones of their communities.”
Kim-Parker says that the hardest part of the pandemic has been seeing these businesses face real fear about the future of their livelihoods. “It has been enormously stressful for our stores. They have had to shut their doors. In-person sales are the primary way that they earn revenue, and many of their landlords are unforgiving. They were shut out of a lot of federal grant programs, and so they’ve been under an enormous amount of strain,” she said. “There’s magic to the environments that a lot of stores have created in their stores that’s really important to preserve. There’s a real physical element, and social element, of being part of a neighborhood that I think is super important.” There is also, of course, …read more