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Gen Z entrepreneurs in Charlotte have a passion for vintage fashion

Mariela Ferreira, Bella Hogan and Ella Vernile founded Noughties Market CLT.
Caroline Willingham
Queens University News Service
Mariela Ferreira, Bella Hogan and Ella Vernile founded Noughties Market CLT.

Ella, Bella, and Mariela struck up a bond over their passion for all things “Noughties” — the fashion of the late '90s and early 2000s — a little over a year ago. They’ve since turned their friendship and fashion into a business venture.

Noughties Market CLT is the brainchild of the three friends — Ella Vernile, Bella Hogan and Mariela Ferreira — who each established their own individual secondhand clothing shops during the pandemic. After individually selling their own vintage goods online and in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood, they realized how few vintage markets featured women vendors.

“We've definitely opened the door for women to be able to be accepted into a market and also do what they love and have these events that they can do with us,” said Ferreira. “The people that come to our markets love fashion, and it's always such a good time. It's a social event and vintage market. The community is probably the best part.”

These semi-monthly events feature dozens of secondhand clothing and craft vendors who all come together to create a vibrant community and supportive place for growing entrepreneurship.

Gen Z looks back to Y2K

Thrift and vintage pop-up markets have exploded across Charlotte over the last several years, with local vendors and craftspeople flocking to breweries to build community and create entrepreneurial opportunities. This trend reflects a growing appreciation for vintage fashion and sustainable, secondhand clothing among young Americans, said Oscar Barzuna, an entrepreneurship professor at Queens University of Charlotte.

“This generation (Gen Z) is dressing the way that they want and not the way the market is telling them how to dress,” he said. “It creates an opportunity for those secondhand entrepreneurs.”

Personal style and pushing the boundaries of what’s trendy are core components for the women of Noughties Market. Many of the vendors (the market’s founders included) have embraced trends like lingerie as outerwear, skirts and dresses over pants, sky-high platform shoes and other risk-taking fashion moves.

With a general eye on the Y2K aesthetic, they pique customer curiosity by curating every market with a theme. An upcoming market on June 4 carries the theme “Summer CAMP,” with a color-clashing, print-filled, bold take on vintage style, hosted at Petty Thieves Brewing Co.

“We want to show our customer base what we're all about. We do photo shoots for our campaigns and for every event, showcasing the theme of the event because we love giving a good theme so people can dress up,” said Hogan. “It's completely different than any other market in Charlotte. There are a few other markets in Charlotte, but we want to make sure that Noughties is unique.”

Fighting fast fashion

While these entrepreneurs strive for fashion at all times, they also prioritize sustainability. Hogan attended Columbia College in Chicago for a semester to study fashion business and learned about the industry's toll on the environment. With this knowledge, she wondered how she could play a part in changing the field, leading her into secondhand reselling.

“Part of why we all started this is because the production of clothes is so bad for the environment. There are so many clothes that are just sitting or going to landfills, and I see all these people shopping on Shein, Amazon and all of these horrible websites because they want clothes for cheap,” Hogan said. “We're trying to let people know that these really cool clothes can be found at thrift stores. They can be found at estate sales, antique malls, vintage markets. You can go and get things for affordable prices, and you can do your part in helping the environment rather than producing more clothing.”

Secondhand sellers do face some unique challenges, though, such as customer reluctance to buy items without fitting rooms. Noughties Market sellers combat this by offering try-ons in the brewery bathrooms (while holding onto collateral such as driver's licenses) or by having tape measures available to help customers with fitting, Ferriera said.

Inside the life of fashion entrepreneurship

Each of the Noughties founders scours local thrift stores weekly, seeking out the hidden gems to bring to their customers, both online and at the in-person markets. Vernile described her regular inventory curation routine, which she called her favorite part of the business. She visits multiple secondhand stores in a day, digging through massive Goodwill bins, hunting through aisles on Salvation Army discount days and scouring Value Village stores for specific items and aesthetics she knows her customer base is looking for.

“The profit margins are really good,” Vernile said. “I try to make my prices very affordable for people, but still to where I'm making a profit. Some people think you're just thrifting, you put it on a hanger and you sell it. But there's so much work that goes on behind the scenes that nobody sees.”

She said it’s important for entrepreneurs in the secondhand space to learn how to time themselves and budget to ensure the payoff balances out. Patience is also key, as the search for great pieces can be long and sometimes unfruitful.

When she first started over a year ago, Vernile said she was underselling and under-pricing, but she’s seen so much growth since then after learning from other sellers and understanding her customer base and their needs. She began with one rack of items and now brings five full racks.

Secondhand selling in an online, post-COVID world

Noughties Market CLT and each of the women’s individual ventures grew out of the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, making online spaces and the local community invaluable aspects of the businesses.

Hogan, owner of Shop Eternal Bella, found inspiration to sell secondhand after being forced to move home from college. She sought community and shared interests through online platforms. Vernile, owner of Pixie City Thrifts, reignited a teenage love for thrifting after moving back from Hawaii in 2021 and taking inspiration from popular Depop sellers and pop-up vendors in NoDa. Ferreira, owner of Será Antigua Vintage, found herself laid off from a deli job and started selling from her closet to make extra money. Then she saw the growth potential.

Ferreira said thrifting and selling started as a creative outlet during a difficult time, but grew into something deeper. “I didn't have a job and was living off of unemployment,” Ferreira said. “Thrifting kind of gave me a purpose that I didn't know I needed,” she said. “I grew up thrifting all the time with my mom and my sister, but I never thought that other people would buy it.”

Social media also plays a huge role in building the three sellers’ customer bases. Each of them primarily promotes their work through Instagram. They sell items online on their websites, in addition to the in-person markets.

“If I did not have social media, I don't even know where my business would be at right now,” Vernile said. “It's all social media marketing.” She uses her platform to show thrift hauls of what she finds when curating, to advertise markets, and to communicate with customers and sell items directly.

Hogan saw the value in the online space, especially in light of the pandemic. “I saw what happened to a lot of small businesses during COVID; it was really hard for people,” she said. “I thought e-commerce was a good way for people to still be able to shop and express themselves when everything else in the country is shut down. Giving people a space online to be able to find the things that they loved was really important for me when I first started.”

Noughties Market CLT’s Valentine’s-themed pop-up in February filled Heist Brewery’s taproom with racks of vintage finds, handmade craft items and throwback tunes.
Caroline Willingham
Queens University News Service
Noughties Market CLT’s Valentine’s-themed pop-up in February filled Heist Brewery’s taproom with racks of vintage finds, handmade craft items and throwback tunes.

Building community through a niche experience

Community is a core part of Noughties Market, they said. The market had its first event in December 2022 and has grown with each pop-up, bringing in more vendors and taking up more space. Individual vendors apply for each market. Upon selection, they pay a small vendor fee for the space, knowing that Noughties and the hosting brewery will bring in traffic to their stall. Hogan said that the brewery partnerships also work as mutually beneficial transactions. The Noughties team then puts the majority of these funds back into preparation and advertising for the next markets.

Hogan described the energy at Noughties Market pop-ups: “Our community is full of amazing people who love what we love. They love sustainability, they love fashion. They're meeting people that are like-minded, that they can form relationships with, and then they're also coming and finding really, really cool pieces for their wardrobe. It's a really cool, niche community in Charlotte.”

Noughties Market is excited to grow, but they do want to maintain the exclusive vibe and keep the excitement of spacing out their pop-ups, Hogan said. The entrepreneurs also want to leverage their passion for secondhand selling into sustainable careers.

“I hope to open a store one day,” Ferreira said. “This is helping me see how I would like to run my business, the things not to do and things to do. Having that community in Charlotte, it's just going to continue growing, and it's going to open doors for us.”

And while they have all three held onto other part-time jobs, Noughties’ growth doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.

Barzuna highlighted the value in finding an overlooked niche in the market, which is what Noughties is working to do. “What we have seen in entrepreneurship is that the winners adapt, and the losers don't innovate,” he said. “The secondhand market offers multiple ways of repurposing and reusing, and I think that's the key.”

Caroline Willingham is a 2023 graduate of the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.

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Caroline Willingham of Durham, North Carolina, is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.