Hello folks! We are back with another issue of our Let’s TOC series. And this time, we speak with Feng Jia (or better known as FJ), co-founder of vintage clothing store, Loop Garms, and their newly established brand, STAKEOUT. Let’s get started right away!
By a Common Thread
It wasn’t part of their plan to open a vintage clothing store in Jalan Besar, one of Singapore’s hipster enclaves today.
“Isaac had a gazillion property website tabs open on his laptop at that point in time,” FJ shared. “He’d already seen a few places, and even signed for one but the landlord decided that it meant nothing, and that he would pass on the unit to a friend who was going to use the space as an office. Perhaps it was less of a hassle for him that way.”
Despite the initial challenges faced, what seemed like a “last-ditch attempt” at finding a physical space to house Loop Garms has come to mean something for co-founders FJ and Isaac – and the community.
“When we first opened in 2018, we had a lot of curious residents swing by and ask what kind of store we were,” FJ continued. Many of them were reminded of the old Sungei Road Thieves’ Market which was a stone’s throw away from Loop Garms. “It was poetic,” she reminisced, “how we and the flea market took pride in finding new homes for the pieces we carried; how the flea market closed down, and how we opened.”
Loop Garms is a curated vintage clothing store, specialising in pop culture-related pieces from the 80s to 00s. “We buy, sell and trade at the store, so the idea that our vintage pieces have gone through a loop – from various sources which are then passed through different hands, before reaching us and onto another owner – is brought out through our name,” FJ explained. “As we are trying to build a community for vintage enthusiasts in Singapore, the idea of “staying in a loop” i.e. staying in a community, is reflected nicely in our name too. It just came together nicely.”
And as you’ve probably guessed, Garms refers to “garments”, which is what they mainly deal with at the store. “We carry a lot of movies, bands, music, TV shows, events and brand tees, all of which come with their own unique backstory and origin. And these stories give value to vintage clothing!” FJ told us, brimming with enthusiasm. The team at Loop Garms is BIG on sharing the stories behind all their pieces so for those of you who are planning to visit, don’t be shy! Even if you don’t get anything at the store, you leave with a story and an experience to tell.
For the uninitiated, FJ has provided a simple guide to some common terms:
- Thrift: As denoted by the word itself, it suggests lower or affordable prices. It is the only term out of the three that has a direct suggestion about pricing.
- Secondhand: Anything that has had a previous owner.
- Vintage: This term is commonly used by people or businesses with a specific specialty as to what they offer. The general consensus for stores like Loop Garms is that anything 20 years and older is considered vintage. Shops with varying specialties will have different definitions for what is vintage. But it all boils down to the stories and root of how the item came to fruition that makes it cherished amongst vintage enthusiasts.
If we put them in a Venn diagram, we may find overlaps but they are not synonymous. To simplify things for customers trying to understand the difference between thrift and vintage: You can find vintage at thrift stores, but not everything that you thrift is vintage.
FJ believes the beauty of vintage clothing lies in its reflection of individual interests and inclinations. She explained that in the realm of vintage tees, there are many genres; and in the wider scope of vintage clothing, it goes beyond these T-shirts.
“There’s an appreciation for vintage dresses from the 60s, Western wear from the 40s and 50s, vintage army surplus wear and more. With all that history we have behind us in this world, you can only imagine the great variety of vintage clothing one can get into.”
“What’s interesting about vintage clothing is the stories and the origins behind every piece,” FJ marvelled. “From how it came about, why it was made, what purpose it served, why it is so hard to come by and more! On top of that, it’s the personal connection that you have with that particular piece that gives it its meaning. That is something we cannot replicate. So really, vintage clothing is very much like wearable nostalgia.”
Instagram has been Loop Garms’ main social media platform since they opened three years ago, until they hopped on TikTok during the Circuit Breaker last year. With an impressive following of 19.7K followers on Instagram, we asked FJ more about the inspiration behind how the team decided on their Instagram grid layout, since different brands make use of their feed to showcase their aesthetics and appeal to the visual creatures on this platform.
“For a good year since the day we started, because it was just Isaac and I running the show, we barely posted anything on our Instagram posts.” Despite the grand plans that the pair had for the elaborate posts they would do, they were so swamped with in-store operations alone that they “just didn’t have time to work on their Instagram game.”
FJ however shared that they posted on their Instagram Stories (IGS) very frequently. But because of the ephemeral nature of IGS, there was very little content a consumer could access via their profile page once 24 hours was up.
“When we finally got our first colleague, Xin Qin, joining us after the first year, we managed to start documenting the cool stuff we had in-store. In the beginning, we did a lot of environmental shots with the items – we’d find suitable spots outdoors and take our photos there. Then the monsoon season came, and the lack of sunlight made it hard to capture good photos. So we switched to studio shots, photographing the items against a clean and white background to counter that. And of course, the circuit breaker came around, and all of those restrictions just pushed us to continue doing studio shots,” FJ recounted.
“We put more emphasis on sharing the backstories and origins on our pieces, so you’ll see very elaborate captions on our Instagram posts accompanying the photos!” And that’s what sets Loop Garms apart from many other brands that keep their captions minimal on Instagram.
The team now includes social media warrior, Victoria; creative eye, Xin Qin, who focuses on design; as well as the brains and talents Almaz, Isaac, Asri and FJ herself.
“The younger members, Victoria and Almaz, are natives at platforms like TikTok and they are able to connect us oldies to the younger audience with all the content they have been exposed to,” FJ laughed. “By putting together all five different brains, perspectives and personalities, we are able to come up with content that speaks to the myriad of people who tune in to us.”
Now that it’s been three years since Loop Garms opened doors, we asked FJ how the team continued to grow the platform and applied what they learnt to managing their new brand, STAKEOUT’s social pages. (Read on to learn more about STAKEOUT!)
“To be honest, social media is anybody’s game! There’s really no predicting what will be “viral” or what will gain lots of traction – because the algorithm is nothing like what it used to be years ago. So the only real lesson we can share is to… not expect anything. When you don’t have expectations, you are less inclined to be disappointed. You will also find it a pleasant surprise when you least expect it. Understanding all of this, and the importance of consistency, we used what we’ve learned from managing Loop Garms‘ socials, to create a strong profile at STAKEOUT.”
Here’s one thing FJ said that left a deep impression on us: “If sellers have the confidence to sell, they should also have the confidence to answer to their customers, to give them a bigger peace of mind about what they are getting.“
Even though the team doesn’t set high KPIs for their social media marketing, their passion for sharing and consistency in posting has garnered more than 4,000 followers for STAKEOUT in three months and way more for Loop Garms. The amount of passion and knowledge that comes through each post is immaculate!
In the Loop
Curious, we asked FJ if there were any items at Loop Garms that she would have coveted for herself. To which, she immediately responded, “We want EVERYTHING we put out at Loop Garms!” FJ acknowledged that many items that they loved were now sold and only remain in their distant memory now, without pictures to show. And that was when we realised how much they love and cherish what they bring through their doors.
If she were given a second chance to redo things, FJ shared that she would definitely take advantage of the organic growth on social media when they first opened the store. “Do promotions, post regularly, reply DMs promptly, all that jazz!”, she said.
“Looking back, we definitely could have achieved a lot more if we actually invested time and effort in our online presence.”
Stake Your Claim
FJ and Isaac recently launched a new initiative just a few doors down from Loop Garms!
STAKEOUT was an opportunity for them to draw a greater distinction between what is vintage, and what is merely “style-based”. At Loop Garms, the emphasis is always on the stories and the origins behind the vintage pop culture pieces that they carry. At STAKEOUT, it’s more about mixing and matching, trying out different styles, putting together different outfits, and just getting out of one’s comfort zone.
FJ shared a Japanese proverb – 出る杭は打たれる (derukuihautareru) which, when translated and further dissected, suggests that people who try to set themselves apart from the crowd will be pulled down in envy by those around them. It is a conservative expression used to describe the idea of fitting in – that individuals who stand out are brought down to be at the same level of the people in the community.
“This expression can also be used to describe the mentality that we see so often across all lifestyles locally,” FJ continued. “We often want to stand out, but we’re afraid to be outstanding, fearing that we will be judged for being different or for exploring options outside the norm.” Challenging that idea of conformity, STAKEOUT is all about celebrating one’s individuality. And that is reflected in its logo, with two hands in an embrace. As FJ says, “Be authentic, be experimental! Embrace who you are and who you want to be.” So go out there and stake your claim – and don’t forget to be you, for you.