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Thrifting is on the rise these days, and especially with the lockdown, many locals are looking to buy or sell thrifted and pre-loved clothes on Instagram.

Some wear them as is, while others get a little more creative and revamp them into something else to wear or sell. A popular local example of this is GHOSTBOY, which turns thrifted clothes into qipao tops. 

But when Fitriyana started her online thrift store, all she wanted to do was clear out her pre-loved clothes and earn some pocket money from them. Today, what was once a store to clear out a closet is now a place where people can get hand-painted anime apparel from. 

Finding a new hobby during the pandemic

“I never considered myself ‘artsy’ and initially, believe it or not, I was not very interested in art. However, when the first lockdown was imposed last year, I decided to give it a try and started painting,” Fitriyana, the founder of 1800 Frugality based in Kota Kinabalu, shared with Vulcan Post. 

It gradually grew into something enjoyable for her, and she found herself using her free time on it. Outside her free time though, Fitriyana is a full-time university student, and one who just graduated from secondary school after finishing SPM earlier this year. 

1800 Frugality actually started out as 1800 Love Cats in June 2020 when it simply sold pre-loved clothes. “Reason being, I was a big The Cure fan,” she explained. (The Cure has a song called “The Love Cats”.)

It was when she chanced upon hand-painted apparel shops like UNCLE DAN AUNTY and Mittens 750 that she found inspiration and began musing about hand-painting thrifted clothes as well. 

Any weebs recognise what media these designs are inspired by? / Image Credit: 1800 Frugality

Fitriyana started hand-painting all kinds of art like the Playboy Bunny, cow prints, band names, etc. It was only later on that she pivoted to the Japanese anime style that fills her feed today.

“I shifted more towards anime after doing a poll on my Instagram, asking my followers what they would like to see more of,” she recalled. “There was an overwhelming response for anime-inspired pieces. Garments that were of anime art were always the ones to get sold first too.”

Her first piece faded in one wash

R&D was rough. When she started, she wasn’t informed on the right paint to use and her first design completely faded after a single wash. She paid the price by having to repaint from scratch again and source a new piece of clothing she could paint on. 

“It was definitely a lesson learnt and I make sure to double-check my fabric paints now as well as handwash every piece of clothing I create before sending them out to customers, to make sure they do not wash away,” she reflected on her process. 

Her trusted fabric painting tools and some pre-loved apparel she’ll make art on / Image Credit: 1800 Frugality

Her hand-painted work is now mostly in black and white, as she found it lasts longer on cotton and denim.

“With pigmented paints, I found that they do not set as well as B&W colours. However, I’ve been trying out different brands of fabric paint to find the best one since I definitely want to venture out and use more pigmented paints for my creations,” Fitriyana shared. 

A creative process that takes a week

On how long it takes to complete one piece, Fitriyana said, “It depends on the difficulty of the design (size, details, shadings, etc). It also takes a few extra days after I finish a piece to let the paint fully set and to hand-wash it before posting it out to customers.”

In her experience, realistic paintings or portraits tend to take longer but on average, each piece takes about 1 week to finish. 

Started with pencil and later on black paint / Image Credit: 1800 Frugality

Her inspiration usually comes from Pinterest, Google, her friends, and of course, her own lightbulb moments. Upon ideation, she’ll start painting a white base and then outlines. 

“I’ll gradually add more details to the piece and improvise a little along the way. It all comes together after a few layers of paint and touch-ups,” Fitriyana shared her working process. 

She paints on both thrifted and pre-loved clothes, but because it’s quite hard for her to visit thrift stores these days, she’d usually source her apparel online or pick clothes that are rarely worn from her own closet.

“Online thrift stores generally cost more since they are curated, so the price range is around RM25-RM60 [per piece]. I stick with a budget of RM200 every time I thrift,” she said.

From that base price, she sells her works using a general rule of thumb of RM30-RM50 profit for each piece. It may not be much considering the time taken to make a piece, but she wants her clothes to still be affordable for her customers. 

Fooled once, but never again

So far in her experience with sales, she’s grateful that she’s only run into one difficult customer, but it was enough to teach her a great deal about business. 

“The customer was interested in a pair of pants I painted on and requested me to reserve it for her for a couple of days until she sorted out her bank account to proceed with payment. But these couple of days dragged on for 2 weeks until the actual payment was made. I shipped her parcel the next day and she complained that delivery was slow.”

“When it was delivered to her, she gave feedback saying that everything was okay. But a month later, she DM-ed me again asking for a refund because the pants were not her size,” Fitriyana shared. Due to this, she no longer holds reservations for longer than 2 days. 

A skeleton art piece in progress / Image Credit: 1800 Frugality

Though based in Sabah, most of Fitriyana’s customers are from West Malaysia, especially KL. Because she paints on denim which is a heavy material, delivery fees can run up to RM25, which has cost her some customers.

“So, I changed to another courier service and made sure to charge everyone flat shipping rates no matter the weight. Any extra fee will be out of my own pocket. Even though this lessens my profit, it’s a small gesture to show appreciation to my customers’ support for my small business.”

Currently, she doesn’t do commissions because it would be hard to juggle that with her studies, and Fitriyana also personally finds commissions a bit risky since customers can change their orders or cancel them. 

Her proudest moment with this small business thus far was selling her first hand-painted piece. “As I was packing that first piece, I felt so anxious. ‘What if the customer doesn’t like it?’ or ‘What if they ask for a refund?’.”

Finding joy in creating (left) and one of her customers wearing her art (right) / Image Credit: 1800 Frugality

“But when I got their feedback saying that they loved it, I was extremely happy and had this big sense of fulfillment. There is no other feeling quite like it,” she shared with Vulcan Post. 

While she still plans to work on anime-inspired art, she wants to venture into modern art too as she’s been recently inspired by artists like Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, etc. Granted, she’ll be adding her own twist.

  • You can learn more about 1800 Frugality here.
  • You can read about more Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.

Featured Image Credit: Fitriyana Adeera, founder of 1800 Frugality




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