Student start-ups: Bel Ami Vintage is making sustainability trendy

Two Queen’s students provide an alternative to fast fashion

Croke-Martin and Chapin want to make sustainability more common with Bel Ami.
Credit: 
Supplied by Orlaith Croke-Martin

Best friends Orlaith Croke-Martin, MA ’20, and Melissa Chapin, ArtSci ’18, have recently turned their passion for thrifting into an up-and-coming business. 

Through the launch of their clothing resale start-up, Bel Ami Vintage, the duo is committed to providing fellow Queen’s students and Kingstonians with a sustainable, affordable way to stay trendy.    

Bel Ami Vintage is an online destination for thrifted and vintage second-hand clothing, based in Kingston and the Greater Toronto Area. The business currently runs on three platforms: Instagram, Facebook, and the start-up’s brand-new website. On the site, users can easily scroll through and purchase available clothing pieces, each of which was handpicked by Croke-Martin and Chapin from thrift and vintage stores in Kingston, Toronto, and other destinations they’ve visited.   

“Our main tenets are affordable clothing with a sustainable source for people who like to stand out and have pieces they know are really unique to them,” Croke-Martin told The Journal in an interview. 

The inspiration behind Bel Ami Vintage came from the pair’s longtime love for thrifting and Chapin’s concern with living sustainably. Noticing how many Queen’s students shop online, the duo felt they could use their hobby to deliver a similar shopping experience while also promoting the benefits of purchasing second-hand goods. 

Drawing on their similar fashion sense and business ideals, Croke-Martin and Chapin took advantage of the revival of fashion trends from the ’90s and early 2000s. They created Bel Ami Vintage to offer customers trendy clothing at a fraction of regular clothing costs and ecological guilt.  

“We saw a lot of these kind of online stores popping up and decided that [we should start our own],” Croke-Martin said. “We’re best friends, our styles are kind of complimentary, and we love thrifting together. So it just ended up working out.”

Important to Chapin specifically is that Bel Ami Vintage will serve as an alternative to fast fashion, an industry which she says has detrimental effects on the planet. She hopes that by encouraging people to turn to vintage and sustainable clothing in lieu of buying from retail giants, Bel Ami can be part of the growing movement to take better care of the earth. 

Although the team admires trends like minimalism—which encourages cutting down on the products you buy and use—they want to stress that instead of throwing away old goods, we should donate or recycle them. 

“I really do believe in having less stuff and [having] stuff that brings you joy,” Croke-Martin said. “But another good aspect of this rising thrifting movement is that it reminds people that there are places to bring their clothes when they’re done with them.”

The team is also striving to create a brand that is as inclusive as possible. Aware that they’re privileged by their body types, Croke-Martin and Chapin have begun collaborating with friends and customers to offer items that appeal to a variety of styles and people.

“[We found that] from the previous thrift stores we’ve seen, it has just always been kind of mainstream girls repping the clothes,” Chapin said. “So we really want to cater to diverse populations.”

Although only a few weeks old, Bel Ami Vintage has grown substantially thanks to the help of the duo’s friends, Queen’s, and the broader Kingston community. Recently, the start-up has partnered with Tommy’s Kingston to host a giveaway that runs until March 30. The winner will nab a Tommy Hilfiger sweater, a $25 Tommy’s gift card, and a bonus gift.  

Moving forward, the team plans to continue building their website and experimenting with pop-up stores, giving customers the chance to buy in-person. 

Croke-Martin and Chapin also hope to be as welcoming and supportive to their community as it has been to them. 

“There’s so much creative energy [here],” Croke-Martin said. “I really love that about Kingston. It’s a great place to foster a startup and that creativity. There’s a lot of support out there for it.”

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