Can we re:think vintage clothing and make it into high fashion? I have often wondered about this and think it is quite possible. Meeting Maki Kobayashi and Lisa Gautier from The Pasta Haters showed me how it could be done in an easy and profitable way.
I met Maki and Lisa at a vintage shop event on Södermalm in Stockholm. We were sitting on an old leather couch, sipping white wine and listening to a boys band. The idea was, of course, to buy things from the store. Chatting to the girls, I learned about their start-up called The Pasta Haters, helping vintage stores sell their garments. I got curious so one sunny day in autumn I met Maki for a pasta lunch (haha, right?). Then we walked to the office and I sat for an interview with Lisa Gautier – a 28 years old French entrepreneur and founder of TPH.
Hey Lisa, what is The Pasta Haters (TPH)?
TPH is the first platform dedicated to your local vintage stores. We help vintage shops who are not very tech savvy to go online and grow their business. We have stores located in nine different countries and most of our customers are in Europe.
Where does the name come from?
I have been working with a lot of different markets in Europe, such as France, Germany, Sweden and I come from a brand background, working with visual communication. So when it comes to the name, I knew I wanted to name my own company with a name that sticks so people could remember it. No matter how much you love the name or hate it, what matters is that it evokes emotions.
During the process of looking for a company name, I remembered one of my friends in Paris who always had the latest hit designer bag and lots of expensive garments in her closet. The downside of this was that she had to eat pasta and cheap food in order to sustain her lifestyle.
So this is where the name comes from. I want to say – do not make any sacrifices for clothing, eat properly and get a unique wardrobe as well! The Pasta Haters also stands for a mindset shift. We go against the trend, against one way of consuming fashion, we create our own rules.
How did you come up with the idea of the business?
It is interesting because on the one hand I am not a fashion person, my background is in communication, innovation, technology and product development. But my grandfather was a tailor and since I was little I started going to vintage stores whenever I would travel to a new country. For me it was the same thing as buying a postcard when traveling, I was just getting something from a country with a bit of history.
In the end I took my 10 years of experience in advertising, fashion-tech, innovation and retail, and used it to start TPH.
Do you go for special brands when you go shopping at vintage stores?
No, I think vintage is about an emotional approach – you find a piece and you know you will be the only one who has it. And you just want it, no matter what the brand is. But of course, most people who buy vintage know what the quality of the garment is, if it is going to last or not.
Who is your target audience with TPH?
We have a broad audience; a lot of men are shopping on TPH actually. We are looking at women 18-35 years, and older. Because when you look at the 70s and 50s fashion, you have a different type of audience, often older and looking for specific items. When you look at the 90s and 80s, you can find a lot of denim and sportswear that attract a younger generation.
Image: The Pasta Haters
How do you work with the shops to get them to be on the platform?
The shops do not give us the clothes. We give them the right tools to know how to put the product on the platform, take the pictures, promote it via social media. It is more about the guidance we give them to help them do it. We charge them a commission on the sales and a membership fee. Our platform is limited to professional vintage shops.
Do you control what vendors put online?
We have a basic guideline on what you can sell – good quality secondhand clothes. Currently we are not controlling the listings because most of the stores that work with us have high quality and really good standards so we trust them. We have a bit more than 20 vendors now and we are expanding.
How long have you been running the company?
I have been running the company since August 2016, with research for about one year. We have been fully launched and growing since Maki Kobayashi joined in January 2018.
What is the next stage for you?
We want to grow, get more vendors, providing more traffic to our website, getting our brand out there and making sure people know about it. We want to become the first destination for vintage shopping. Brand awareness is the next step.
How are you planning to do that?
We are working on a marketing campaign right now and want to bring the brand more forward because for the past couple of months we have been focusing more on the technology. The Pasta Haters as a brand is a powerful tool for us to be unique, so we need to put the brand at the front.
Are you working with ambassadors and influencers?
Yes, we are talking to some from Sweden and France. We love finding ambassadors for the vintage industry and they often really appreciate that we send them unique products.
Do you buy vintage yourself?
Yes, everything I wear now is vintage (green canvas jacket, crushed latex black skirt, Acne sneakers). If I buy any new clothes, usually it is just basics, because sometimes it is not so easy to find them vintage. But then I keep it for 10 years.
Do you think that you being French stands for fashion and good taste, and this is what people see in you?
It is probably true. But I prefer people to see myself as a good entrepreneur rather than just as a French girl working in fashion.
Do you have any favorite shops in Stockholm?
Modern retro on Mariatorget is the first store that joined us. I love all our vendors of course, but the owner of Modern Retro has been supporting us since day one. And that means a lot to me.
Who is Lisa?
I worked for some fashion brands, such as Esprit, the Kooples in France, Calvin Klein and a fashion tech company in Germany called Outfittery, which is a curation service for shopping for men. Then I went more into innovation, worked for a marketplace in Stockholm, consulting for Spotify. I have been traveling a lot, been away from France for 6 years and working for 10 years.
What kind of music do you like?
When I work I like more mainstream music as it does not disturb me. If the music is too good, it is distracting me and I cannot work, I have to listen to it! But when I am at home I can put the music really loud – hip-hop or electro music or classic music, really depends on the mood.
What is your favorite food? Not pasta, right?
It might be actually, haha. No, my favorite is my mom’s food. I am actually partly from Vietnam so Vietnamese food is my favorite.
How do you like living in Stockholm?
I like it. The first year was really difficult but the more you get into it, the better it becomes. We were in London with the whole team recently and I was so happy to come back to Stockholm! I like the size of the city, the standard, how quiet it is. Stockholm is healthier for me, big cities like London get overwhelming!
Sustainability in fashion?
I believe vintage is the best way to sustainability in fashion. I do not believe in sustainable lines when it comes to fashion because it is still production of new garments. Even if the fabrics are better, the conception of those garments have a direct impact on the environment. That is why we want to empower the local stores who have inventory and so much good product available but just a bit too chaotic and people cannot find them.
If you look at the individual second hand market, it is more individuals who just want to empty their closet. I want to work with vendors whom I can trust, they have knowledge about what they do and are passionate about it. They keep the quality high so the customers are also happy.
Any favorite Swedish brands?
I love these ACNE shoes! (we are both looking at Lisa’s off-white ACNE sneakers with the smiley on the square plate at the front) I should treat them better, haha! I bought them second hand for 1/ 10th of the price! Could not afford them otherwise! I was meant to find them – they are my size and the exact colour I wanted! I love brands that try to do things differently and ACNE is one of them.
Image: Acne studios