What happens when five entrepreneurial-minded friends with similar passions and different talents get together?
A vintage streetwear shop built on community, authentic expression, and resilience, that’s what.
Kaelin Ruddock and Justin Dela Rosa sat down with me to talk about the origin of Street Cvlture, building a community amidst a pandemic, and how business owners have two choices: sink or swim.
Let’s get into it.
Five friends and a shared love of vintage apparel
For the Street Cvlture team—Kaelin Ruddock, Justin Dela Rosa, Lloyd Daquiz, Luke Delmonte, and Joshua Binet—a traditional career path was never in the cards.
The five friends have always been entrepreneurs at heart. So it was a no-brainer that they would join forces and build something that combined their interests of photography, art, music, and, of course, vintage clothing.
It didn’t take long for the lightbulb moment to occur—the group’s love of collecting and wearing vintage clothing led them to the idea of trying to sell it online, possibly at a wholesale level.
Together with their blended talents—Joshua with his photography skills and community connections and Justin with a keen ear for music— along with a killer stock of vintage clothing ready to sell acquired from a vintage streetwear supplier, Street Cvlture opened its doors in Mississauga, Ontario, in 2017.
Soon after launching, Street Cvlture received a great deal of positive feedback and support from family, friends, and peers. Once Street Cvlture launched its Shopify store, it snowballed into something beyond what the founder’s first imagined.
Leaning on the community
The greater Mississauga community is one that takes care of its own. Small businesses are no exception.
Kaelin and Justin say that one of the coolest parts about launching Street Cvlture is the unrelenting support they receive from various people within the community—from old high school friends to complete strangers who love vintage clothing as much as they do.
“We really genuinely care about every single customer that sends an inquiry or a message. And we don’t take it for granted, because a lot of shops have closed down,” says Kaelin. “I would say we’ve been able to keep up, and we’ll see how long everything goes.”
“We really genuinely care about every single customer that sends an inquiry or a message. And we don’t take it for granted, because a lot of shops have closed down."
The local community is “all we have at the end of the day,” adds Justin. “We all want to see each other grow. We all want to see each other win.”
Learning to reassess and adapt in uncertain times
The pandemic certainly was a shock to the system for retailers. And for many, uncertainty is still alive and well. Luckily for the vintage industry, more consumers are turning to secondhand shops, specifically online secondhand shops, in the wake of COVID-19.
The Street Cvlture team realized early in 2020 that to survive a challenge of this magnitude, they had to lean into their customers’ needs and assess what was feasible, safe, and accessible to move forward.
“Coming out of the first lockdown, it was a blessing because we got the opportunity to kind of reconnect, and we took advantage of that,” says Kaelin. “Every weekend, we had some kind of safe social distanced event. When we did that, it kind of sparked this energy that we keep carrying on. And that’s what I think has been good—we’re not the doom and gloom type of company.”
“Coming out of the first lockdown, it was a blessing because we got the opportunity to kind of reconnect, and we took advantage of that."
Street Cvlture offers curbside pickup to local customers in addition to other, more flexible options. The city of Mississauga is currently under a provincewide lockdown due to the virus, but prior to that, Street Cvlture allows a small number of customers to shop in select areas of the store to preserve the in-person experience without overcrowding.
It also offers customers the option to inquire about clothing items via email and reserve them if so desired. Having a great deal of its inventory live on its Shopify site is another way to reduce contact for customers who want to pick up their order in person. Of course, customers also have the opportunity to purchase items directly through the Street Cvlture website.
Providing these options allows customers to shop in the way they feel most comfortable, within Ontario’s health requirements.
“At the end of the day, we’re just here to do our job, too—to provide for the community and make sure everybody is happy,” says Justin.
Vintage apparel for the people—whatever your reason for shopping
Vintage clothing has a unique way of bringing people together in different ways, with style notably at the forefront. If you scroll through Street Cvlture’s social media channels, you’ll see image after image of edgy streetwear and classic looks with a modern twist.
It doesn’t take long to see that what Street Cvlture is building goes far beyond merely purchasing clothes. Rather, it’s creating a community and brand built on a shared love of these rare pieces that are part of its customers’ identities.
Pictured above: One of Street Cvlture’s founders, Kaelin Ruddock, with some of the inventory.
“I think a lot of consumers’ minds are changing, and we’ve helped with that by making vintage cool,” says Kaelin. “All of our growth is portrayed in our brand and in the people on our website. If you go on our Shopify website, you see a lot of big posters with us modeling, and people can feed off of that—they want to be a part of that. It’s beyond clothes.”
Aside from style, another major draw to vintage clothing is its sustainability element.
Here are a few mind-blowing stats from ThredUp’s 2020 Fashion Resale Market and Trend Report:
- A single pair of jeans emits 75 pounds of CO2e during production.
- One new t-shirt requires 700 gallons of water.
- 64% of the 32 billion garments produced every year end up in landfills.
Pretty terrifying, right? (This makes retail resale programs look pretty good.) And the craziness of the apparel industry doesn’t stop there.
“I remember my mom and other people who work in department stores saying that, for brands like Gucci and Louis Vitton—because of the way the branding is—they have to burn or destroy garments,” says Kaelin. “You’re literally destroying products instead of giving them a chance for somebody aftermarket [to wear] for a lower cost . It’s, in a sense, not fair.”
In 2018 alone, Burberry burned nearly $35 million worth of clothing to preserve exclusivity. The image of perfectly good clothing burned for the sake of scarcity is upsetting, to say the least. Buying secondhand clothing gives pieces that would otherwise be destroyed or sent to a landfill another chance, while reducing the environmental repercussions.
“So what we do is make it fair. You can get this really rare piece, and we’re not going to throw it up for the craziest price on eBay,” says Kaelin. “We’re going to give some of our customers a chance to get it for, like, an affordable price, especially now.”
Whether old-school NBA jerseys and college crewnecks are staples in your wardrobe or you’re committed to purchasing secondhand items to reduce your carbon footprint, vintage fans can be sure to find that one-of-a-kind-item at Street Cvlture.
But what is it about vintage clothing, specifically, that inspires and intrigues Kaelin and Justin?
“You’re in it for the culture. You live it. You indulge in it every single day,” says Justin. “You’re surrounded by it amongst your family and friends and peers. The things you see in your daily life as well, like in the media, in the news, and everything. It’s really about staying true to that sense of culture and just living that lifestyle.”
“You have a choice,” says Kaelin. “The culture is everywhere… what are you going to pick? Me, personally, I really like the storylines. There’s been a lot of weird, trippy things where I’ll be having a conversation with someone in the retail store and I pull out an item that matches the city they’re talking about. Or someone’s like, ‘I found a shirt that has your last name on it.’ When you see that connection happen for someone over an article of clothing, it’s really something special.”
The one-of-one nature of vintage clothing creates a serendipitous connection between shoppers and the items themselves. Each article of clothing has its own story, its own origins. And stepping into a vintage shop feels much like a treasure hunt for a timeless piece you didn’t know existed.
“What are you going to do? You’ve got to be resilient.”
As difficult as 2020 has been for retail, it’s forced business owners to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Inventing new ways to reach customers no matter what circumstances are occurring is the cornerstone of resilience.
Both Kaelin and Justin advise struggling retailers to roll up their sleeves and get creative.
“I think when you’re dealing with difficulties during a pandemic, the one thing you can do is show how tough you are as a business,” says Justin. “It really tests you. It really shows you what you can really do. There’s always something you could do more of. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Pictured above: Founders Kaelin Ruddock and Justin Dela Rosa pose in Street Cvlture pieces.
“I think when you’re dealing with difficulties during a pandemic, the one thing you can do is show how tough you are as a business. It really tests you. It really shows you what you can really do."
“That’s what’s beautiful about this situation—you were only used to doing things one way,” says Kaelin. “Now it’s forced everyone, no matter how big or small you are, to reevaluate what you were doing—even us. Because whether this happened or not, you’re either going to be in the business or you’re not. When you think about it, there are only two options. What are you going to do? You’ve got to be resilient.”