Joan Suh Interview with Pawnstar

In China, reducing our carbon footprint through environmental initiatives are paramount.

As a center of production, businesses are pushing the envelope in terms of providing sustainably resourced goods and services. These are seen through the influx and recent interest in marketing up-cycled goods and green initiatives. According to the compilation of data from the projected trends for 2017 from The State of Fashion 2017,consumers are becoming more tech-savvy. Therefore, they are more aware of how their products are sourced. It is with the introduction of a shrewder customer clientele that an environmentally friendly take towards fashion becomes more accepted.

In the recent years, consignment shops have been gaining more popularity in China. To be able to reuse a previously owned garment not only extends its use, it creates less waste.

Pawnstar, proprietor of consigned goods is a premier example of progressive businesses providing Eco-friendly alternative without compromising quality or style.

As their brick-and-mortar headquarters is located in Shanghai, when they come for conventions in Beijing, it is a real treat. As they have their online store on Taobao and Wechat featuring men's, women's, and accessories (bags, jewelry, belts, etc.), they are experiencing much success in Beijing as well.

In this piece, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane the owner/operator of the vintage paradise that is Pawnstar. 

What inspired you/shaped your initial decision to up-cycle /go into green initiatives? Was it difficult starting out?

 I've always been bothered by waste, whether it is of food, electricity, or clothing.  The proliferation of cheap products in people's homes and in their wardrobes from toys to fast fashion have concerned me for quite a while.

When living in a place as polluted and crowded as China, it is not difficult to make the connection between environmental degradation and unnecessary production and consumption.  I wanted to do something that would make a small contribution to solving some of these problems but that also could be a viable, portable, business.  

I think it's still quite challenging as any business tends to be at most points in its development.  Of course getting things started always does take a special kind of a drive but the difficulties of scaling up can be even greater

What goes through your mind when selecting your materials that you use to create your end product ( material sourcing/items that can be up-cycled)?

First of all, I'm not the designer but the business owner and operator.

Pawnstar works with a talented designer named Nisa who creates the up-cycled items that we sell. In general, I believe that she tries to find materials that are higher quality and that have an interesting style that can be incorporated into a larger whole.  At the same time, we don't want to take apart an item that can still be sold and worn so we also look for items that have some kind of flaw that makes it difficult to use in its existing form.

Where do you source your materials?

Before being an up-cycling business, we are a consignment shop.  We get all of the items that we sell directly from our users who bring their old items to us.

 Who are your target customers?

I would say that in the medium to long term, our customers are all fashion consumers (men and women) in China.  We carry a complete range of fashion items and believe that just about anyone can find styles that are to their taste at Pawnstar.  At present, most of our customers are mostly ladies in their 20s and 30s and 40s living in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities throughout China.

Obviously, they have to be open to shopping secondhand, which was not traditionally deemed acceptable by Chinese customers. But, I believe that our customers tend to have a comparatively evolved sense of style and taste than most people. 

This group of customers is ever expanding as more and more people travel and also start to experience the feeling of having way too much in their wardrobe.  Many people also do not want to repeat the same outfits and this leads them to consign their old items with us and buy new ones.

How does your business affect your customers? ( do you think they are now more aware of their carbon footprint and the effects of making healthy life choices?  Is it a long or slow process?

We try not to make reducing the carbon footprint or sustainability too big a part of our marketing. We believe that, in the end, most people respond best to feeling they got a good deal, finding styles they want to wear and having a good time shopping.  While we would like to build up more Eco-awareness, we believe that emphasizing that side of things does not necessarily work as a marketing strategy.  Of course, this might change over time, but we believe that people will shop because they want good value and to look good.

Has your work created any extra insights or changed your perspective at work?

I find new inspiration every day from the day from the work I do and my perspectives on managing people, marketing and developing a business are always evolving.  Among other things, I've learned the value of creating a vibrant and happy team in which everyone feels involved and positive.  

Does your choice to up-cycle/promote green initiatives stay as only a work mission or does it integrate into your everyday life? (Ex: social circles, places you go to in your free time, your lifestyle)

 On a day to day basis, I try to re-use packaging and use air conditioning and heating sparingly. Overall, I try to be an Eco-friendly as I possibly can without sacrificing too much comfort or efficiency. For example, I try to live in locations where it is possible to bike or walk on most days so I don't need to take taxis or own a car. I also don't travel by plane unless it really can't be avoided. I take the train if possible. As I'm sure you are aware, the carbon emissions from air travel are at times (depending on conditions) even worse than driving.

I believe we can get just as much inspiration from our daily lives, work and meeting new people as we can from traveling to far-off places so I travel often.

Is there anything that you would like to say?  Would you like to provide a statement?

I believe China is in a moment where there are countless opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to create something that has an Eco-dimension to it, and I hope more and more people, young and old, go in this direction rather than simply accepting the way things are being done and only seek profit or creation of new content simply for its own sake without it having social value.