From stall beginnings to success, entrepreneurs find their market
Weekend markets abound, but Picnic and Thrift is unique in that it’s a sustainable thrift market curated by young people for young people. And it’s the brainchild of two former King David High School Victory Park students.
It’s a feat of youthful entrepreneurship, offering a platform to small, sustainable businesses ranging from baked goods to handmade crafts to second-hand clothing, and drawing diverse participants, with live music and an abundance of friendly faces.
Gabrielle Onay (24) and Ruby Lee Prager (28) met at King David High School Victory Park while rehearsing for a school play, and have been friends since.
“Gabi was this little nerdy Grade 8, and I was in Grade 11 or something at the time. I always used to take people under my wing who were in the younger grades, so she became one of my friends,” said Prager.
Onay went on to start a small clothing business and thrift shop, Crybaby Thrift, while Prager began a small business, Love Yourself South Africa, which began as a skincare range and evolved into a candle range.
“In 2019, we decided to do like a little open day with just our two businesses and invite friends and family to come and look at our products and support us,” said Prager. “Then, we decided to invite a few people that Gabi knew from the thrifting community who also had online stores on Instagram. We had about 15 or 20 stores at our first little market in my garden”. Three hundred people showed up to that market, and after a few markets in their own gardens, it became clear that they needed to establish a venue for the events.
“Our first market at a venue took place in March 2020, about a week before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown was announced, at the Zoo Lake Bowls Club. That went phenomenally well, followed by six to eight months of nothing. But within those six to eight months, people really wanted Picnic and Thrift. We did everything we could to work within the red tape of pandemic restrictions. We had events outdoors with masks and limited entry, so we made it work.”
They now host monthly markets and other events in Johannesburg, as well as markets in Pretoria and Centurion, and are planning to have markets in Cape Town by the end of the year.
“It really is a space for entrepreneurship, a platform for students and for young people in this country where youth unemployment is so high – crippling actually. It’s a space where we’re able to make a living, and I don’t just mean pocket money, I mean, stores that come to our events and that’s how they pay their rent,” said Onay. “Both my business and Picnic and Thrift are fully self-funded through our profits and the fees from the stores, which then go to the venues as well as paying our DJs and live musicians, etc.”
Each market has a different theme, from TV shows like Euphoria, Adventure Time, and American Horror Story, to decade-themed markets, such as their 70s or Y2K markets, to themes like Halloween or Cottagecore. Last month, they hosted a three-day Pride-themed event, from 23 to 25 June, beginning with the Pride Prom on Friday night, followed by two days of markets with 150 different stalls. Customers dress up according to theme, and many stalls sell various themed items.
Prager said the idea for themed markets came about organically through their themed poster designs. “We always wanted our posters to have funky themes, so the first few events, we just had random things and we tried to have as many local artists as possible help create our posters. We thought, “Let’s make the posters a theme,” and everyone was just so on board with dressing up according to the poster, that we started implementing official themes, which was fun.”
All the marketing and advertising is run online, primarily through their Instagram account. “Last year, we had a few students wanting to do their internships for graphic design and social media management. It was weird having interns at 22 years of age, but very exciting,” said Onay.
They now have ambassadors that help with marketing. “These are people who want to become content creators and refine their skills in graphic design, social media management, and search engine optimisation. So, instead of giving them an internship, what we’ve done is make a group of ambassadors, who get paid in free products from different stores, make content for those stores, which works nicely because the stores get proper product photos, images, and content for their own use.”
Picnic and Thrift hasn’t just expanded its markets to different parts of the country. In addition, it has also begun hosting festivals as well as “P&T Nightlife” events.
The expansion into nightlife was a “natural progression” of the demographic of Picnic and Thrift, Onay said. “Our demographic has mostly been people around my age, just because of advertising. And so, we’ve all become older, and we found that our markets have diversified quite a lot, from pre-teens and middle teens to people in their 20s and onward,” she said. “These events are also a really nice way to be able to highlight local artists and DJs who wouldn’t previously have the opportunity to perform and get exposure. Something like this could launch their careers.”
Picnic and Thrift has become a space where all identities are celebrated and accepted, with diverse crowds at all of events. “That wasn’t necessarily the intention when we started,” said Prager, “but because we both, in our personal lives, would foster safe spaces for people, it’s just within our personalities to create an environment where anybody can feel okay to be themselves. Because that’s something we both lacked growing up and in high school.
“We have a strict zero-tolerance policy,” said Onay, “which means that we don’t accept bullying, nonsense, or hate from any side.”
Regular customers of Picnic and Thrift have found a wonderful community. “It’s become more than just a market; it’s like a family,” said Prager, “It’s a family of people that get to connect through this event. And they know that when coming here, they are safe and they are in an environment where they can be their authentic selves without fear of prejudice or judgement.”