Topgradeng is an online thrift store based in Lagos, Nigeria, that specialises in promoting fashion on a budget.
This brand is founded on the ethos that you can look good without breaking the bank.
Waste is so last season, and thrifting is in so Stylish Academic caught up with the founders, Barbara and Ebere.
In this chat, they let us in on their lives as entrepreneurs in affordable and sustainable fashion, the business challenges they face and some flea market shopping tips if you ever visit Lagos, Nigeria.
We really want to teach people how to look good without breaking the bank.
Topgrade is not just for the girl on a budget, but also the one who wants to make a statement.
Topgrade is for the lady that appreciates quality and unique pieces that you can’t get elsewhere, without feeling the pinch in your pocket.
The clothes may be pre-loved, but as our name implies, we go for the best in the pack – the top grade.
How did you co-founders meet?
I was working at a cyber café and she, Barbara, walked in.
Because very few women visited this café, Barbara was quite memorable.
I remember her grey pants and light blue long-sleeved shirt.
For so long I wanted that look she had.
We had just finished school and went on to Youth Service.
As fate would have it, we got posted to the same location, so we got talking and both knew our friendship was meant to be.
TopgradeNg – how did you come up with this idea?
It was birthed out of a phase of our lives.
We had both served together and started searching for jobs after.
We found out our wardrobes were poor, and we believed in looking neat and clean to look for jobs.
However, fresh out of university you don’t exactly have a ton of cash to splurge.
Barbara was the pro – she would go to flea markets and get really nice stuff…
She had an eye for great finds.
She also had an eye for matching items … because sometimes you have items that make no sense on their own.
Those days we’d go to the market, I would say I didn’t see anything and later she’d put a couple of items together and they’d make sense.
Those were things we wore at that phase of our lives, considering how much we earned.
Not having a lot didn’t mean we would look shabby.
We had great finds at budget prices.
Now that we earn more, we still realise that there is a gap in the market for fashion on a budget.
Tell me more about this gap that Topgradeng is set on filling.
Going to the market is quite stressful.
You have to calmly look through stuff and bargain aggressively with the sellers.
The way the flea markets we visit are set up, the sellers profile you before they tell you a price based on how much they imagine you can part with.
There is no fixed price for any item.
Someone else might go to the market and get the same item you picked for a much higher price.
You must be able to bargain, be patient (they can sense when you are in a hurry or desperate for an item), and be street smart.
This meant there was a gap we could fill by making the process of acquiring top quality pre-loved items easier on the customer.
We go to the market, we pick up top quality items, clean it up for you and then package them nicely for delivery to you.
Biggest challenges running Topgradeng as a business…
We don’t have a physical space.
Instagram is our shop window.
This means customers are unable to feel or try on items before they make a purchase.
To allay doubts, we allow for further consultation when a customer wants to place an order.
Sometimes we send video messages of the items, take close-up shots of the fabric, and always respond to questions.
We also offer tips on how to style the items.
Another big challenge for us is time management.
TopgradeNg is a small business at the moment, and Barbara and I still have full-time jobs.
Managing time between our full-time jobs and responding to customer queries, can be quite challenging.
There is also the power situation to consider. We rely heavily on a power generator to wash items and press them; for us, the presentation is key.
However, we are learning every day, how to navigate these challenges.
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Top tips … when shopping at a flea market (in Nigeria)
We know some labels sell really well, so we look out for them.
Sometimes, the items we find are brand new – never been worn. It’s always good to look out for these too.
Colours/prints – certain colour(s) or prints are just unique.
Even when they are only available in a bigger size (this happens sometimes), you may be better off still purchasing the item and having it resized.
After all, you bought it at a bargain.
The uniqueness of items – I love flea markets because the probability that someone will wear the exact same item as you are so slim.
When shopping, keep your eye out for statement items that speak to you and your personality.
Lastly, in Lagos, when you see an item you like, don’t show that you like it – contain the excited glint in your eye.
Keep a straight face and bargain nonchalantly.
When the seller gives you a price, divide it by 3 and commence negotiations from there (no jokes).
Also be ready to let go, and keep that air of not-caring till the sale is made.
Lagos sellers can see your eye when it lights up… if that happens, the battle for a good bargain is lost.
You can follow and shop TopgradeNG on Instagram.
Photographs by Godisable Jacob
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