Imagine leaving home at 17 and having to support yourself all on your own. Sounds pretty tough, huh? Now also imagine this: starting your own online retail business in your early 20s after living in London and backpacking around the world and going up against the web titans of TradeMe and Amazon in the process, as well as a business world still dominated by men.
None of that has deterred 23-year-old Bridget Thackwray. Thackwray recently founded Fashbae, a free online marketplace for Kiwis to buy and sell all things fashion. In other words, think an internet op shop (and with op shop prices), but with a curated selection of high-quality garments.
“I left home at 17 and like many other Kiwis, had to support myself completely,” she explains. “Buying the branded clothing I love was no longer possible at full retail price, so I turned to top-quality pre-loved items. Selling clothing I no longer used allowed me to support this shopping habit as well.
“However, it soon become an issue around which was the best platform to trade on. There was always something missing from each platform available: either charging high fees, being too complicated to arrange the trade, scamming or issues around usability. My goal was then to start a totally free marketplace which resolved these issues.”
And so Fashbae was born.
“Fashbae is solely focused on trading fashion,” explains Thackwray. “This has allowed us to focus the website's design and functionality specifically on this. For example, trading platforms which cater for all item categories have a lot longer and more complicated user journey. With fashion, you need to be able to filter by brand, colour, size, condition, item type and so on. But with a category such as furniture, there are different filters required. Having these different filters and categories throughout one website results in a lot longer user journey to find what you are looking for.”
Thackwray says the beauty of the site is that visitors can use it to look for specific items, or browse as they would in a physical op shop. With more than 40,000 users, its success has surprised her.
“When we started Fashbae we didn’t realise it would have taken off so well, so quickly – which is fantastic,” she explains. “But if we were able to plan for high traffic it would have made life that much easier. Our team had a lot of sleepless nights ensuring the website was moved over to larger servers seamlessly and making sure the website was always running smoothly!”
Although it only soft launched in December, the Fashbae journey has given Thackwray valuable insights into how to run a business – advice she’s more than happy to pass on to other young female entrepreneurs.
“It’s important to remember that every entrepreneur has been in your shoes before,” she says. “They have had to take a risk and work ridiculously hard too, regardless of how successful they are now. Make sure you ask these people around you for help, even if you don’t think you need it. The more you learn, the more you realise how much more there is to learn – and how much you really don’t know! Having the opportunity to ask a successful entrepreneur for advice is such an incredible opportunity which you should always make the most of.”
And no surprise: she’s a feminist.
“To me, feminism is quite simply equal rights between men and women, which I strongly believe in,” she says. “I’ve received a lot of respect and encouragement from being a young woman in the business world, but I’m not naive enough to think that’s the case for everyone. I don’t like to use the word lucky, because that’s the way it should be, but I am grateful that I’m in a business environment that is supportive and where gender isn’t a barrier.”
Thackwray says the rise of modern technologies like the internet and social media has also allowed for intersectional movements to fight for equality not just in Aotearoa, but around the world.
“Social media and the internet has allowed countries where women are subjected to sexism to see how life can be in countries such as New Zealand. It’s also shone a spotlight for women in more modern countries to see how life can be for women who aren’t as fortunate. This is fabulous, as has already created movements towards women’s rights in these nations.”
But we’re not quite there yet, she explains.
“One of the biggest challenges is still occupational segregation occurring, and female dominated jobs tend to still be much lower paid than those dominated by men. I think in 2017 it would be amazing to see more female entrepreneurs and women in higher paying roles so less vertical segregation occurs, and to diminish the gender pay gap all together.”
Still, Thackwray remains hopeful for a more equal future for people of all genders – which she also says will create a better environment where anyone can do business.
“I have seen a lot sexism in other countries during my travels over the past few years,” she says. “From my experience, New Zealand is forward-thinking in regards to feminism. It’s a great place to start a business for anyone, regardless of age or gender.”