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24-year-old Tahia Islam is making vintage fashion accessible to BIPOC

Tahia Islam is a 24-year-old activist with style. As the founder of Reclaimed Womxn Vintage, she is devoted to alleviating clothing and food insecurity for working-class BIPOC.

“We sell clothing to reclaim vintage clothing for people of color, for femmes of color, it’s for everyone to wear,” Islam told In The Know. “That’s why pieces are really affordable, they’re budget-friendly.”

The thrifting project started when Islam decided to change her relationship to consumerism after learning about the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh in 2013 that killed over 1,000 workers — most of whom were women.

“[It was] women who work 16 hours a day, seven days a week — just extensive labor violations,” Islam said. “When I learned about that I knew that my personal values had to change. For me, that was making sure that I was always purchasing second-hand clothing.”

Buying second-hand is great for the environment and also means less money is being funneled into corporations with harmful or exploitative practices.

But as Islam tried to incorporate her new values, there was one problem: Vintage culture, vintage shopping, vintage fashion — none of it was very diverse.

“I kept seeing one after another after another was — and always still — white models,” Islam said. “It was so hard to see myself pictured in these pieces.”

Reclaimed Womxn Vintage started as a blog featuring BIPOC in all shapes and sizes rocking interesting finds, but it has since expanded into pop-ups and a store.

Islam’s taste may be just as intrinsic to the shop’s success as her values. South Asian garments are full of different textures, patterns and colors and Reclaimed Womxn Vintage’s selection is notably vibrant.

“It’s just such a big part of me and my heritage,” she said. “And I’ve been in a place where I’ve been exploring the history of that in my heritage. I’d like to say that it’s in my blood to be connected to clothing on a very visceral level. I like a lot of silks and satins because I think that adds a lot of allure and interest to everyday outfits.”

However, if you like to keep it simple Reclaimed Womxn Vintage has a dedicated assortment of basics since that’s what most people look to fast fashion for.

When COVID-19 hit Jackson Heights, N.Y. hard, Islam allocated 100 percent of the shop’s proceeds to community relief. She also helped organize the Jackson Heights community fridge. Like the others that popped up all over the nation during the pandemic, it’s a community-run fridge where anyone can donate or take food.

Islam believes that Gen Z is different because it is unbothered by the rigid limitations of institutions. Instead, she and so many others in her generation, take a can-do approach and seek solutions themselves.

“We are the future,” Islam declared. “Young people these days are not bogged down by expectations of institutions, whether that be governmental or corporate, we fight against them. We are politically engaged and socially conscious in a way that I don’t think other generations are.”

If you liked this story, check out this L.A. -based sustainable clothing brand that wants you to buy less and wear longer.

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