Imagine, for a moment, you want a new red dress. You move your thumb towards your favourite shopping app, tap and type in 'red dress'. As I write, trying that particular search on ASOS, for example, throws out 1,818 results from a host of brands including River Island, Puma, Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing, ASOS DESIGN and Free People, among many others. Got a bigger budget? Go to Net-A-Porter. It’s easy, it’s all in one place, there are multiple sizes and you’ve got as much choice as one person can reasonably cope with.
Now imagine that you want a red dress but you’re stressed about how much clothing already exists, where and how it’s made and whether it will be 'out of style' in six weeks' time. You want a secondhand option so you try Depop, then Vinted, then eBay. They don’t have what you want so you trawl your favourite online vintage retailers and charity shops. It’s kind of frustrating, putting so much effort into finding the right secondhand dress when you know full well that you could have had the whole process wrapped up in 10 minutes, were you buying new.
Luckily, for those of us who want a quicker, easier secondhand shopping experience, Gem has stepped in to save the day. Launched in May 2019, it takes the legwork out of secondhand shopping. Available in the App Store, on Google Play and through a desktop site, Gem is a search engine which allows you to search for secondhand clothes and accessories across a range of marketplaces and online shops such as Etsy, eBay, Oxfam UK and Vestiaire Collective, from a single platform.
To give you an idea of just how much you can find with one search, the current result count for 'red dress' stands at over 43,000. And if that’s too much for you, you can easily refine by adding brands, eras, sizes or fabrics for a more focused selection.
"The idea for Gem has grown gradually while I have been thrifting and vintage shopping all my life," says cofounder Liisa Jokinen. "There is so much great vintage out there and so many great stores but it’s impossible to follow or visit them all, even if I really wanted to. With Gem, you can access all online vintage at once. Currently Gem includes over 8 million pre-owned items."
The founders were perfectly placed to launch Gem. Jokinen started her career as a street style photographer, first with Hel Looks, a Helsinki-based street style blog, and then NYC Looks when she moved to New York. She’s also penned several fashion books and cofounded the first Finnish clothes lending service.
Her partner Sampo Karjalainen, on the other hand, has had a successful career in tech. His startup Moves, an activity tracking app, was bought by Facebook in 2014 and before that, he cofounded Habbo Hotel, a virtual world for teenagers which drew millions of monthly visitors in over 150 countries.
Their unique tech and fashion knowledge combine flawlessly in Gem. The interface is super straightforward and you can scroll through the full selection of images of each item without having to follow the link through to the seller website, making browsing quick and easy. You can also save your favourite finds for later. The 'Stories' section, meanwhile, provides styling inspiration, fashion history lessons, eco-friendly tips and vintage shopping guides to complement the shopping experience.
Named to reflect the thrill of unearthing a vintage gem, the app doesn’t just make secondhand shopping easy, it makes sustainable fashion a more attractive option for those who are put off by the thought of trawling different sites for hours on end.
"I often heard people saying that they would gladly shop more secondhand if it was easier to find the right item in the right size," says Jokinen. "Shopping at fast fashion stores was much easier and more convenient for them. Connecting vintage seekers with beautiful, fun, quality vintage items brings me endless joy. We want to encourage people to treasure their clothes, take good care of them and lengthen their lifespan. It’s the most sustainable thing you can do!"
With an estimated 100 billion garments being made every year, it’s clear we need to slow down. We need to use what we already have, making secondhand and vintage a key part of dressing and shopping sustainably. Now, with Gem’s vintage search engine, it’s never been easier to find the perfect pre-loved piece.