Emma Rogue is well-versed in the art of the thrift. Growing up in Jersey City, she and her mom would visit their local Unique Boutique — a fabled chain of vintage clothing and trinket stores, now defunct — after school or gymnastics practice. “My mom always loved looking around at all the knickknacks. It was a fun activity for both of us to do together,” Rogue reflects.
Back then, Rogue wasn’t thrifting for hidden gems or buried designer, the purpose of most secondhand sellers nowadays. For her and her mom, visits to Unique were a bonding experience, as well as a chance to restock her childhood wardrobe. But as Rogue grew up, her shopping trips soon evolved as she realized her thrift store knowhow could translate into a full-blown business.
When Rogue started college at NYU, she developed an interest in fashion, a natural progression from her afternoons spent shopping in Jersey. While perusing secondhand stores in New York City, Rogue would come across clothing she loved that wasn’t in her size — “I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, I know somebody would love this but, but it won’t fit me,’” she recounts. In 2018, Rogue made an account on Depop, the rapidly expanding resale app that Etsy recently acquired for a whopping $1.6 billion USD. She listed two pairs of vintage Skechers. Both sold the same day. From there, Rogue’s online business took off. At her mom’s behest, she started tracking her expenses and profit on a spreadsheet. Rogue eventually began working at Depop’s brick-and-mortar store in New York, helping customers and appearing as a regular fixture on the app‘s Instagram Stories.
@emma.roguehow I pack my depop orders 🙂 part 2 will be how I ship! ##smallbusiness ##depop ##packingorders ##efficiency ##workwithme ##fyp ##worksmarter ##y2kstyle♬ original sound – emma rogue
Then, the pandemic hit. One day in May 2020, Rogue was scrolling on TikTok, the short form video app beloved by Gen-Z’ers. The 25-year-old — who had scant experience making videos for the platform — came across a video documenting how one Depop seller packaged her orders. Rogue was inspired to make her own version of the clip. “I thought nothing of it, posted it that night at like, seven o’clock,” Rogue recalls. “By the next day, I hit over a million views on it. I gained 40,000 followers overnight.” Thanks to the power of virality, her post garnered seven million views and resulted in 300 Depop sales by the end of that week.
As Rogue’s TikTok following expanded, she realized she could use her online fame to fuel her vintage retail business. It started with a stint selling clothing on consignment at Bowery Showroom, a concept store and vintage retailer on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — while helping promote the store on TikTok, she came to the realization: “Why am I promoting other people’s shops when I can be promoting my own space?” Matt, the owner of Bowery Showroom, alerted Emma of a vacant storefront down the block. “He said, ‘If you don’t get it, I’m gonna make it my office.’ So literally the next day, I called the realtor.” In a matter of weeks, Rogue negotiated, signed a lease and set up shop on Stanton Street, which she fondly refers to as “TikTok Block.” Rogue, the store, was born.
Decorated to resemble a ’90s-slash-early-2000s bedroom, the cozy space is papered with nostalgic posters: Fergie, Eminem and Tank Girl preside over shoppers as they flip through racks filled with an array of Instagram-friendly picks. Thrifted baby tees printed with clever sayings (“Life is better as a brunette,” one bedazzled top proclaims) hang alongside vintage designer finds by Hysteric Glamour, Jean Paul Gaultier and Chrome Hearts.
In a post-pandemic world, venturing into brick-and-mortar retail may seem like an odd choice. Over the past year, online retail has boomed, a natural result of last spring’s stay-at-home orders. However, Rogue is confident that the IRL shopping experience is poised to make a comeback. Her decision to open a physical store was also born out of necessity. “The online hustle is real, especially when it comes to vintage, because each listing is unique. It’s not like I have three SKUs,” Rogue explains. “If I were to go crazy hard online, I would have to have 3,000 listings at a time to be making good money, consistent money.”
Already, the store seems to be paying off — Rogue opened just weeks ago with a launch event that saw 1,300 RSVPs. A line of impeccably styled youth snaked down the block, building hype for the space. “It’s been absolutely insane — extremely overwhelming and exhausting. I was not prepared for that,” Rogue admits. “Basically, I’m on 24/7. It’s constant. Whether I have to go source inventory or do payouts for commissions or tell my employees the tasks for the day or just ordering supplies for the shop, it’s never ending. And on top of that, I have to keep creating content for my TikTok in order to keep customers coming in,” she says, adding that she’s looking to expand her team in the near future.
Rogue’s success is indicative of a wider cultural shift, one that has catapulted secondhand and vintage shopping to the forefront of fashion retail. Back when she was frequenting Unique, thrifting wasn’t particularly cool. “You definitely didn’t see trendy kids in there,” Rogue muses. “If you did, it was maybe the very few resellers that were doing it back then — the vintage tee guys just going through the tee racks.”
Oh, how times have changed. Fueled by social media and the rise of resale platforms like Depop and Poshmark, buying used is all the rage. Among the fashion-conscious Gen-Z set, flaunting orange tag Levi’s or a single-stitch tee is a sign of worldliness, a rejection of mass market fashion à la Zara and H&M. Some vintage costs as much as, if not more than, brand-new designer — grails such as vintage Jean Paul Gaultier tops (of which Rogue stocks many) and John Galliano-era Dior bags are in hot demand, fetching hundreds and even thousands. In fact, among a certain set of in-the-know fashion enthusiasts, sourcing a 20-year-old Dior bag is much cooler than purchasing one fresh from the Dior store on Greene Street.
Rogue sees thrifting’s newfound trendiness as a positive. “This is a sustainable way of shopping. And it’s a sustainable lifestyle that my business is promoting, and that thrifting in general promotes,” she posits. “The resale industry is only going to keep growing bigger. It could be bittersweet to some people, but I think it’s good.”
Looking ahead, the entrepreneur has myriad plans for the future of Rogue. “We’re going to be doing at least two events per month. We’re gonna do so many cool collabs,” she says, hinting at a partnership with an extremely on-brand company. “Also in the future is Rogue: The Collection, so that’ll be coming soon. It’s going to be very Y2K inspired.”
53 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002