With the holidays come an onslaught of events, parties, and social invitations–and the inevitable question of: What to wear?? Do I need to buy new clothes to look party-prepped,  reunion-ready, and Instagram-worthy?

Enter Basically Borrowed, an online shop that dares to ask the market rather bold and insightful questions: Do you really need to buy new clothes to look great? What if you could just borrow clothes–especially those that you’ll wear only for special occasions and for your travels–and help make fashion more sustainable?

We discovered (and instantly fell in love with the site) soon after it launched in September 2019 and are now taking this opportunity to catch up with its founder, Jessie Jiang. Here’s her story:

Mindful Manila: Basically Borrowed was founded on the insight that women are willing to buy or rent pre-loved clothes. What was your personal impetus for starting the company? 

Jessie: I’ve always wanted to do something entrepreneurial with regards to fashion, not just because–well, personally I was rather obsessed with clothes–but I was also drawn to the level of social impact it could potentially make. Like many others, I never had the courage to quit my corporate job and focus on this back in Singapore, but perhaps very fortunately, I was presented with this perfect clean slate to start things over when we moved to Manila two years ago.
A more direct answer would be that as a result of the move to Manila, I assumed the unfamiliar and challenging role of a stay-at-home mom, and suddenly had a closetful of previously treasured work clothes hanging in sad abandonment. So I started thinking of ways to make use of them and perhaps help others with similar problems.

MM: We personally think that this is an idea whose time has finally come! But what are your own observations and insights about how women shop for clothes, and why this idea would work now?

Jessie: I’m so glad you think that, too! Before I launched Basically Borrowed, some friends had cautioned me against building a business entirely around pre-loved fashion, because of the perceived stigma around used clothes. What I’ve found in the last few months though–through market research and conversations–is that women here are starting to realize the wastefulness of fast fashion, both in terms of its environmental impact and in terms of wasting valuable closet space on trendy pieces that they’ll only end up wearing once or twice. So they are actually coming around to the idea of wearing pre-loved clothing, and to consigning their own pieces as well. Of course, the ubiquity of ukay-ukay (local vintage clothing shops) helped, too!
That said, you can’t ignore/deny the fact that most women love to shop and browse new clothes. And that’s been confirmed by our market research as well. As a fashion entrepreneur, I find myself constantly trying to tackle the question of what makes Zara so irresistible to such a mass market, and then trying to distill and incorporate those elements in my business model to promote sustainability. For example, we invest quite heavily in professional styling and photography of our items, and have a regular schedule of “new” arrivals updates. It’s always an ongoing process informed by new data and insights, and I’m glad that we are staying nimble at this point.


Basically Borrowed’s new arrivals as of December 2019

MM: At Mindful Manila, we aim to promote mindful living on many fronts. How can we be more mindful about fashion and shopping for clothes? Is that at all possible?

Jessie: Yes it is possible–we must have hope! The best solution is, of course, to abstain from shopping (or to “shop your own closet,” so to speak.) If you really itch for something different to wear–as we often do!–why not try borrowing/renting, or buying second-hand? And if you absolutely need to buy something new, prioritize those that are locally produced with natural and/or organic materials. More importantly, think about your cost per wear–is this piece versatile enough to be worn in different ways? Is it sturdy enough to last more than a few wears/washes?

MM: Now that the holidays are coming up, and there will be so many parties and events to attend, what are your tips for making the most of Basically Borrowed and what you offer? 

Jessie: Glad you asked. 🙂 We’ve really ramped up our efforts in procuring event wear pieces as the holiday season approaches. You can browse all event/party styles by going to our website, and select “EVENT” under “OCCASIONS” on the main menu. Apply filters according to the size(s) and color(s) that you are looking for.
One word of advice though–while dresses and gowns may be your go-to when it comes to event dressing, don’t underestimate the power of separates! Oftentimes, all you need is a stunning statement skirt or top. Complete your outfit with simple wardrobe staples, such as a white button-down shirt, or even a form-fitting tank top, and voila, you can create so many looks with just one statement piece.
This Zara striped wide leg pants can be worn with a very casual top… or with something dressier and more eye-catching. Photos from Basically Borrowed

MM: You also encourage your community to sell or consign their pre-loved items to you. Aren’t your users conscious about using a piece of clothing that might have been owned by someone they know? 😉

Jessie: I don’t think this has happened yet – at least not that I’m aware of! 🙂 At least in our current community of customers and consigners, the attitude towards fashion is quite liberal – in the sense that people don’t care much about brands, and they don’t necessarily see clothing as a status/class symbol. As long as the clothes make them look and feel great, they are happy.
Going forward, I do have plans to make it more transparent, at least in terms of the style preferences of the consigners. Personally, if I were a customer, I’d love to know if I’m renting from someone who shares my own personal style.
(Left) Jessie having fun behind-the-scenes at a Basically Borrowed shoot, while (right) photographer Shaira Luna poses wearing 7 For All Mankind. Photo from @basicallyborrowed on Instagram

MM: How have YOU practiced greater mindfulness in how you shop and wear clothes? In what areas do you still struggle?

Jessie: Okay, as I may have mentioned, I LOVE clothes, but in the last six to seven years, I’ve increasingly come to value quality over quantity. Perhaps it’s part of coming of age, or just me being repeatedly disappointed by the quality of fast fashion. Nowadays, I rarely make new purchases for myself (hello motherhood!!), and if I do, it’s usually out of necessity.

I guess I still struggle when it comes to shoes –they are one of the few things that I have trouble saying no to. One interesting piece of advice I’ve got recently–pick the shoes first and style your outfits around them. Perhaps that’ll finally help me get the most of my weakness.

MM: Any final tips or resources on mindful fashion that you can offer our readers? Please feel free to share photos, too!

Jessie: If you are interested in mindful fashion and fashion sustainability, participate in events organised by NGOs such as Fashion Revolution PH. You’ll probably get to meet like-minded people, and learn more about the fashion choices you can make to help make a positive social and environmental impact.

Jessie Jiang is the founder of Basically Borrowed, a Manila-based e-commerce and rental platform that promotes fashion sustainability and accessibility. Jessie holds an MBA from INSEAD, and a Bachelor of Science with a major in Chemistry from Peking University.

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