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Front row with Gabi Onay of Crybaby.Thrift and Picnic & Thrift

Photography by Mikhail Samuels

Front row with Gabi Onay of Crybaby.Thrift and Picnic & Thrift

I don't think there's a more special way for us to welcome PRIDE Month at FRM than to invite the self-professed inventor of bisexual energy and slut casual workwear, Gabrielle Onay, to join us for a conversation. For those who may not know her yet, she is the founder of local thrift store (soon to be brand), 'Crybaby.Thrift', and co-founder of eponymous Jozi-based sustainable flea market, 'Picnic & Thrift', with business partner 'Love Yourself'.

I first came across Gabi's work through Future of Fashion last year – which is an annual fashion indaba exploring African sustainability and circularity. Hosts and curators of the symposium, Rewoven, wrote the following about Crybaby.Thrift, who were invited to the event marketplace as vendors.

"Crybaby Thrift sits in the heart of queer eccentric culture - it is a curated and unique brand that is centred around sustainability, high fashion, and ethical consumption and development. Crybaby Thrift is also a community and small business development hun that aims to foster spaces for all bodies looking to fit in whilst standing out.

Crybaby Thrift looks at who and what has been discarded and how we can all be given a new life with a new story. Reinvention is an act of rebellion, and the Crybaby Thrift brands are bright and colourful rebels (with a cause)."

Photography by Mahube Diseko

Gabi's abundant passion and commitment for her businesses, infused with her unique sense of creativity and artistry, is such a clear indicator that she, Crybaby.Thrift and Picnic & Thrift are going the full nine yards.

So I managed to virtually engage Gabi in order to find out more about her past, how she established her businesses, what drives her to continue creating, hosting a PRIDE Market & Prom this month, and so much more.

Photography by Simbai Kanjere

Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?

Gabi: My name is Gabrielle Onay. I am a collector and storyteller at heart, and a thrifter and creative by trade. I tell and retell stories through the thrifted clothing I sell, and create through my various businesses. I run a thrift and upcycle business called Crybaby.Thrift which has been running since 2018. I also co-host and run a thrift market and social events company called Picnic & Thrift, which serves as a fashion show dualed market for all the Queers, outcasts, and a few straights too!

I obtained my degree from Wits in Portuguese and Sociology, and am studying my honours in Sociology currently. I write, doodle, and journal my days away with the aid of beautiful friends, strangers, and endless cups of coffee scattered around my room.

Photography by Keiren Faurie

So I first came across your work at Future of Fashion last year for 'Crybaby.Thrift' – please tell us more about your thrift store?

Gabi: Crybaby.Thrift is my lovechild – born out of sheer desperation to earn money for Pall Mall blues in 2018 when I was an artsy and edgy first year. This was before thrifting was as mainstream and normalised, these kinds of clothes and fashion tastes were seen as strictly for those who couldn't afford designer or mainstream brands. I have been personally thrifting since I was 16, so this just felt like a natural way of making money to fuel my then addiction to cancer-sticks.

Crybaby has since developed into an online forum and platform for creativity and expression in which we run pop-ups, competitions, giveaways, and share business tips and strategies. Crybaby Thrift has become a tight community of 10.8K people who follow and share – buying sustainably sourced goodies, and sharing their adventures in their second-hand goods.

Photography by JAGJIBAN

So then when did the iconic 'Picnic & Thrift' venture come about? The two are so interlinked it's genius.

Gabi: Picnic & Thrift started in 2019, August the 25th in my cohost Ruby's back yard. We started out not knowing if we would turn into anything, but rather, we wanted to just sell some things and meet new people! This turned very quickly into the wonderful events and market company, Picnic & Thrift, that we know of today. P&T was founded in Johannesburg and has since become a way for fashion lovers to shop, create, and explore culture and art in an ethical setting with like-minded individuals.

Picnic & Thrift quickly became known for the safe space it had created; it gave space and room for vendors to build their businesses, with a loyal customer base that is ever expanding and growing. We set ourselves apart from other markets through our genuine love for expression; which can be seen through our art and posters, design work, and themes for each event. There is never an excuse to miss a Picnic & Thrift, it's literally the best time, and allows for growth. It has become a home for many small businesses to flourish, and a home for many Queer and alternative students. For myself, it sits deep in the core of my heart, and takes up all the room it deserves.

Photography by Simbai Kanjere

And on the topic of sustainability within our local context? Do you feel as if all consumers have a responsibility to take care of the earth through considered clothing?

Gabi: It's unfair to say. I come from a place where I can look at consumption in these ways and consider ethics because I have had a decent education, and access to educational institutions and resources. Taking ethical obligations for fashion choices shouldn't be considered lightly, it's a privilege to be aware and introduced to such knowledge. Companies should have ethical obligations, mandatory in fact, that push for ethical products.

Awareness shouldn't originate from the consumer – it should be from the top down. It needs to trickle in this way so that all can have the right products, but more so, that no-one is forced into guiltily making decisions – not shamed for their fashion choices. Fast fashion is cheap, and unethical, but it clothes an extremely large amount of the population. Fast fashion companies and institutions are the ones who should take responsibility of the earth, without the pressure of individuals and collectives but because it is simply the best thing for the earth, society as a whole, and in the end – their businesses.

Photography by Simbai Kanjere

You've got such a rich artistic aura. Do you have education, or prior experience, within the art space specifically?

Gabi: It might just be a result of the extremely passive depression. I say this jokingly, but with a hint of truth. Feeling things so deeply has allowed me to create and become an addition to the world in the way I am. I see and feel colours in certain ways, I experience music vibrantly and often aggressively... Experiences often come with extreme reactions and outcomes, my life is plagued by high-risk and high-reward, which perhaps might be the art you're seeing in my aura? Realising others don't exist within my world had been shocking and painful – and dually has allowed me to create and exist in the ways I do. I have no education or experience with art, or with business. The business sense if very possibly a result of being a good Jewish girl.

I see that you also model under My Friend Ned. Please tell me about your personal experience within the modelling industry.

Gabi: I haven't had too much experience in a paid way – paid modelling jobs are scarce, and limiting. I had the absolute pleasure of working with some wonderful creatives as a model on set for the 'YEARN' skincare brand as one of their faces. This was a highlight in my life as someone who has not seen too much of herself in media; a queer chubby body with 'imperfections'.

My experience was fantastic, but it would be unfair to talk about my experience in the modelling industry without giving credit to Simbai Fish Kanjere – a photographer and former lecturer at AFDA who found me on Instagram in 2018 and took me to a park to shoot. I had never modelled, I had no concept of this world. He took me under his wing, and through hi multitude of lenses, gave me the love and space to grow into myself and learn modelling. Fish introduced me to the world of film, videography, styling, and modelling - always sharing new thoughts and techniques, giving me critiques, and allowing me to experiment with my body as a canvas in safe and gentle ways.

Photography by Paulo Toureiro for YEARN SKIN

As a femme entrepreneurial powerhouse managing multiple successful creative businesses, what drives you the most to continue doing what you do?

Gabi: This might sound a bit bizarre, please bear with me. It's unbelievably simple – my drive is my love, and my desire and extreme want to create. I am a being entirely consumed by love and creating, in little and big ways. I share it, and receive it, and embrace the multitude of ways it can be moulded. The various expressions and processes of such; creating and recreating, telling stories through hard work (such as running a business) – this is my drive. The end goal is not important, the motivation is. This is what my heart aches for, and this undoubtedly is what makes my businesses work – they simply ache with passion. Pure expressions of love and creation.

My businesses have soul and sing songs of jazz on days where I falter to do such. The systems in place that allow them to work and be self-sustaining, much like a permaculture forest, exist because of the drive I have to share. Continuation is the natural process of art; it is not whether my businesses continue, but how could they do anything but continue? It's natural, like books unread on a shelf and art unseen in a gallery. They continue, they move, in silence and in loudness. My businesses might be an extreme extension of myself.

Photography by Mahube Diseko

What is next for Gabi Onay in 2022?

Gabi: Aside from completing her honours, and travelling to the Netherlands in July, what's next will be a series of exciting and new ventures, some planned and most unplanned. As far as the planned ones go – Crybaby.Thrift is going to be featured on SABC soon as part of a small documentary series about underground South African culture and fashion, a huge milestone for myself and my business. Crybaby is also, and more so excitingly, launching a range of custom clothing. This has been in the works for a few months now. The groundwork has been laid out and the first major batch of up-cycled clothing has been sorted, sealed, and finished.

This is probably the biggest of the little victories in my life currently, as the design and source work was done solely by myself, with the actual garments being made fully from second hand thrifted materials (we turned curtains into corsets – which might become the name of the first collection). The seamstress and tailor working on my garments are wonderful people who run a small and underground family CMT (Cut, Make & Trim) business. My other lovechild Picnic & Thrift is slightly more adventurous and naughty, with lots of events lined up (eight left for the year). P&T is being featured on SABC as part of a ten-part docuseries on water and sustainability. On the 25th of June we have a PRIDE Market and PRIDE Prom afterparty planned – which is where all my time has been going into currently. After that, without giving too much away to keep the suspense for the readers... we have two festivals and a YouTube channel in the works.

Photography by Mikhail Samuels

Photography by Lea's Lens


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