When asked what her recent favorite thrifted find is, Shilla Kim-Parker describes a bright blue blazer with red plastic heart buttons she found when scouring her online vintage marketplace, Thrilling. Kim-Parker says her new jacket is a bit kitschy and, admittedly, not everyone’s cup of tea — but it was the relic’s idiosyncrasy that drew her to it in the first place. “We all love vintage shopping because we find those unique treasures you’ve never seen before from a brand you’ve never heard of. It’s that feeling that a piece was made for you,” she enthuses to TZR over Zoom, dressed in an ‘80s-era cow print sweater (also sourced from her e-thrifting platform, of course). “That’s why we named our company Thrilling, it’s the thrill of the hunt,” she says, a smile spreading slowly across her face. “And I want to spread that joy to more people around the world.”
Kim-Parker is a life-long treasure hunter. She grew up in New York City where “thrift shopping was just regular shopping.” Because of her youth spent combing NYC charity shops for diamonds in the rough, the idea to build a thrifting community was always top of mind for the 39-year-old. “That’s just how I love to shop: Hunting, spending hours diving for treasures.” She adds, too, that she’s always been somewhat of a vanguard “fixated on the idea of building something of [her] own.” Kim-Parker turns to a Theodore Roosevelt quote to illustrate her point: “It’s not the critic who counts; it’s the woman in the arena,” she says, paraphrasing slightly, “and I [want] to be in the arena.”
After a self-described “nonlinear career with lots of twists and turns,” some of which include working as a business analyst at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and a tenure as Chief of Staff for Disney’s Television Group, Kim-Parker stepped into the arena. In 2018, she teamed up with Brad Mallow to co-launch Thrilling with a crystal-clear mission of supporting small vintage shops, not all that dissimilar to the ones she grew up frequenting. “[Starting Thrilling] was about [providing] these businesses with more visibility and access to more shoppers around the world,” the co-founder outlines. With over 1,200 vintage boutiques now hosted on the platform, Kim-Parker and Mallow have accomplished that goal and then some.
“On our site, you can also search to find a specific item or sort a store’s inventory by your size in a way that was not possible before.” Kim-Parker deflects praise here, instead accrediting Thrilling’s well-detailed data and search functionality to the entrepreneurs who drive the platform. “They take photos of the items, input the details, and then upload it all to the site. And we,” meaning Thrilling’s headquarters — “don’t hold or acquire any inventory; Every item is sold and shipped from that particular boutique,” she explains.
Kim-Parker pivots now to discuss the other salient aspect of Thrilling being a liaison between seller and customer: Combatting overconsumption. “The apparel industry’s contribution to the climate crisis is appalling. Not only is the process of making clothing incredibly natural resource-intensive and contributes to so many emissions worldwide, but there’s an end-of-life issue because apparel isn’t biodegradable. Most of it just ends up in landfills,” Kim-Parker explains. Put simply, there is just too much clothing out there. As such, Kim-Parker advocates for clothing production to cease: “We’ve already made all the clothing we need. If we stopped, we would all be fine for generations.”
Kim-Parker isn’t implying she wants you to stop shopping. She just wants you to buy clothing that already exists because any garment you could ever want (a piece relevant to today’s trend circuit or a new pair of jeans to replace your beloved threadbare pair) already exists. “It’s matching people to the apparel they want. The sorting, the collecting — that’s the problem,” the mother of two explains. “Not all of us have the capacity or the means, whether it’s a time constraint, an ability constraint, etc., to physically go into stores to hunt for an item we may need.” That’s where the vintage shop owners hosted by Thrilling come in. “These small mom-and-pop shops and sellers have been sourcing vintage for generations” to become masters of curation. So, considering they’ve done the hard work already, why not shop through them, she asks.
And while you secondhand shop, the co-founder implores you to be mindful of the clothing’s longevity. In fact, Kim-Parker doesn’t allow fast-fashion apparel to be sold on her virtual vintage marketplace. If a garment “isn’t going to be here in 30 years” or would, say, disintegrate in a single wash, you won’t find it on Thrilling. When asked if the platform abides by a strict list of no-sell brands, she says no. It’s not a decision based on judgment or that takes into account promises made by a chain retailer to become more sustainable — it’s purely about the quality of the garments. “We want to promote and put clothing back into circulation that will stand the test of time.”
At the time of speaking with TZR, Kim-Parker’s plea for eco-conscious shopping is particularly apt. Throughout the week prior, scientists staged worldwide protests following the release of a report written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The findings are difficult and frightening to fathom, warning that if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t rapidly and seriously diminished by 2025, the environment will face catastrophic effects. “As the climate crisis continues to become more dire,” says Kim-Parker, “we will all have to, across every aspect of our lives, be more thoughtful about how much and what we're consuming. Can an item be reused, or is it single-use? Has it already been created?” She implores you to ask yourself these questions, while also remembering individual solutions will not solve systemic problems. “It’s not 100% on the consumer,” she asserts matter-of-factly. “We should not forget the primary responsibility in terms of regulating industries is on corporations and the government.”
Kim-Parker does, however, offer actionable advice for those first dabbling with thrifting on their journey to becoming a more sustainable consumer: Explore your local vintage stores, just as she did growing up. “There are more mom-and-pop, secondhand thrift shops across the United States than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. They’re in every community; they’re on almost every block,” she says. “So, if you’re starting to explore thrifting, going to your local store is the best way. And we’ve noticed when someone is new to vintage shopping, they often feel emboldened, more empowered to authentically express their style and experiment with bolder items than they might have previously.”
In other words, by visiting your local thrift shop, she expects you’ll experience a thrill — a thrill from joining the ever-growing vintage community, from befriending a small business owner. Or, if you’re lucky, from experiencing the joy Kim-Parker previously described when discovering a one-of-a-kind piece that was put on that rack in front of you seemingly by fate.