A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to sit down with Shira Kaplan of Jerusalem’s Trumpeldor Vintage, one of the best vintage clothing stores in Jerusalem. Trumpeldor is located on 18 Nissim Behar Street in Nachlaot (near the Jerusalem shouk).
We spoke about how she started the store, the growing popularity of second hand clothes in Jerusalem, and a bit about life. Enjoy the interview and do visit Trumpeldor Vintage if you are passing through the neighborhood or are visiting Jerusalem. Here is the link to their facebook page.
It was always a dream of mine to open up a second hand store. I used to live in the East Village in NYC where you had so many vintage stores of all varieties and I used to love to visit them and talk to the owners, from all different countries. Can you tell me a bit about why you opened Trumpeldor?
The story is like this. I made Aliyah when I was 21. I was on a kibbutz until 22. And then when I moved to Jerusalem to Nachlaot and I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t know if I would study, so in the meantime I started waitressing. This store had opened pretty much the same time I moved to Jerusalem. I used to walk past it and saw it was only open a few hours a week and run by this retired woman from the States. She wasn’t interested in building a business, she just wanted a reason to come to Jerusalem everyday. But it wasn’t a viable business. So I came and asked her if she needed help. She was in poor health so she said sure. I started helping her and then a year later I bought the business from her. So I see it as a business I built, but at the same time I don’t always want to get into it because I don’t want to take credit for something I didn’t necessarily start. However, I don’t want to do myself the injustice of my work by saying that I didn’t start it or build it.
Was it hard to open? Did you have help?
I was 23 and it was definitely a crazy thing to do. Because at exactly the same time the restaurant I was working at offered me a management position. Which was the safe option. But I decided to go with something challenging and exciting. This was also 7 years ago, so vintage and second hand wasn’t a big thing in Jerusalem. People still related to it as a Gemach or a place where you went if you couldn’t afford new clothes. They saw it as a “shmata” business, not being trendy or preferable to buying new, for environmental or style reasons. It was definitely a new concept. Also the street 7 years ago was different. There weren’t all these businesses, it was pretty dingy. But at the time the train was being built, the Saidoff building. There was huge gentrification and I thought if I stuck around for 10 years, I would see the fruits of that. I would really see this neighborhood and this street develop. And within that time a lot of new businesses opened. It is still kind of grimy looking, but that is Nachlaot. That is kind of the charm. Filthy but charming at the same time. The street traffic has tripled and also the clientele has improved. At first it was a lot of people who were coming in thinking they were coming to a charity shop, and expecting those prices, and fighting with me. It was very demoralizing, especially being young and coming from a South African background.
That brings me to my next question. Are your customers Olim or mostly Israeli? I sometimes have felt that in Israel people don’t always understand why I would want second hand clothes.
It is definitely more Israeli. It is a young neighborhood, so there are a lot of students. Mostly repeat customers. I guess doing this for a while, since I am so young, really gave me time to reflect on this topic. How people perceive second hand. How they perceive new things. What kind of background they come from. And it is definitely a very interesting topic. I do think running a business like this is definitely harder in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv. And in many other countries as well. Based maybe on the understanding, the appreciation-it’s a cultural thing. But I have seen it completely change within the last 7 years. So it was very demoralizing at first because I didn’t have the strength of character being young and also being South African where you are not educated to fight, you know? Especially when you come from the Jewish-Orthodox community you have a cushy lifestyle. But I didn’t want to be part of that, so that is why I came here. Jerusalem is a hard city, and for many people there is a sense of always surviving, but it is a way of life. And that is why I am here.
Do you think anything specific happened that caused this change in the last 7 years?
I think like any trend, things catch on. I think it was just a matter of time.
Change and trend usually start with younger people, and this is a student heavy neighborhood and I think students and young people are conscious of trends and what is going on. And for them, vintage is more popular, and I think also the awareness of environmental issues, the movement to consume less, sustainable living and recycling. Remember on your news feed a few years ago the “small house movement”? People who were moving into tiny houses and utilizing their space? It is all the same philosophy of consuming less, living simpler. It is just a response or backlash of to whatever excess proceeded it.
Was fashion always important to you growing up?
No. No, because I wouldn’t really consider what I am doing as fashion. I am not aware of what any trends are. I am not following fashion magazines, or blogs, or anything. Now that I am doing what I am doing, I see clues in my childhood and teenage years that makes sense why I did this. I definitely always loved dressing up, I loved art, I loved plays and performing and all sorts of creative things. Collecting junk and making art out of it. I guess this all fits in the family of second hand.
How would you describe your store?
A Feature and a Fixture of the neighborhood. It is very much loved. Also there is definitely a feeling of it being a communal hub. There is just as much hanging out as there is purchasing. There is a friend in the neighborhood who works in film and documentaries, and for awhile he has wanted to start a TV web series on the neighborhood, of the variety of characters and dynamics. They want to start the show with Trumpeldor as the springboard for all the characters and they started casting last week. The fact that he chose the store as the center of it I guess represents what it feels like to a lot of people in the community.
It is essentially a living room. People always know where to find me and my husband. Anytime they can come in and hangout.
There is a little Ethiopian girl called Fannah who lives basically on the same block around the corner. And she has been coming here since she was two or three. She would run out of her house, run in the store and her mom would come after her frantically looking where she was. Since then she comes here regularly after school. Now Fannah has a little sister who is 2, so she brings her by as well.
It’s good. I feel very happy and blessed the way life has played out for us.
Any plans of bringing second hand furniture?
I think my greater passion is to refurbish. Change or re-purpose. My husband and I love seeing junk and seeing what it could be, and taking it home. We have an amazing collection of power tools. But, the problem with that, especially in Jerusalem, is there is such limited space. I think that works in the States because you can have giant warehouses, thrift stores, in or out of the city. There are those strip mall complexes where people have cars. Furnishings and second hand need a lot of space. I don’t think it is viable in a place like Jerusalem where space is so competitive. I guess maybe in Moshavim (smaller towns) it could work. People are always coming by asking if we sell furniture or if we know where to get second hand furniture. I think because of the space issue it only works with Yad2 (an online marketplace in Hebrew), piece by piece.
What about in Talpiyot?
That could be a good space for it, I think it would go very well. Talpiyot is a great industrial space. If one day we move out and have more space it is something that I would really love to do. Right now, while running a business full time, I don’t always have time to do other art and projects. We haven’t bought a piece of new furniture in our house. We either find, refurbish, or buy second hand.
How would you describe your style?
I think it is just no rules. Chaval to live self consciously. You are only young once. Meaning, if you want to wear something, just wear it. Don’t think it is just too fancy or silly. I am 30, maybe this dress I am wearing now is too young and childish. It’s a flowery and frilly dress, but I think just do whatever you want and enjoy life. That is really what my style is. Whatever appeals to me. I pretty much appreciate anything. I will rarely ever say something is ugly…unless it really is 😊 I think everything has a way to be worn. I think the older I get the more comfortable I want to be. More loose and casual.
Thank you again Shira. Looking forward to seeing you soon!