In the early 2000s, Dolores Ruiz and Vanessa Porras were two high-schoolers on the streets of San Francisco.
“Growing up, tagging was a big thing. I was, um, engaging in all that,” says Ruiz.
“That’s where I first saw her.”
“And you were a tagger too!”
Porras sidesteps this. Both of them laugh, Ruiz indignant.
The two, now 33 and 34 years old, have been close ever since. Earlier this year, they confronted the task of converting 2287 Mission St., formerly The Plant Fairies, a gardening and indoor landscaping store, into a thrift store.
“We did lots of construction work to completely transform the place. There used to be a huge wall here,” Porras says in a room that is now spacious, with carefully organized clothes collections and outfitted mannequins.
In late August, 2022, they finally opened Born Again Thrift. The name is derived from the story of the phoenix, the myth of the bird rising from the ashes. For their part, Ruiz and Porras revive second-hand clothes, partly out of concerns about fast fashion, textile overproduction, and climate change, and partly to meet the Mission’s specific needs.
“Thrifting back when I was young was so much more of a taboo,” said Ruiz. “No one wanted people to know if their parents bought their clothes secondhand. It used to be a necessity; it was how we got by.”
But, over the years, thrifting has exploded in popularity.
“Overpricing takes away from the experience, especially in our community. There’s a lot of people who have really big households on really limited incomes. We want to provide cool, taken-care-of clothing that is still affordable,” continued Ruiz.
Ruiz and Porras’ previous experiences make them complementary to each other as business partners. Ruiz grew up all over the Bay Area; her parents immigrated here from El Salvador. She’s worked in retail since she was 17. Porras, who was born and raised in the Mission, has been in the “thrift game” for 12 years now, but her roots go even further. Her family started out selling in Oakland’s flea markets, and now own a store in the Mission.
“She brings in that thrift model, she understands the business of it. I bring the retail experience of high-end fashion,” says Ruiz.
Ruiz and Porras don’t take donations; they buy wholesale from warehouses and hand-pick each item in their store. This means going through hundreds and hundreds of pieces at a time. They look out for clothes that are on trend, but also for vintage pieces.
“Certain clothes were made specifically for their times; they’re sewn uniquely. But thrifting brings the past, present and future together. We also look for good brands, brands that are usually super expensive that we can sell for super cheap.”
Ruiz explained their attention diverse styles. “When you look at the city, you see a lot of urban culture, street wear, high end wear, casual wear. There’s the tech boom, but also people that were born and raised in SF. There’s such a diversity of lifestyles. We try to highlight that.”
Both Ruiz and Porras recall spending their teenage afternoons grabbing food and shopping at little mom-and-pop shops.
“It just feels good to bring something back to the community. A lot of the visitors become like a second family. Customers will come in after work, they become regulars, they’ll tell us about their day, their kids. It’s just fun experiencing everybody,” said Porras.