“It’s time for a call to action,” says the innovator at two community-focused platforms.
“I’m a creative problem solver,” says Summer Ruddock-Ellis, the Toronto-based founder of second-hand retail and editorial platform Pseudonym and partner in 4ye, the entertainment-meets-fashion hub with a robust social following.
Ruddock-Ellis, who grew up in Brampton, says her interest in fashion and in thrifting began when she was young. Her first retail job was at a store in the local mall, and that’s where she says she was first exposed “to the retail landscape and how to run a business. Getting product in and actually selling it; that was really exciting to me.”
She enrolled at Carlton to do an undergrad in Economics, and while there, the burgeoning entrepreneur got an idea. “I starting thrifting a lot when I was up there, and started selling clothing out of my dorm,” says Ruddock-Ellis. “That’s originally how I started Pseudonym; it was a thing I did part-time I did while at school just to make a bit of extra money.”
In combination with managing her curated offering of contemporary previously-owned finds, Ruddock-Ellis honed her retail acumen working for businesses like Cos, where she was part of the development of the company’s Canadian e-commerce venture as well as acting as a merchandiser for the brand. “It gave me an idea of scale, and how to buy efficiently,” she says.
Eventually she realized she wanted to focus her efforts full-time on Pseudonym and other projects; in addition to working on a documentary about Toronto’s Jamaican dancehall scene, Ruddock-Ellis assists Toronto stylist Bobby Bowen. “I’m a storyteller,” she says, adding that augmenting the ability for Pseudonym and 4ye’s platforms to exist as an outlet for marginalized voices is high on her list of priorities.
It’s these voices that Ruddock-Ellis says must be amplified when it comes to conversations about sustainability—something that is of course top of mind as a vintage clothing entrepreneur. “A lot of marginalized voices are left out of the conversation of sustainability,” she says of black, brown and Indigenous communities. “We definitely do have a grassroots understanding of what it means to be sustainable, and how it impacts our environment. We haven’t had the means to purchase new. We haven’t had that accessibility to buy expensive clothing.”
Accessibility is something Ruddock-Ellis is sensitive of when it comes to her own businesses. “It’s difficult when you begin,” she says of launching a second-hand retail operation. “You have to ask, what’s my style like and what am I curating? What do people want to buy? My main purpose was always to show people that thrift can be accessible. People don’t know how to approach it. I want people to understand that the stuff you’re buying at the mall you could find in better fabric at a better price point, in a way that’s sustainable. I’ve also always wanted the price point to be accessible; I knew a lot of women of colour would come to shop with me and I’d never want to mark up prices to benefit myself.”
In addition to offering a selection of archival pieces from directional brands including Yohji Yamamoto and Comme Des Garçons, Ruddock-Ellis stocks “fun thrift pieces that I find.” If there’s a defect in the piece, such as a stain or hole, she has taken to mending, dyeing and altering to give them new appeal; it’s something she’s done with her own vintage finds over the years.
“I always thought it was cool that you’re able to revive clothing that somebody else had, and give it new meaning and new life,” she says. “That’s where the name pseudonym comes from; all these pieces that you encounter at the thrift store have their own journey and their own story. It’s really exciting to see how they integrate into your wardrobe and your lifestyle, and how you can make them unique.”
The dynamism of second-hand clothing is something Ruddock-Ellis passionately believes in. And it’s intrinsically linked with larger conversations around inclusion and sustainability that exist in the fashion world that she’s glad are being taken more seriously. But she does point to the systemic racism inherent in the sustainability-lead notion of ‘buying better’, and hopes this will surface as an urgent point going forward. “Who is that message directed to? What does it mean to buy better? Does it mean to question where our clothing is coming from? Does it mean what the process is in which it goes through to get here? Does it mean buying less? Does it mean swapping out a mall-based brand for somebody who’s local? There are a lot of things to speak on and touch on when you’re actually thinking of buying better.”
Ruddock-Ellis also emphasizes other institutionalized concepts that are entangled in the myriad issues that have reached a fever pitch this month, and highlights what course the fashion industry must take to make meaningful change within itself. “Black Lives Matter equals wealth redistribution,” she says. “We need money in our communities, we need to be decision makers and policy makers as well, and hold that space. We don’t just need representation—it doesn’t pay the bills, it doesn’t really further the movement and it doesn’t actually doesn’t amplify our voices.”