DULUTH, Minnesota: For years, the Instagram account was anonymous and a little mysterious. Noihsaf Bazaar became a hub for women to resell their high-end clothing and accessories from mostly independent, women-led labels. Things that you'd imagine a gallery owner might wear.
Thousands of women followed the addictive stream, buying and selling, then tens of thousands. The feed was curated, that much was clear. But who was doing the curating?
Then, a few months ago, a face appeared.
"What up, Noihsaf!" Kate Lindello said. "You're probably wondering who I am."
Sporting a gray Carhartt beanie and beautifully arched brows, Lindello introduced herself and told the story of how Noihsaf Bazaar began – not in Los Angeles or New York City but in Duluth, during a dark winter. At first, she posted her own items to the account. Then friends joined in, selling their frocks and clogs.
"We never made it private," Lindello said by phone, "and it kept growing."
Today, some 22,000 people follow the feed. On an average week, it gets more than 2 million impressions, Lindello said.
The account is filled with floral, bohemian dresses from D"en, pleated pants from Ilana Kohn and mules from Rachel Comey. No "fast fashion" allowed. Each item is picked and posted by Lindello, a 35-year-old stylist whose eye for emerging designers and passion for sustainable fashion created Instagram's most covetable resale account.
All from northern Minnesota.
"I don't want Noihsaf to be this precious style site," she said. "I want it to be an organic tool for seeing, finding and cultivating style ... whether you live in the middle of nowhere, a metropolis or a suburb."
Her business is part of a larger push against cheaply made, mass-market clothes from the likes of Zara, in favour of small-batch brands such as Maryam Nassir Zadeh. Those independent brands can be pricey, but buying them second-hand makes them more affordable.
Noihsaf Bazaar has "captured the desire for a very specific audience, to find what they're looking for in a way that's becoming much more difficult at brick-and-mortar consignment and resale stores because of what fast fashion has done", said Gretchen Jones, a New York City-based business adviser and former fashion designer.
That audience has a strong, specific aesthetic, Jones added: "elevated contemporary hipster".
Count Jones, who won the eighth season of Project Runway, among its devotees. She's bought and sold on Noihsaf and, just last week, nabbed a tough-to-find jumpsuit from Horses Atelier, a small Canadian clothing label founded by two best friends.
'A special community'
In 2013, Lindello had a pair of Rachel Comey flats that didn't quite fit. The brand was high-end but little-known – especially in Duluth.
This was amid a dark winter there, in more than one sense. There had been dozens of below-zero days in a row. Lindello had left her job to be home with her daughter and, in the weeks after her birth, was overcome with postpartum depression. "It was the most painful, debilitating, deep sadness," she later wrote, "on top of feeling like I had electricity running through my veins."
After therapy and medication and time, Lindello was feeling better, but a little off. She remembers thinking: "What am I doing with my life?"
The idea for Noihsaf came to her in the kitchen, she told followers in a recent series of 10-second videos. She posted the Comey flats and some clothes on Instagram, where friends she made via her fashion blog had recently migrated. "And, on a freezing-ass winter day in Minnesota, Noihsaf Bazaar was born." Then she shared a fact that blew some followers' minds: "If you haven't caught on, Noihsaf is backwards for fashion."
For two years, it was free. Lindello just got first dibs. (Her best score? A vintage Dior jacket.) As its popularity grew, Lindello charged a small seller's fee for her time – US$1.80 (RM7.31) per item at first, then US$2.80 (RM11.40).
She started sister accounts for vintage clothes, menswear, kids and more, selecting friends to run them. But she's still the sole curator of the main account, picking items she loves from brands she loves.
Lindello's aesthetic is integral to Noihsaf Bazaar's success, said Annika Kaplan, a Minneapolis jewellery designer whose work occasionally pops up on the account, which she considers a compliment.
"She's into clothes and fashion, but in an irreverent and funny, approachable way," Kaplan noted. Because Lindello likes to have beautiful things around her, "she created a platform for those things to come to her, and for other people to trade in those things, too. And I think that's really cool."
When Lindello posted giveaways last fall, Kaplan donated one of her friendship rings, a gold, textured bauble. It made sense, she said, since "Kate got one of the first ones I ever made".
Unlike other Instagram giveaways, Noihsaf did not require people to "follow" or "repost" or "tag two friends." (She wanted it to feel like a true thank-you, she said. No strings attached.) Lindello refuses to promote her account – or even spend money to market it.
For a while, rules like "no hashtags, please" actually discouraged people from finding Noihsaf. "I wanted to keep it on the DL a little bit," she said. "So it's grown slow and steady but totally organically."
Women hear about it – via a podcast they love, a style website they follow, a fashionable friend. It's the answer to the question "Where did you get that jacket?" The brag behind a cult item find. Often, on one of Noihsaf's posts, someone will tag a friend and say, "This is the account I told you about." It's become a kind of refrain.
"People are really exhausted of being oversold to," said Rita Mehta, creator of the website the American Edit and head of merchandising and retail strategies for the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Noihsaf feels different, she said. "It's not a secret. But it feels like a special community that you're a part of."
Noihsaf's motto, if you can call it that, is "bleeding your feed since 2013".
Each day, dozens of photos pop up on the Instagram account, which can be overwhelming for a follower. Still, Lindello could post more. Stuff she likes, stuff that would fit. But she knows there's a limit to the form: "Instagram itself was never meant for this sort of thing," she said.
The selling process, too, is imperfect: A buyer nabs an item by posting her ZIP code in a comment, communicating with the seller via direct message and arranging payment via PayPal. There's no searching for a particular size or brand. Plus, posting daily means that Lindello is on her phone a lot. Too much.
Noihsaf has become "a full-on business" and Lindello's full-time focus. Together, some 43,000 items sold across the accounts last year. She's working on launching an e-commerce site, streamlined and searchable, and is meeting with potential investors in the next few weeks. The fee would stay low. The fashion would remain hand-picked.
"The end goal, the highest priority, is to keep it curated – and harness this community it's grown," Lindello said. "It's never going to turn into a Poshmark," a popular resale app. "It's going to stay focused on these independent and boutique lines."
Doree Shafrir first heard about Noihsaf Bazaar from "a friend who always has cool clothes".
The account inspired the author and "Forever35" podcast host as she worked to shift her wardrobe to sustainably made clothing. "It exposed me to fashion brands I had never heard of," Shafrir said. And it offered her a place to buy second-hand, the most sustainable option of all, and sell, paring down her closet.
Other sites, such as Poshmark, have a robust feedback system, "so that if someone does screw you over," you have recourse, Shafrir said. Noihsaf doesn't boast the same sort of public mechanism. But selling via the account has demonstrated to Shafrir that "for the most part, people are good", she said. "By and large, it's a very trustworthy community."
Selling also introduced her to Lindello. After submitting her items, she got an e-mail back with instructions, including where to send the US$2.80 fee.
"I was like, 'Who's Kathryn Lindello?' and I Googled her," she said. "Up until that point, I didn't know if this was a collective or what. ... I love that it was this woman who thought: I'm going to start this thing." – Minneapolis Star Tribune