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Sunny Melot, owner of Pre-Loved MTK, personally sources everything she sells via months-long treks around the globe. (Photo courtesy of Sunny Melet)

You can’t touch the texture of well-loved denim through a phone screen, or feel the thrill of plucking that one hidden, amazing gem of a dress from a stuffed rack of clothing via a click. For a devoted thrift shopper, half the excitement is the hunt, by you or by a fellow vintage vetter you trust. 

That tactile deficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic drove Sunny Melet into the throes of a thrifter’s slump — but it’s one that inspired the brick-and-mortar launch of her shop of high-fashion hand-me-downs, Pre-Loved MTK at 805 Montauk Highway in Montauk. 

Melet got her eye for quality vintage sourcing from her fashion-industry parents. (Photo courtesy of Sunny Melet)

With 90% of the shop’s wares in the vintage realm, and few carefully curated new (and often, locally and sustainably made and female-owned) items, Melet hand-picks all of it herself. “I need to see and touch every piece, and sometimes try them on too,” she says. “It’s a small space and I like to curate everything in there. There’s nothing I have that I wouldn’t wear myself.”

Preloved MTK, which opened its doors in July 2021, is a vintage store that started when Melet felt uninspired by the four walls of her bedroom during lockdown. 

“I had too many clothes, but I was wearing the same thing every day,” she said. To pass the time, she decided to ditch some of her unworn finds online. “Everyone was doing Depop and Poshmark,” she said of the well-known second-hand clothing social channels. “But I wanted it to be more personal. I wanted to make it more of a love letter to myself.”    

Every time in Pre-Loved MTK has a story. (Photo courtesy of Sunny Melet)

Her inspiration was home-grown. Melet’s parents were both in the fashion industry. Her dad traveled the world to source textiles, and he taught Melet everything she knows about evaluating quality and tracking down perfect-fit pieces. He taught her about clothes, their history, what they mean and how to see the value in a dress that might look like nothing more than a ho-hum dress on a hanger to the naked, untrained eye, but may well have more value beyond a quick glance. “Say there’s a shirt that’s $5 and there’s a stain or a rip so it’s appealing to no one. My dad taught me how to see it,” says Melet of her fashionista father. :”Is it cotton? Single stitch? What era does it come from? Sometimes I’m like, ‘oh my god!’, silently freaking out because the seller has no idea what the item is worth. When that happens when I’m sourcing, I do a little dance in my mind,” she laughs.

Indeed, Melet’s talent for finding treasure was born of her parents’ influence: Her dad was the original vintage buyer for Ralph Lauren who, in 2003, opened an appointment-only clothing store, Melet Mercantile, in TriBeCa; her mom a fashion model with a unique style and a penchant for vintage clothing.

In Manhattan, Melet’s dad gave his daughter her first ever taste of sales, via a small dressing room in the back of the store donated to exploring the young girl’s dreams. Here, she was allowed to sell anything she wanted in her dressing room store; Melet called it SMLA for Sunny Melet Los Angeles, perhaps manifesting her next address in life. 

Melet on one of her global sourcing trips. (Photo courtesy of Sunny Melet)

“I lived a very unconventional childhood. [My parents] followed the fashion,” she said. “Wherever fashion was happening, that’s where I went.” The one consistency she always had was summers in Montauk, a place that become her home-base throughout her young life. 

Her parents eventually divorced and in 2019, her dad moved to Los Angeles full-time and brought his only daughter with him. This meant Melet spent her junior and senior year of high school not only in a new time zone, but far from friends and familiar surroundings. And then came COVID-19 and lockdown. From that difficult, lonely time, however, Melet formed the idea for her brand and business, spawned from the online clothes purging she’d engaged in. Three days after she graduated high school, she was on a plane back to New York and bound for Montauk.  

“Essentially, I really wanted to do something in person. When I started PreLove the year before on Instagram –but in the person thing feels better than Instagram.”  

Years later, that little dressing room in her dad’s Manhattan shop has graduated to a full-blown store in Montauk that Melet is devoted to. In the off-season, she’s getting inspired and “finding the coolest things I can find,” she says. Her sourcing takes her all over the world for about seven months of the year — to Bali, Paris, different spots in Italy and Japan — to find what she seeks. 

“I’m trying to find pieces I know I’ll remember. When my boxes are sent home, I know exactly what I got, where, and why – sometimes it’s a fabric and sometimes it’s a piece that will look amazing in shop, and it’s always really, really random places and holes in the wall where I find these things. It’s that experience that I want to bring that to my store.”

She’s gearing up for the seaon now, back in the states and ready to open her doors next month. And while she’s unpacking her finds and reliving the experiences she had, she’s excited to set down roots again for a few months in her favorite place of all. 

“Montuak — that’s my home base. My mom is there, my childhood home is there,” she says. “Everything I have in this store has been loved before because I loved it; everything has a story.”  

Pre-Loved MTK re-opens for the season May 17, daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 805 Montauk Highway.