Fashion: The local brands giving vintage new life
More people are choosing to wear vintage as sales continue to soar. Lisa Millard talks to three specialist traders about their passion for preloved fashion
Sarah Ruppin of online boutique Rehab Vintage and vintage fair for size 16 plus, Ahead of the Curve, is on a mission to make vintage fashion more accessible
“My love for vintage began when I was a teenager. I remember weekends scouring Camden market searching for vintage army t-shirts and DMs. As I got older, I started falling for the amazing prints of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The brighter and crazier the better. I love the fact that every piece is individual and you’ll never be wearing the same thing as someone else.
I have a background in fashion and styling working as a visual merchandiser for H&M’s London flagship store. Rehab Vintage has been on the go for more than 15 years. It started off as a hobby and progressed from there. Over the years I have traded at markets and fairs and online marketplaces including ASOS. But during lockdown it really took off and I decided to make it my full-time job.
Ahead of the Curve was born out of a frustration at not being able to find vintage in my size. Lots of virtual vintage fairs started popping up over lockdown and I always felt disheartened that most of the clothes were so small. I realised other people must feel the same way, so I decided to do something about it. I started before lockdown with around 600 followers on Instagram which has now grown to over 6,000. Ahead of the Curve has more than 7,000 followers in just under a year. We have been running our monthly virtual vintage fair that features a collective of traders of vintage and re-worked fashions in UK size 16 plus for almost a year now and have built a fabulous inclusive community. Plus size does not equal compromise.
What I love most about vintage clothes are the prints and the details. From novelty prints of the 40s and 50s to the psychedelic prints of the 60s and 70s. You just don’t get that with fast fashion. The quality of the construction and materials usually so much better as well. I love mixing and matching eras, I’m not a purist about it. One of my favourites is a flower power maxi dress by Sherman of London with angel sleeves in a rare larger size. I wore it to see Fleetwood Mac at Wembley Stadium for my 40th birthday.
Vintage sellers are very secretive about where we source stock from. The vintage marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive and good pieces are becoming harder to find. It’s definitely one of the my favourite parts of the job – like a continuous treasure hunt. The thrill when you find a special piece is amazing.
There is a serious side to what I do too. Fast fashion not only environmentally unfriendly but it causes a humanitarian impact. Fast fashion affects the world in so many ways, it’s completely out of control. It’s a huge source of micro plastics and fashion production makes around 10% of global carbon emissions. Around 92 million tonnes of textiles which cannot be recycled end up in huge landfills every year. Farmers take on crippling debts buying cotton seeds from multinational corporations and garment workers are barely paid enough to survive. There are so many issues, I have just scratched the surface. If you want to find out more have a look at @fash_rev on Instagram.
My fashion mantra for 2022 is ‘make do and mend’. It’s so simple to just take a little care with your clothing to make it last longer. Simple things like sewing on a button or using a de-bobbler. If something is damaged there’s usually a way to fix it or even upcycle it and give it a new lease of life. I’ve started a mini guide on my Instagram page – go and check it out.”
Cameron Dighton, 20, from St Ives, is the talent behind the newly opened CJ’s Vintage Store at 4 Emmanuel Street, Cambridge
“I grew up to the soundtrack of my father listening to music from the northern soul and Motown eras and found myself drawn to fashion elements from 1960s subcultures. I started shopping on websites selling second-hand clothes and once in a while I’d stumble across a gem, but they were really hard to find. Most of the garments in circulation for mods are now made from new materials and that's where I left them behind. Preferring the authentic ‘vintage’ element I moved on to retro sportswear and the love for that led me to where I am today.
I studied Art and Design at Cambridge Regional College and was offered a place at Norwich University of the Arts in 2020 to study Fashion Marketing, but having deferred, I started selling vintage and streetwear through the fashion app DEPOP. Demand for the garments went crazy and I decided to look for a retail space. After exploring a few ideas for different locations in Cambridge, and a few ups and downs along the way, I landed a deal in Emmanuel Street, one of the busiest streets in the city. The store sells a range of second-hand vintage streetwear, including a popular Y2K women’s section.
Finding the right garments in the current climate is challenging but especially for those of us who need that door-to-door service. We started out sourcing in the UK, but the business has grown so quickly, we've now established relationships with French, Ukrainian and American suppliers too. I personally select each and every piece to ensure a high-quality of stock in the store and I wash the garments so they are ready-to-wear for my customers.
Since discovering that about 2000 gallons of water is required to grow enough cotton to make one pair of jeans, and becoming aware of the level of carbon emissions the fast fashion industry is responsible for, I feel even stronger about championing the second-hand clothes market. Sustainable fashion is expected to overtake fast fashion within the next seven years.
Owning a vintage store means I have the chance to add to my own wardrobe and it can be hard to let go of something I’ve taken a liking to. I think my favourite piece ever is a 1990s NFL Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt in navy with a silver foil print that I picked up from a US supplier. It’s something that I will never part with and it's highly unlikely that another one will ever come up for grabs.
Looking ahead to 2022, I plan to take the ideas I wanted to pursue at university and bring them to life in my retail space. I will showcase artist techniques and fashion designs using existing garments which have defects that I wouldn't normally retail. I hope it's going to really take off and bring me into a new world of vintage fashion.
Opening the shop during a global pandemic is the biggest risk I've ever taken by far. I turned down a place at university and I've quite literally given every penny to this new venture. But I want to live a life of no regrets and see everything as a lesson and never a mistake. I feel proud of what I've started – and let there be no end.”
Rachael Victoria owns Serpentine Swap, that started life in 2018 as a market stall and blossomed to become a city favourite vintage and second-hand clothes shop at 9 Norfolk Street, Cambridge
“I grew up in California where thrift stores really are gold standard and shopping them always felt like you were on an adventure and didn’t know what you were about to find. I think it’s more about that for me, the hunting for cool things that you don’t see everywhere else. I get bored in high street stores seeing so many of the same items on one rail.
I was working in a charity shop on Mill Road in Cambridge with a good friend of mine and we absolutely loved going through the donations and creating a cool atmosphere that people really seemed to enjoy. I noticed that there was a genuine desire for vintage and good quality second-hand clothing and Cambridge didn’t really have much of that to offer – other than the lovely gals over at Jemporium. I decided to apply for a stall at Cambridge Market and it all started to piece together from there.
I run the Serpentine Swap shop with my team – Emily, Anna and Maddie. People bring us old clothes in exchange for 25% of resale value in store credit. We’re heavily focused on vintage from the 1960s to 1990s, but also love designer, branded sportswear and good quality high street labels like Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Other Stories. People also swing by without swaps and just shop.
We get our stock from big monthly vintage sales from wholesalers who are sourcing the clothes from all over Europe and the US. We also get people bringing in things regularly which gives us a good assortment of vintage and modern.
Being sustainable is definitely a consideration. Over the years I noticed the charity shops started to fill up with super cheap online brands and it was so sad and depressing. When I go to these big warehouses and see the amounts of good quality vintage clothes that are still in circulation it really makes me think that we have enough already – we don’t need to keep producing new things right now, especially new things of poorer quality.
We are fortunate to have built a lovely consistent customer base that are forever enthusiastic about the stock and what we are doing here on Norfolk Street. The Swap is next door to Thrive, the plant- based cafe and we also share space with the Full Circle zero waste shop so lots of people like to come and hit all three of us at once. We’re in a good spot I’d say. Most of my customers are students so the downside is I get quieter once they leave for holidays, but I’m hopeful that over the coming years we will grow a bigger community presence and become a hot spot for locals too.
I have a real soft spot for colours, patterns and prints and I think vintage clothes from the 1960s and 1970s do them the best – thanks to psychedelia. I have gathered many favourite pieces from over the years. I hang on to anything beautifully hand embroidered and have a fair few fabulous 1970s maxi dresses that I could never part with.
My fashion mantra for 2022 and every year after is dress for you – wear what you like and not what you’re told to like. Always experiment and explore and allow yourself to feel sexy and strong sometimes in the things you wear because it’s you that gives them life.”
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