Interview: Be Retro's founder talks future fashion

Lockdown gave enterprising 19-year-old Hadley Butler the push to launch Be Retro, a recycled vintage clothing business – and he's just moved into his first premises, Raft Mkt in Cambridge, as Louise Cummings discovers

Have you always loved fashion?

My interests have primarily been film, photography and marketing, but fashion has always been an underlying passion of mine. I’ve wanted to launch a business for some time, and thought this would be the perfect way to bring my passions for film and photography to a target market with a similar age group to mine, so aged 18 up to around 40.

Where did the idea for Be Retro come from?

It was when I was in New Zealand early last year, seeing that second-hand and recycled clothing was so big out there. Also, in the past I’ve worked for ethical brand, Tom’s Trunks, which Tom set up when he was just 14. So it stemmed from there, plus I recognise that the popularity of this type of clothing is on the rise in this country, with the younger crowd turning their back on fast fashion.

When did you officially launch?

It was quite a quick turnaround really; I came up with the idea at the end of March, I set the website up at the beginning of April and launched in June – so within the space of about two months! I have to say that so far I’ve been loving the fashion side of the business.

Where do you source your products?

I have connections with trusted wholesalers in the UK who sell relatively different pieces, plus my dad is a business owner, and imports from all over the world, so he has useful contacts too. Dad has a shop in Newmarket and recently opened Kitchen & Things in Cambridge.

Can you tell us about the Be Retro range?

I’d describe it as ‘streetwear fashion’, so not necessarily vintage in terms of having a 1920s appeal, for example. Our clothing is more ‘trendy vintage’, so well-known brands like Nike, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, which still remain big nowadays, but it’s more of their old sourced pieces from the '80s or '90s.

Eighty per cent of the products we sell are unisex; it’s targeted towards the new ‘woke’ market. My favourite pieces are the jumpers, hoodies and polo rugby shirts, plus the heavy jackets – the Levi and Carhartt designs are quite striking. I love that every single product has its own story.

What are your hopes for Be Retro?

I want to create a real sense of community within the brand. When I was carrying out market research on the vintage market, it struck me that it can be very urban, with models resembling rappers, pictured in front of London tower blocks. I wanted to go for the polar opposite, geared towards a different market, with more of a country feel. So all our lifestyle photography features nice countryside backdrops, with the studio shots done in an outbuilding on the family farm where I live in Barnardiston. All the models and photographers are friends, or friends of friends, happy to help out. We hope we’ve created an inviting, community feel to Be Retro.

Be Retro's founder Hadley Butler (42842459)
Be Retro's founder Hadley Butler (42842459)

You opened your first premises – Cambridge’s Raft Mkt - in November, in partnership with Tom’s Trunks. How did the two brands come together?

Back in 2018 I went on a volunteering trip to Malawi with my school and all the girls on the trip were wearing Tom’s Trunks clothes. I looked up the brand and I found out Tom was a similar age to me and I thought we would get on really well. So I took some photos of the girls wearing his clothes out in Malawi and sent them to him, and our friendship started there. Ever since we’ve been great friends, helping each other out with our respective businesses.

Our brands complement each other; Tom mainly focuses on beach and bedwear, which is sustainable, quirky and cool, and he caters largely for the bottom half of the body with shorts and trousers, whilst Be Retro focuses more on hoodies, tops and jackets. So we don’t crossover. It also makes sense ethically as our clothes are recycled and Tom’s are made using sustainable materials.

Tell us more about Raft Mkt?

I was looking to open a shop in Cambridge, as was Tom – and we found a wonderful space in the form of the old Jack Wills store on Sidney Street, next to Waterstones. It’s a lovely three-storey building. The aim is to house a number of independent brands under one roof, offering a whole new retail experience, and giving customers an exciting escape from the ‘usual’. Eventually, we’ll have an in-house DJ, a chill-out area, café and special events. Tom and I hope to attract a number of sustainable young brands, and make Raft Mkt a cool place for young people to come to relax, with almost an art gallery vibe. We also understand the difficulties businesses are facing during the Covid-19 pandemic, so Raft Mkt is offering spaces for businesses ranging from one week up to two to three months.

What’s the ultimate dream for the business?

For Be Retro, I want the brand to feel welcoming and unique, help customers to feel confident and express their own style, while minimising the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

For Raft Mkt, our vision is that it will become the beating heart of the High Street, showcasing the best of British independents. We’re so excited to share our vision – and though we are living through uncertain times, we are working around the clock to welcome as many unique brands as possible.

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