How to become a vintage fashion dealer

Vintage Dealer

Vintage Dealer

Image by J Smith

With the explosion of interest in vintage fashion over recent years, more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon to make money. But how do you make a profitable business from vintage items? We talk to two dealers.

A passion for vintage is essential

Lynda Stead, 52, is owner of travelling clothes stall Vintage to Vogue, which has been trading for nine years. After a variety of jobs and originally training as a career officer when she left university, she started collecting vintage. The company is based in Leeds and Lynda says her criteria for what she buys are that she ‘just has to love it’.

Lynda says “For anyone wanting to get into vintage fashion my biggest piece of advice would be to do it because you love it not because you think it is the way to make your fortune! Collect and sell what interests you, be it home-wares, fashion, material etc. I am a firm believer that you can only be genuine if you are passionate about what you do.”

“I never really thought about turning the collecting into a business. I still don’t class myself as a dealer as I really love my clothes, who they belonged to, what event they were worn for etc. I did not begin to collect or to stand fairs solely as a way of making money as a business. I began selling to finance my passion and I also liked meeting fellow vintage enthusiasts at fairs, some of which have gone on to become good friends.”

Be prepared to put effort into finding great vintage clothes

While it may seem that vintage is everywhere, gathering stock for your vintage business can be harder than it seems. “It has become increasingly difficult to find vintage clothing at reasonable prices over the last few years” explains Lynda.

“The explosion of vintage shops, vintage internet shops and the increasing number of individuals selling at fairs means that so many people are looking for what is, by definition, a finite supply of clothing.

“I used to find so much in charity shops but now most of the main charities have their own dedicated vintage departments which in a lot of cases are way too expensive for me to buy from.

“Car boot sales used to be another good source but again people are asking high prices for items because they either know there is a demand or they have read articles that say vintage is popular, so they perceive their items must be worth a lot. Consequently I spend most of my time driving round and round visiting charity shops and car boots in the hope of finding just one good item.”

Be prepared for difficulties and have a clear business plan

Susie Burne, 26, is founder of online site and travelling stall, Memoir Vintage, and is a shining example of the hard work it takes to become a successful vintage dealer. She’s been running Memoir Vintage for thirteen months, and has a fashion degree. She worked as a recruitment company sales manager, before she was made redundant and decided to concentrate on a vintage business. The company is based in Wrexham and specialises mostly in evening wear.

“It was either all or nothing so I decided to go for it head first. I used a small business loan to get stock and to open up a small unit in Quiggins in Liverpool, which is basically like a small shop in a large building shared by many small businesses. Unfortunately four months later I had to close the shop as the overheads were too high and there was not the right customer walking through the door. This was a big knock as I was failing before I began. I needed help.

“I called the Princes Trust who told me they could help and show me the right direction. I signed up and went on a number of business courses and had help from business advisors and even got to present Memoir business to Prince Charles himself. I was advised to go down the online route by the Princes Trust which was the most valuable and best advice I could have asked for as was born! To this day the vintage business is tough and hard, especially because so many people have begun to trade in the vintage world, I always think ‘will vintage run out?’ but I don’t think it can as the next decade will always be next!”

Make contacts in other countries to give your stock a unique edge

The next step is to make contacts all over the world, if you have something different than what is available in the UK, you’re more likely to attract customers. Not only this, but it will also give you an advantage over your competition. Susie explains; “Our stock comes from all over the world, we have contacts in Europe and America who know what it is we are looking for and who hand select pieces for us, and in the UK I travel far and wide and select pieces which I know Memoir’s customer will love.

Get handy with a sewing machine

“Quite a lot of the vintage pieces which are found have great potential but need some TLC to bring them up to date. Most of which may just need the hem to be taken up from a maxi to mini or maybe the sleeves to be taken off” says Susie.

“Sometimes we find vintage pieces which have no hope. However the garment is made from an unusual material which may have a gorgeous print. In this case we will still buy the piece but completely take it to pieces and remake a dress with the material. Ideas come from the latest trends of the catwalk”

“The best advice I could say is try and look towards fashion trends, so many business try to start out in the vintage fashion industry because they think there is easy money to be made but this won’t work unless you know what your customer wants.”

Vintage Hotspots

Vintage Hotspots

Vintage Hotspots

Image by J Smith

As the demand for vintage has continued to grow, so has the quality and quantity of vintage emporiums throughout the UK. We pick some of the best shops throughout the country to visit on any vintage expedition.

Truly Madly Vintage, Chelmsford, Essex:

Whether you’re an Essex girl or in town for the V festival this summer, Chelmsford hides a hidden treasure off its high street. Truly Madly Vintage sits quietly on Moulsham Street amongst other independent businesses.

The shop opened a year ago, and fulfilled the distinct lack of vintage shops in North Essex. It was a risk that paid off, and Phillipa Barnes, 27, has now expanded to add a vintage furniture shop to her business, just a few shops down.

She says; “I think there’s a small but dedicated contingent of people in Chelmsford that are interested in vintage and the more its advertised on the high street helps, as it opens peoples eyes and gets more people looking for vintage, then with the furniture shop as well, it’s become very fashionable to have things from different decades in your home.”

Jolly Brown, Hitchin, Hertfordshire:

Jolly Brown has been running for four years, nestled between pubs and music shops in Bucklersbury, the medieval, cultural street in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Hannah Brown, the founder of Jolly Brown, explains why she picked Hitchin for this unique beautiful boutique. “I have lived in Hitchin for 12 years and it has such an amazing community feel, lots of independent shops and it also has a very creative, arty and musical side. There is a really stylish feel to the way people dress in Hitchin, there are lots of creative young people too, with a flare for fashion and there wasn’t a vintage shop in town. I wanted a place where people could buy affordable and great quality clothing”

Here you’ll find rails and rails of quality vintage for men and women, in a friendly atmosphere, with staff only too happy to help you put an outfit together.

Revival Retro, South West London:

There are mixed feelings about replication vintage, but Rowena and her Revival Retro team produce such fantastic replication vintage, nobody would ever no the difference! Her London based showroom, offers customers a personal shopping experiences and outfits tailored to them from the 20s to 40s era. Rowena will also be opening a shop in May, in London’s east end, so you can see these replicas yourself and decide!

“Our customers are women of every age group, every background, every walk of life but united by a common love of the art and aesthetic of the 1930s and 1940s. We would all love to own amazing vintage pieces but they are old, fragile, hard to find and decent ones should probably be in a museum. We try to be inclusive and stock a range of sizes from size 6-26.”

Rags to Bitches, Manchester:

This Manchester based brand is more than just a vintage shop. Rags to Bitches has become so successful they have branched out to include popular courses and events to their repertoire. From dress making to hen nights, all ran by professional experts in their field.

Rags to Bitches have won a number of awards, including Stella magazine’s 50 best boutiques in 2008. If you’re planning to visit the store, it’s well worth going all out and making use of one of their many courses or services. A perfect port of call for a weekend away with the girls.

Absolute Vintage, London:

When a shop has been voted ‘one of the top 100 stores you must see in the world’ by the Evening Standard, you know you’re on to a good thing. When a shop has been named as the ‘best vintage shop in London’ by InStyle magazine, you know you’re on to something amazing.

Absolute Vintage’s London based shop and online store have proved massively popular and come with high praise from fashion insiders and customers alike. Both the shop and website are packed with vintage goodies for you to rummage through, no matter what your budget. Vintage Kurt Geiger shoes for £25 anyone?

Virtual Vintage

Twiggy by Bert Stern

Twiggy by Bert Stern

Can’t be bothered to rummage through the rails? Smart vintage shoppers are looking online. We pick the best sites on the web.

Juno Says Hello:

Used by vintage style icon and chef Gizzi Erskine, Juno Says Hello boasts a selection of 200 dresses at any one time, shipped in from America and mainland Europe. Owner and creator, Rebecca Rose, says “The attraction of vintage is that you get fashion plus history – as well as the mystery of wondering who wore this dress before you, to what sort of event. Did they dance the night away or end up having a blazing row with their lover? That intrigue is something that appeals to a lot of vintage aficionados.”

The website specialises in luxury vintage, and is a fantastic port of call if you want vintage that is individual and timeless. Perfect if you’re looking for something special.

“We are now recognised as one of the best online vintage boutiques in the UK, which makes me tremendously happy. We have a blog that features our Skype clinic and monthly giveaways (prizes include books, jewellery and clothing).”

Streaking Scarlett Vintage:

On this eBay store there are weekly auctions of chic casual daywear with dresses and jumpsuits modelled by a fantastic range of models. Streaking Scarlett has a dedicated band of shoppers who log on weekly to bid for much coveted items. If you’ve always rooted through vintage fairs and charity shops to find a beautiful vintage item but always come back empty-handed, Streaking Scarlett is bound to have something that captures your heart.

Most of Streaking Scarlett’s stock conjures up images of effortlessly cool art school students, boasting beautiful dresses and jumpsuits on its store weekly. Checking up on their stock can get addictive and you’ll have to be ruthless with your bidding, if the item you want is popular. But you will always walk away with a bargain, items rarely sell for more than £30.

Memoir Vintage:

Struggle to find period pieces in your size? Worry not, Memoir features clothes in all shapes and sizes and holds regular sales and offers. Run by Susie Burne, who gave us her words of wisdom in our vintage dealing feature, Susie gathers her stock from America and Europe, as well as constantly scouring the UK for fantastic items for her customers.

If you’re looking for glamour when you buy your vintage items, Memoir is a great port of call. You’ll find fabulous sequined and beaded items, with beautiful intricate detail. Best of all, the glamour doesn’t come with an A-list price tag, with most items ranging from £10-£50. If you love the style of the 1980s, you’ll find some great dresses as you scan the wealth of stock.

Devoted 2 Vintage:

This website offers one of the widest collections of vintage in the UK. Stocking both men and women’s clothes and accessories, whatever you’re looking for it’s a haven of designer and high street labels. With free shipping to UK customers, and a mix of budget and luxury vintage, daywear and eveningwear, its well worth checking out what they have on offer.

They also now stock a vintage-inspired range of 1940s and 1950s dresses, from the utility dress of the 40s to full circle prom dresses of the 50s. The dresses are made from original patterns and manufactured in limited numbers in London, so you’re still getting something exclusive. For those looking for some post-war glamour, this website is perfect.

Elizabeth’s Vintage Closet:

The truly unique range of dresses, separates and accessories on this website will make you the envy of everyone. Karen Elizabeth searches high and low nationwide to bring her customers luxury high quality vintage womenswear.

Whether you want to channel Edie Sedgwick or Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth’s Vintage Closet is bound to have something beautiful that you will fall in love with. Karen explains on her website “Vintage clothes are unique and a work of art, and clothes like that just don’t go away, do they? They’re like great old paintings-they just move around. Would you simply discard a beautiful old painting just because of a few flaws and some wear and tear; and then buy a replacement modern picture? Well vintage clothing is very similar, and I know which I would choose.”

Although this online store stocks clothes at the slightly higher end of the price spectrum, they are fantastic pieces you will keep and pass on.