Vintage Perfection at Your Vintage Life
It’s with great pleasure that I bring you this fabulous interview, with the equally fabulous Kate, of Your Vintage Life. Working in the vintage fashion industry brings me in contact with a wide variety of online establishments and this is truly one of my favourites. After reading Kate’s wonderful commentary, I hope you too will discover the delights to be found at Kate’s online emporium. It’s jam-packed full of beautiful vintage treasures for yourself and your home. So, put your feet up and enjoy the delights at Your Vintage Life. It’s vintage perfection!
A huge thank you ((and lots of vintage hugs)) go to Kate for giving up her valuable time for this interview.
JUST FOR FUN
What is your earliest fashion memory?
Wanting to wear long pretty dresses to my friend’s parties but was always put in practical cords! I remember being driven to school where all the children were meeting to go onto a party in a garden, I was probably about 7, and all the little girls were in 1970s frilly maxi dresses and yes, I had my jumbo cords on. I pretended to be ill so my Dad would take me home. Maybe this is why I love to dress up now! (I probably should say sorry to my parents for this answer!)
What is your most treasured vintage possession?
My late Grandma’s Poole Pottery Persian Deer large ceramic urn. It is beautiful and really more of an antique than a vintage treasure. They were featured in March’s Homes and Antiques magazine which makes me love it even more. Every time I have moved house it sits on the passenger seat to make sure it’s safe! I also have a thread-bear called BlueTed who is 38 years old. He is so old and holey . . . but after my children, my partner and the cats . . . he would be the next to be saved in a fire!
Favourite vintage era and why?
I am drawn to the 1950s. I love the clothing, the handbags, the jewellery, the eyeliner, the kitsch homewares, the fabric print, the Doris Day films, the fact that women were loved for their curves. I particularly love the flamboyancy of the American style of that time. Out of rationing and utility furniture came an exciting pull to new design in all aspects of life. The Festival of Britain lays testament to this – we wanted to create new designs to show the world that we were forward thinking but alas in reality it took until the 1960s and it’s youthful optimism to put this into action. It was, however, a period that sees women pulled back to the kitchen to look after their man, putting her back 10-15 years . . . but boy did she look good!
I cant quite remember as I have been buying vintage clothing since I was a teenager in the late 80s. I would customise them (bad girl!), take them up and in on an old sewing machine. I always teamed them up with amazing shoes though. I remember wearing a flowery 60s orange dress that was so short I had to wear hot pants underneath. It cost me a few dollars from a vintage store in San Francisco and I wore it with Red or Dead shoes bought for £80 which was a fortune then! The first vintage item that really inspired me with its beauty was my other late Grandma’s dresses. She gave me two when I was about 16, they were maxi evening dresses that were tailor made for her. One has purple and pink swirls all over with the most fabulous sequinned collar. I again, took it up to a ridiculous length which I now totally regret as its far too short for a 38 year old! I wore it over black cropped trousers for her funeral in 2007 . . . a sea of bright sequins amongst all the black . . . she would have loved it.
Your perfect day would be . . . . . . .
Breakfast in bed with my two children and partner…eggs on toast from our chickens, the sun would be shining. Then a morning of “jumbling”: this is my made up verb for any type of rooting about for bargains i.e. a jumble sale, car boot, auction, antique fair etc. This would be followed by lunch with close friends and family, good chat, good food and even better wine. Then a little catnap in the afternoon . . . I love my bed! The evening would be spent rocking the night away at a Foo Fighters gig. All done wearing fabulous vintage of course!
In three words, how would your friends describe you?
Talks For England! I asked a good friend and my partner to help with this..she said Stylish, Creative, Thoughtful. He said Sassy, Intellectual, Realist…take your pick!
ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS:
How did you get into the business of selling vintage? Is it your full-time occupation?
I have loved vintage since my teens but it hasn’t been my full time business until almost exactly a year ago. My career has been in retail since I left university . . . from store management to many years in Visual Merchandising, marketing and retail design. I started to sell part time whilst on maternity leave in 2008 after having my first child, Herbie. It was really only to make a few extra pennies. I caught the bug good and proper as when I went back to work I was frustrated that I didn’t have the time to buy and sell as I was working full time with a team of staff and a child at home. So I took the plunge again on my second maternity leave and am still doing it now. Interestingly my partner, Adam also loves vintage . . . more retro really, and he was selling it in the early 2000′s so we are now a great team with his experience added to my passion combined with all that marketing and business knowledge that I have learned along the way.
Tell us a little about your business and the type of merchandise you sell.
We are an online vintage emporium selling hand-picked vintage from the 1920s through to the 1980s…our slogan is “from your home to your wardrobe, your wedding to your tea party”. Our mission is to sell anything and everything so that you can create Your Vintage Life. The website focuses mainly on collectable homewares with categories for all parts of your life i.e. Your Vintage Kitchen, Your Vintage Playroom, Your Vintage Dinner Party, Your Vintage Dressing Table etc. It also has some special handbags and jewellery. Then we have an eBay shop full of clothing and accessories. This stock is more retro and more trend focused with the aim that this is where my volume sales come from. We are in the process of pulling together a wedding dress section and will launch wedding lists in the next few weeks. We hire our crockery for tea parties and offer a sourcing service to help you find the perfect vintage gift.
At what point did you decide it was time to set up your own website? Was there a defining moment?
I don’t think there was a defining moment really…I knew I wanted to create a brand with a strong identity and I feel this is hard to do solely on eBay. Having worked closely with PR departments in the past I also knew it would be easier to get press coverage from a well designed website and that press recognition is vital to really take your sales and brand to the next level. I am so proud of my press coverage..in less than a year our stock has been featured in Vogue, Time Out, Closer, and we are in Homes and Antiques regularly. We were awarded the honour of Website of the Month in January’s Period Living magazine which has definitely pulled in new customers.
How did you go about choosing your web host and how long have you had your website?
The first thing I knew was I had very little money to invest in a website as is the case for most new businesses. I also knew I needed a platform I could have total control over, to be able to update the look and feel, the content etc and many websites designed for you do not give you this freedom. Through managing the Point of Sale dept for Clothing at Tesco, I have acquired a real knowledge in visual design and an eye for detail . . . . therefore I wanted to design the site myself but alas didn’t have the graphic design knowledge of how to actually do it. (Those that know me well will say I’m not very technically savvy as I have always had a great team of graphics guys to do it for me!) So I chose Create . . . . they have templates and a very simple approach to building your own website. And they offer a great support service, secure payment through Papal and don’t cost the earth per month for an e-commerce site. I would wholeheartedly recommend them to everyone.
What makes your business unique and sets it apart from the rest?
Sometimes I think it is hard to have a unique selling point when there are so many people selling vintage now. I believe we have created a one stop shop for all your vintage needs: we sell clothing, home wares, furniture and wedding dresses. You can hire if you don’t want to buy and soon can get your wedding lists through us. With Your Vintage Life, you will receive excellent customer service with 24 hour dispatch, beautifully wrapped products, secure payment and everyone making a purchase gets a money off voucher to use in the months ahead. Having spent many years in retail management I have a real understanding of meeting customers expectations and ensuring everyone leaves happy.
Do you work from home or do you have a separate office/work space?
Yes I work from home but no separate work space at the moment. We have just bought a major renovation project . . . a lovely 1920s detached house which will eventually have an office over the double garage. In the mean time my stock is in a summer house and my half of the garage, with our gorgeous 67 Split screen VW camper in the other half! The main objective personally is to have a business I can combine with looking after my two children who are 3 years old and 7 months. Since being around more their development has come on amazingly as I have time to read to them, to show them new things as well as set boundaries! I used to work 60 hour weeks including travel time which meant I was never here. Now I still work long hours but now I can also do the washing! The flip side is I do miss adult company . . . the banter of an office, having a lunch hour to ensure I have time to switch off. But with Facebook on I’m always chatting virtually!
What does a typical working day involve?
A major juggling act of photographing and listing stock, wrapping sold stock and taking it to the post office and being a taxi driver to my children. The more exciting bits are sourcing stock and writing articles and blogs. Add this to researching items on the internet, promoting our business on social network sites and to the press and organising stock for fairs . . . . there are just not enough hours in the day! However, the great thing is I’m my own boss so can choose what I do and when I do it, how much stock to list and even manage do a little gardening in the sun occasionally.
Your merchandise is always beautifully presented. How do you get an item ready for sale?
My hands are in total need of repair after so much hand washing! We clean all our clothes and homewares, we polish up all our furniture with scratch cover, we check and double-check everything for flaws before they are listed. Sometimes things can be repaired which my mother-in-law helps with after years of being a seamstress. It is important that our customers receive goods in a fabulous state . . . clean, ironed, wrapped in tissue with a personal thank you note.
Do you take your own photographs?
Yes I do take my own photos and my camera is rubbish! It’s a basic Canon and I have to sometimes take the photo a number of times before I’m happy. I need a new one really which can do lots of tricks. What I do though is take my time taking my signature group shots. Think about the background . . . I have a white wall with a white board which helps to make the stock lift from the photo. I am enjoying taking photos with all our 60s wallpaper behind but most of this will be ripped out when we renovate the house. Again, due to my previous jobs I have become a bit of a perfectionist and take the group shot photos over and over again until I’m happy. My advice is: it’s all in the crop! Crop the sides off things then the items look more interesting.
Other than your website, do you sell at any other venues?
Yes, we have started this year going out to fairs and have loads lined up for the year. I sell at Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair and the Furniture Flea. We will be selling at The Vintage Wedding Fairs, A Most Curious Wedding Fair, Twinwood Festival too and hope to be at Vintage at the South Bank. I love it . . . the natural trader in me has been rediscovered after years working in head offices. It’s great to meet customers, chat to them about what we do and more importantly what we could do better. It has also been good talking to other traders and starting to feel like you’re in a bit of a community . . . all those things I miss with working on my own.
How do you go about promoting or advertising your business?
We are on Facebook and Twitter which has been so valuable to be able to promote stock, promotions and generally chat with existing and prospective customers. I belong to the Vintage Worldwide Network but alas don’t have as much time as I would like to spend on there. My biggest advice to any business is to embrace the social network scene as it has become the most powerful tool in promoting your business. But you do have to put the time into it and try not to bombard people with messages! Then there is Flickr, Google products, HotFrog, LinkedIn, blogrolls, links on other websites etc. There are so many ways to meet people and to shout about what you do and it all helps to get you higher up the search engines. My Mum and Aunt worked with Anita Roddick in the 80s who told them to “never pay for advertising” and I agree. You need to think about how to get advertising for free. So, put your website address on everything, join network groups, talk to the local press, hand out your cards and remember that word of mouth advertising is probably the biggest promotion of all (but remember bad service/experience travels the fastest through word of mouth). And if you do pay for adverts put a discount code within so you can analyse if the advert generated any trade.
Do you have a blog? If so, do you think it has helped your business and how?
Yes we write a regular blog called Your Vintage Blog: http://yourvintagelife.wordpress.com/. I also am the homewares writer for the fantastic vintage publication called Vintage Life Nostalgia magazine. I love writing which is something I have done in my career (writing training manuals for example) as well as at uni. Our blogs and articles aim to inspire people to love and buy vintage as well as educate on the social history of the time. My family have been an amazing inspiration and bank of knowledge for me. They come over and talk through their memories on the subject helping to add a real sense of personal history with anecdotes you just can’t get from the web. I think it helps the business as it can inspire, educate and if you’re personal with your writing, it will create customer trust.
Do you think people are generally more interested in buying vintage than they were say 10 years ago?
Ten years ago people were buying vintage clothing and I am a testament to that. However, it has definitely become more in vogue over the last few years. This is due to a lot of factors: firstly celebrity endorsement such as Kate Moss and Cameron Diaz who have been wearing it for years and have made it look cool and not scary. I think there’s a definite backlash to the high volume retailers such as the supermarkets which yes I have worked for. As they are so affordable, they have generated a sense of disposable fashion where you wear it once and then throw it away. You can go into any charity shop now and find Primark clothing with its price tags still on! Also you can go out on a Saturday night and see people all wearing the same thing and there’s a definite desire to create your own style and to stand out from the crowd. And as money is tight now, people still want to look good and with vintage you can get a quality piece, which isn’t going to fall apart after two wears. Homewares and furniture is no different. There is a real desire to get something with a history that isn’t flat packed. We as a nation have started to get a social conscience about the things we buy and fill our homes with: we don’t want it to be flown in from the other side of the world, to be made unethically . . . vintage is recycling, vintage even lowers your carbon footprint!
If someone is new to collecting vintage home ware or clothing, what things should they consider before making their purchase? Is there a decade that you think is now becoming more collectable?
Firstly, check out the condition of the item, study the photos and if the seller hasn’t described the condition then ask. Also check the measurements as sometimes the items may have been photographed close-up making them appear larger than they are. If you are buying vintage clothing, measure the dimensions of your existing clothing rather than your body. Vintage clothing tends to be between 1-2 sizes smaller than the label states so always check before you buy. All websites and Buy It Now sales legally have to offer you a 7 day cooling off period. So, if you change your mind you are entitled to a refund. Lastly, beware of the dreaded “Vintage Style” description. Vintage style means it has been based on an older item but isn’t actually vintage. Again, if you’re unsure ask.
The catwalk dictates which looks/eras we should be wearing this season i.e. its all about the 70s maxi vibe this Summer with the 60s look still going strong after the success of Mad Men. If you want to buy clothing that will hold its value then a classic 1950s full circle dress is the thing for you. For homewares, the 60s retro home is the decade that holds its value the most….pull down lights, tulip tables, West German pottery and anything Danish and made from genuine rosewood. However, I’m a firm believer that you should surround yourself with things you love rather than what you are told to love. Mix up your look, be an individual!
Mothering Sunday is not too far away. Can you recommend readers with your three ‘top picks’ for a lovely mother’s day gift?
• Bake your own cupcakes and put them on a vintage 3 tier cake stand
• Make home-made chocolate truffles and place in a pretty vintage teacup
• Pick home grown spring bulbs and place in a vintage glass vase
My over riding message is to do or make something yourself then add a vintage treasure…show you care and that she matters. She can enjoy the food/flowers and keep the vintage treasure for a lifetime. We have written a blog with more ideas on this called “Treasure your Mummy”.
Where do you see your business in the next five years?
In my first year I have focused on marketing the business and years 2-3′s focus is on trading. So, we are trialling different avenues of selling such as fairs and festivals and Etsy as well as trialling a pop up shop this Christmas too. We also want to expand the wedding and furniture part of the business. In 5 years time both my children will be at school and our house renovation will be complete so the aim is to re-assess our vision then. I would love a shop but who knows…..
Where can your merchandise be purchased from and how can customers contact you?