I LAUNCHED A VINTAGE MARKET
When Julie sold some of her retro collection at a vintage market, she looked around and realised she could do it better.
Three years ago, around my 50th birthday, I started my own business running a vintage market. I’ve been a collector of vintage for years, dating from when I visited Camden and Greenwich markets as a teenager and shopped in Afflecks Palace in Manchester as a student. I love 1950s Hollywood glamour, but also the 1970s disco era. My latest obsession is jumpsuits!
I’ve had lots of different jobs over the years, from teaching languages in secondary school, to being a PA in investment banking, working abroad, to working in the Heritage sector, gaining an MA in Museum & Gallery Education.
In the Sixth Form at school I was deterred from going to art college, and encouraged to follow a ‘more academic’ path, but I’ve never lost my interest in design and fashion and my passion for collecting never wavered. At first, it was ceramics and pottery, then it became 80s designer clothes that I hadn’t been able to afford when I was younger. I also have a massive shoe collection and some Midcentury furniture pieces, costume jewellery, glassware, etc.
To combat my hoarding, I decided to sell some of my collection off by taking a stall at other people’s markets. After a while, I looked around and thought ‘I could do this, and I could do it better’. It coincided with a time when I’d had enough of working in jobs that people do ‘for the love of them’ (i.e. poorly paid jobs in museums and heritage) and got fed up with thinking ‘Oh, well, it’s good experience and good for my CV’ and I started thinking ‘I want to be my own boss.”
One thing that really helped me in the early days, was getting a business mentor, through my old school network. She was an example of someone who had left a longterm career to set up her own business and she called it ‘coming over to the bright side.’
“The big learning curve for me has been getting the courage to ask for help.”
When I put on my first vintage fair at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich we had nearly 1000 visitors and I thought ‘I’ve nailed this!’ I felt justified seeing that my ideas had been the right ones. It felt good that I had trusted my intuition and not taken the cautious route. I’d properly read the signs, understood the zeitgeist; I’d correctly identified that there was a demand, an audience and an appropriate venue for my kind of event. I looked around the space and saw all the bustling activity, and all the stress of putting on the event dissipated, because I felt pride at what I’d achieved.
At first we were at Woolwich Arsenal, but then relocated our fairs to Shrewsbury House in Shooters Hill. This beautiful 1920s listed building has undergone a resurgence, and our fair has contributed to this, by bringing a new energy to the area and encouraging new audiences to use the community centre.
This year I’m expanding to take on two new venues in Dartford, Kent, with its thriving performing arts, dance and theatre scene. Lots of our traders come up from Kent and now they will be glad to have the fair on their doorstep.
“The alternative of not doing it was not an option, the feeling of being stuck and not taking a risk was much worse.”
Traders at my fairs sell a range of vintage, retro and craft items, including clothing, accessories & jewellery, interior design, lighting, homewares, kitchenwares, vinyl records & posters, upcycled and Midcentury furniture, and handcrafted, knitted & crocheted goods. Attractions include a vintage tearoom and vintage makeovers from a Laura’s beauty parlour, plus entertainment from a swing/jazz entertainer, Lindyhop dancers and a vintage DJ. We have a charity stall raising money for Holding On Letting Go, which helps children and families who are suffering a significant bereavement.
One of the things I really enjoy about my work is giving opportunities to young people, including Fashion Students and Events Management students. I’ve currently got a couple of Media and Communications students from Goldsmiths University doing a work placement with me. I’m looking to them to come up with some creative ways in which I can launch my fairs in a new direction, underlining the sustainable aspects of vintage clothing and upcyling. Previous students have helped organise a vintage fashion show and fashion shoot.
Following my passion has been liberating. Sometimes I think that I wish I’d done it years ago, but I didn’t have the maturity then, plus the mortgage had to be paid! The big learning curve for me has been getting the courage to ask for help. When I was younger, I had a lot of fear of failure, and I thought it was a sign of weakness to admit that you didn’t know how to do something. Now I realise the power of networking and surrounding yourself with supportive people and not listening to the doubters.
But following the ‘sensible route’ was not wasted time, it equipped me with the skills I use today. I realise now that I have excellent organisational skills and attention to detail and I love bringing different groups of people together. Although it can be stressful organising events, it’s a great buzz when it works, and you have created something from your own vision, which people want to come to.
“Following the ‘sensible route’ was not wasted time, it equipped me with the skills I use today”
Finding my niche and making my vision a reality feels different to how I anticipated, because it’s brought about a whole lifestyle and mindset change. It’s been about my personal development and trusting my gut instincts. What I didn’t anticipate is that being in business can be quite addictive – coming up with the next big idea, seeing what your competitors are up to, finding the next deal, etc. and I’m always looking for a new challenge.
It’s not easy having the courage to do something like this. On the one hand, I took a leap of faith, but on the other, I did my preparation and research, so I felt confident that I had put in the planning. The alternative of not doing it was not an option, the feeling of being stuck and not taking a risk was much worse. But it was only the start of my journey – I continue to learn, and I observe and take feedback and make adjustments.
At the beginning the goal was to create something that people would want to come to (tick). Then it was about expanding to incorporate new venues (tick). Now, it’s about looking at the direction for the business to go in the longterm (this is my current focus). I also learnt that events management is a discipline, and a lot of working hours go into planning and administration – that’s the not-so-glamorous bit! This year, I’m working on streamlining my business processes and building a team, so that I can concentrate my energies into the creative side of the business.
In the future I would like to bring my fair to lots more venues, take on an assistant or business partner and I also have plans in the pipeline for an app. So watch this space!