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Blue17 vintage clothing

Blue17 vintage clothing

Founder’s/Owner’s story and what motivated them to start the business

Blue17 Vintage Clothing is a fFamily owned and run business, which commenced in 1968 with one shop off of the New Kings Road, London.

At that time, London was very different to today and the existence of a thriving and numerous and thriving textile recycling processing factories and relatively cheap retail locations presented a unique opportunity to launch alternative retail ventures rooted in recycling, to avoid waste and creatively reuse discarded textiles and accessories.

Our shop went really well and so we expanded. Further shop branches in the 1970s included Elgin crescent off of the Portobello Road, Ponting’s, Kensington Hhigh Sstreet, and the great gear market, Kings Road.

The 1970s also saw ourthe business development of one of the first rework workshops, where a large and varied assortment of vintage fabrics were processed and reworked into many types of garments which were sold at the retail establishments, and also exported to Germany and Holland.

The 1980s saw the business open additional market stalls on Portobello Ggreen, Camden Llock and Camden Stables Mmarkets.

In the 1990s we opened our largest retail store on Holloway Road, where the business, 28 years later, still trades from.

Located adjacent to the Metropolitan Uuniversity of London, the store caters to a thriving community of local students from the area and from across the capitalLondon.

As the lower Holloway area has developed in the last ten years into a media business hub with media complexes nearby that include the Jamie Oliver media HQ next door, and 13-22 Benwell road that includehosts companies like October films, this, along with the development of multiple housing developments, has attracted an increasingly young professional demographic into the area which in turn has fostered a thriving diversity of local businesses including restaurants, bars and specialityspecialty retail.

With the growing awareness of the need to reuse and reduce human consumption and the changes to the local demographic, the business has organically increased and developed the client base to include a larger local population.

The challenges the business/market is facing

Rising property values, business rates, transport costs and the rise in cost of raw textiles materials due to the export of the majority of textiles collected by charities, door to door collections and the fall in textile charity donations due to austerity and inflation are the main challenges for many retail recycled clothing businesses. 

It is difficult to overstate the effect on retail and export businesses through changes to the UK domestic recycled textiles and world markets in the last fifteen years. An example of this is that there were more than forty textile recycling factories in London alone in the mid-1970s, some of them processing more than one hundred tons weekly. Nationwide there were hundreds more factories distributed throughout the UK, notably in Batley and Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

Today, in 2022 there are a just handful of recycling factories processing second-hand textiles in London and a small number nationwide. 

This is mainly because of the growth of large textiles recycling factories in Ccentral and Eeastern Europe, some including the largest in Poland, e each processing thousands of tons weekly and increased demand from overseas markets. Thiswhich has led to the development of contracts for textile supply collection points as collection and distribution only, with the collected products collected, stored and then exported worldwide without processing in the UK.

The opportunities the business/market is facing

The growth in appreciation of the benefits and virtue of recycling among younger age groups, an appreciation of the creative flexibility available with vintage clothing fashion, and the changing demographic, particularly in London, has expanded the potential audience for recycled fashions from the educated niche market consumer and people economically driven by relative poverty to a wider ranging group driven by more collective concerns about ecology and environment and desire to subvert the consumer driven sameness of the mass market fashion chains  products through individual choice, although still consumerism, one in which the individual has the ability to rethink and determine personal style and appearance.

The emergence of the internet and growth in e-commerce has further expanded the ability of the individual to source open ended textile products for personal use and the speed at which they can be delivered has reduced the need to spend hours trawling charity shops for finds.

Advice to others about business

Never give up, but don’t underestimate or overestimate challenges, costs and goals.

Research each aspect of the potential business carefully and budget for errors and cost overshoots.

Research the broad market for trends, demand and price points for the products/ services proposed. There are many ways to do this which range from online databases and tend analysis to checking leading business’s accounts at Ccompaniesy’s Hhouse.

Always research your locale, especially if it’s a physical bricks and mortar location. Talking to locally based people nearby is invaluable as their knowledge and experience can give insight to the potential of the area. Measure footfall at key locations and times near the area you are preparing to trade from, before committing to licenceslicenses or a lease. Watch for the number of customers who leave with goods , compile an hourly and daily count of items and multiply by the average individual item in-store selling price to compile an approximate daily sales figure.

A similar measurement can be applied to a website when it has traffic. This can be compared to the country and industry average through benchmarking tools. One popular measurement is between one and four percent of unique visitors to a site resultssite result in a sale in the UK clothing industry on average. 

A website is not a business, just a starting point, and development to a mature business takes time, effort and money to achieve.

Brick and mortar shops are expensive, time consuming and hard work to run. Budget for the worst case and be prepared, financially and with staffing, for the long term to establish a business. Focus on the quality of the products/ services and most of all on your clients.

Unless you have distinct USP in product/service and location you will need to build a brand., Tthis takes time, money and patience. 

Once proof of concept is established, and the trading area, audience and business identityfy are defined, stick with it and develop each aspect of your business. The more you trade in your chosen environment, the more experience you will accrue and this will inform decisions going forward on what changes to make and the measurement of them.   

Establish the multiple from cost value that enables you to compete in the market and establishmake sure if it offers sufficient profit margin after fixed and variable costs, excluding stock or wages are deducted,  to maintain a business long term.

EstablishDetermine the baseline sales required to maintain your business.s, Oover time you will come to know the best- and worst-case sales. PerformDo regular cash flow forecasts and spread sheets including monthly sales and expenses. Track seasonal changes in sales year on year and compare. Keep detailed notes on what you, or what changed in your business that might have influenced sales.

Try new things and measure the effects. For example, does a new product range or window display, website banner change anything? Did placing a sandwich board outside your shop have an effect, did your special offer or, sale items result in more or less sales, did it increase or decrease profitability?.

If your website is a major contributor or will be the main source of income for your business, consider investing in CRO for at least several months. Ensure that good A/B testing is done for each proposed change and that they are only implemented if the A/B test showed a high probability to be best.

As a major part of your website’s success will depend on SEO and CRO be prepared to invest in both over time.

Invest in good content.

The wWidely followed practice currently since Google’s 2012/2013 updates is to have both products/services and good, topical information updates on websites through blog post articles, and to ensure that external links pointing to your website are from relevant sites with good domain authority and acquired within the guidelines set out by Google.

There is no exact measure of how much content and how many inbound links are required to rank a website’s pages, as this will depend on quantity, quality and article length, but there are tools to measure these which give good indications of an individual pages and site’s overall performance. This is useful because a comparison can be made of link and content deficits which if addressed enables greater visibility and competitiveness.

Make sure that your website performs well technically., Tthis is beyond the scope of this article but research/follow Google guidelines and Search engine watch for regular updates and guides.

Invest in a good developer. Unless you are able to maintain and develop your website yourself you will find this essential and worth the initial time and outlay. Discriminate as to what a good developer is:, the majority of services available in our experience will not adequately develop and service your website well enough to succeed in a competitive market and may even do harm if you land on someone who is unprofessional or incompetent. As you would with any valuable asset invest in your future by sourcing the best professional services you can afford.

A good website developer may not also offer CRO work, so be prepared to spend time and effort sourcing these separately.

Invest in good SEO for the long term., Sseveral years are probably required on an ongoing basis to achieve meaningful visibility and consequently sales, depending on the competitiveness ity of the keywords, and key phrases targeted. Never invest in SEO or CRO just because the vendor says they can provide services. Research them as people by having in- depth conversations with them, are they patient, do they answer your questions competently, do they show in- depth, expert and technical knowledge. Ask for client references and proof of achievements for other clients. 

Ask for a written guarantee before starting CRO work. Make sure a specific target is agreed with the provider before starting, with the proviso if not achieved they will not bill you, or will refund you., Mmake sure in this case that you can effectively pursue a claim.  The aim is to make changes to increase sales., Iif this doesn’t happen, the provider has failed and you are out of pocket, so don’t pay everything upfront. Make sure you can hold the provider contractually liable if they don’t deliver an agreed target and can effectively make a claim if necessary. 

Look for positive results in the first four months., Ddo you see an increase in sales?, Iif not, move on and source another provider, don’t fall for promises or claims that more time is required for improvements that never materialize.

Make sure your business insurance covers you for claims you may have to make for contractual matters, or that are made against your business. Check your insurance policy carefully before buying it.

Always have a least one alternative available. This applies to location, staff, supply of stock, services and finance options.

And finally, don’t forget to enjoy the enterprise you’ve created and put all that hard work into. We will soon celebrate 50 years of Blue17, and while there have been ups and downs,  throughoutdowns, throughout all the changes we are very proud of what we’ve done and looking forward to what the future brings.

Barbara is a freelance writer and a sex and relationships adviser at Dimepiece LA and Peaches and Screams. Barbara is involved in various educational initiatives aimed at making sex advice more accessible to everyone and breaking stigmas around sex across various cultural communities. In her spare time, Barbara enjoys trawling through vintage markets in Brick Lane, exploring new places, painting and reading.

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