Founders Natalie Hartley, a glossy magazine fashion stylist, and Lydia McNeill, a former personal shopper and retailer, discovered a shared love of vintage fashion when they met on the school run. McNeill had built up an archive of used clothing over decades, and Hartley often mixed in vintage pieces in her shoots for the likes of Elle and the Sunday Times. They set up in business together in 2020. Their mission is: “To make people feel inspired by secondhand clothes,” says Hartley. “For a certain age group there was still a stigma around secondhand. Not so much the younger market because Depop is huge for them, but for those who wanted to look good and had money to spend, they felt perhaps others would look down on them if they said their outfit was secondhand. We wanted to change that.”
They started out on Instagram, where Hartley, a fashion influencer with more than 16,000 followers, modelled leather jackets, silk shirts and bright mohair knits. Pieces range from £40 to £350 for a leather jacket. “It’s not the clothing the fashion industry tells you to wear,” says McNeill. “We find really weird, kooky stuff and we show you how to wear it. If you put a belt with it, tweak it, cut it, you can make something look cool. There are so many good used clothes out there and we want people to be more adventurous with what they find.”
The website launched in June this year and this month they opened a long-term pop-up on Ladbroke Grove in west London. Menswear is in the offing, as is a range of upcycled pieces. Their promise is that garments will always arrive in great condition, clean and carefully packed. As Hartley says: “With us, what you see in the image is what you get.”
Wuzzy Omiyale: ‘It’s about the people who make the clothes.’ Photograph: Serena Brown/The Observer
Twenty-three-year-old Wuzzy Omiyale had an unusual awakening to secondhand clothing: first, she had to beat her shopping addiction. In 2019, after graduating from the London College of Fashion, she started buying new clothing, more and more things she didn’t need, accruing debt using “buy now, pay later” credit schemes. At the start of 2020, she had surrounded herself with so much superfluous clothing, she could no longer bear it. She knew she had to change.
Making a vow that she would no longer buy anything new, she began educating herself about sustainable fashion. Omiyale’s mother and grandmother are tailors and her great-grandmother was a weaver in Nigeria. Her research brought about a realisation. “It’s not just about a sustainable fabric, it’s about the people who make the clothes, too,” she says.
Switching her long-held love of denim to secondhand denim, she began deconstructing old Levi’s jeans, using the fabric to make tailored garments. The first she showed the public, via Instagram, was a bodice. “People couldn’t believe it was made from a pair of old jeans,” she says. “I thought, OK, this is a way I can bring my style of tailoring into a new world of reworking.”
Now, via her website, she does bimonthly drops of between one and four styles – reworked jeans, a bestselling oversized hat, shorts, tops – all immaculately tailored and ranging in price from £40 upwards. She also takes bespoke orders. “I don’t put out too much at one time because the whole point is slow fashion,” she says. “Eighty per cent of clothing goes into landfill. In the future, I’d love to have a small factory where designers and customers can send me clothing they don’t want. So much of what we waste can be reused.”
Jenny Garcia: ‘Selling like this gives me peace of mind.’ Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer
Mood: contemporary slow fashion
Jenny Garcia is a former head of buying for Topshop, where she worked for 16 years and managed seven buying departments.
In 2019, she decided she wanted to create her own business and do things differently. She set up an Instagram feed (@jennysuegarcia) featuring “10 plus ways”, a styling guide to inspire women to get more use out of garments already in their wardrobes. She realised that she could use her buyer’s eye to seek out pre-loved pieces to sell on to customers who might not have the time or inclination to shop second hand. The Curatory, a micro selling site on Instagram, was born.
“My aesthetic isn’t about, say, a 60s or 70s look,” says Garcia. “It’s about dressing in a current way, but just not buying new.” Stock might include anything from a Burberry trench (she sold one in May for £145) to a brown linen Zara sun top. “But everything has something special about it, the fabric or the cut or the particular brand.”
She models and photographs the clothes herself, uploading them when she feels the time is right. Potential buyers can DM her if they’re interested. “There’s no hurry. I encourage people to consider and think about whether they want to buy. And if they want extra measurements and more photographs, that’s fine. I like doing that. Selling like this gives me peace of mind.”
Clare Lewis: ‘The clothes are one-offs and treasures.’ Photograph: Serena Brown/The Observer
“I love fashion and clothing, but I’m very minimalist in my style and I couldn’t find that kind of vintage clothing,” says Clare Lewis, a former visual merchandiser in high street retail. “I thought, what if there are people like me who would normally go to Arket or & Other Stories? Where do they go for secondhand clothing?”
Retold Vintage aims to fill that gap. Launched in 2018 on Instagram, it now has more than 38,000 followers. Clothes are sold via fortnightly drops on the website. You won’t find 80s frills or 60s pyschedelia there, but you can pick up a cream Escada trouser suit, a faintly striped Marni linen top or simple gold jewellery in collaboration with @theninesvintage. Brides, too, can seek out immaculate secondhand pieces via studio appointments.
For Lewis, selling in this way has brought joy back into her relationship with fashion. “When you work in fast fashion, clothes lose their spark,” she says “It’s all about selling and volume. But vintage and secondhand is the complete opposite. The clothes are one-offs and treasures, so there’s a real sense of accomplishment when you find something. And on top of that there’s the sustainability aspect. You get a similar hit as you do from shopping for new clothes – but better.”
Her by-appointment bridal service – where you might find an ivory slip dress by Jil Sander or a cream Christian Dior shift, from a collection gathered by Lewis over the last few years – launched in April this year. “It’s so nice to have people want to shop vintage and secondhand for their wedding day. I feel very honoured when they’re wearing something from Retold.”
Cassie O’Neill: ‘I gravitate towards statement pieces.’ Photograph: Eilish McCormick/The Observer
Darling & Vintage
If you want a bold and glamorous one-off vintage look for a special occasion, make sure Darling & Vintage is on your radar. Started by another former Topshop employee, Cassie O’Neill, its website and Instagram feed are a source of colourful, statement pieces from the 1960s, 70s and 80s – from psychedelic-print house coats to candy-pink goddess gowns, wide-legged jumpsuits and flirty floral sundresses.
“I’ve worn vintage all my life. I’m a little bit quirky and my pieces reflect that,” says O’Neill. “I gravitate towards statement pieces, occasion-wear. A recent customer bought a great 1980s Frank Usher dress with yellow puff-ball sleeves and wore it to Ascot.”
Based in Armagh, Northern Ireland, O’Neill launched the brand on Instagram in April 2020, at the beginning of lockdown. “I tried to bring some personality to the clothes and posted videos of me slo-mo dancing, wearing the pieces. People seemed to reallyengage with that.” Now she has more than 10,000 followers and has set up a website. She also sources individual pieces for customers.
She encourages customers to look after the clothes they buy. “It’s not about dropping them into the washing machine on a normal cycle. A lot of 1970s clothes are made from polyester. You need to look after it so it doesn’t end up in landfill. I talk about hand-treating the clothes, stain removal. If we take care of clothes they can last another 50 years,” she says. “We’re really small fish in a big pond, but if we can keep going and build as a community of secondhand sellers, we can really give people different ways to shop.”