True Vintage was created in 2014 by Rory Westbrook, a university student with a love of fashion. It came about through his passion for loud stand-out designs and the idea of wearing clothes that are different to anything you’ll see everyone else wearing.
Here 365 Retail talks to Rory and e-commerce director Guy Westbrook to discuss the company’s continued growth, sustainability challenges, future plans and passion for vintage fashion.
What inspired you to start True Vintage?
Rory: I worked retail from the age of 16 and always had a keen interest in fashion. Vintage and 90’s fashion really appealed to me. I love how each item is unique, and the colours and patterns are often bright, bold and loud. Guy and I were both studying at Portsmouth University in 2014 when I noticed a gap in the vintage clothing market and started buying and selling vintage items from my flat. From there, the business grew extremely quickly, and I was able to bring family and friends on board to help expand and grow the brand.
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Guy: I was studying Marketing at Portsmouth University and joined Rory first as creative director and then as e-commerce director. After graduating, we moved back to our parent’s place and started developing the True Vintage website. It’s now seven years on and we’ve just moved to a new location in south-west London and have a team of 22 employees.
What makes vintage clothing so appealing to your customers?
Guy: Our customers love items that are unique and exclusive. From university students to a more mature audience, our customer base is obsessed with 1990’s nostalgia. We have high customer loyalty in areas with a high student population like Bristol, Manchester, and Liverpool.
Rory: Football shirts were a huge success with this audience. Many of our customers are avid collectors and they couldn’t get enough of them. Both the international and England shirts were flying out the door.
What makes True Vintage different to other vintage retail platforms?
Rory: We source and sell all of our products, and specialise in premium brand vintage only. Every item comes through our warehouse and is examined, photographed, and sold by us which means consumers are getting quality vintage products from a trustworthy retailer. We’re a team of passionate vintage enthusiasts and most of the team have been with us from the beginning, working alongside the brand as we grew from the small flat in Portsmouth to the southwest London warehouse and office.
Guy: Our connections and knowledge of the industry put us at the forefront of the vintage market. Buying from True Vintage is more than just purchasing a vintage item, our online community spans the globe. Around 50% of customers are from the UK, and the rest from the US and areas of Europe like Germany, Spain, and France.
What challenges did you face operating the business amid the pandemic?
Rory: Our business grew substantially during the lockdown. Our audience is primarily young people who would otherwise be typically spending money at the pub or festivals. These audiences had a lot of disposable income gathering during the lockdown and a lot of time to spend online. We have over 150 pieces uploaded onto the site every day and with the huge increase in people on their phones and laptops, we had ample opportunity to engage with them through our app and social channels.
What does sustainability mean to True Vintage?
Rory: We’ve seen a huge shift in priorities over the last seven years, especially in the retail industry. The negative impact of fast fashion is general knowledge, and consumers expect brands to act. Consumers are more passionate than ever about buying quality over quantity, and it’s this mindset that guides people towards vintage and sustainable clothing. We work with all our suppliers to ensure sustainability is at the forefront of our entire value chain. From the way we package and deliver our product, to the way we manage our London office – sustainability continues to be front of mind.
Guy: We recently launched a range of upcycled clothing called VTG Labs. The bespoke collection is made from high-end vintage artfully designed to align with our playful and retro signature style. Each item is unique and made by hand to create a rare and exclusive vintage piece and include brands like Nike, Burberry Adidas, and Coogi. We’re continuing to add to our sustainable sub-brands and are looking to include furniture and homewares like rugs and candles in the collection in the coming months.
What advice would you give to other people looking to launch their own business?
Rory: You must be passionate about your business. It’s much easier to work hard when you love what you do.
What’s next for True Vintage?
Guy: It’s been a dream of ours to open a store in London to stock our vintage items alongside sub-brands and clothing featured on our sister platform, True Store. Whilst brick and mortar isn’t considered a profit driver, having a physical presence for our customers will support our brand image and help us engage more intimately with our customers.
Rory: This year we’re aiming for 50% growth and hope to double this in the next 24 months. We have some exciting business plans that align with our sustainable values as well as our passion for vintage fashion.