Vintage clothes priced by weight attract young shoppers – BBC News

Image copyright Jenessa Williams

Anyone over thirty-five might look at you blankly if you mention vintage kilo sales, but they are increasingly popular with teenagers and students looking for cheap, fashionable clothing.

Customers turn up to pop-up venues, often at universities, pick what they want and then pay according to weight rather than per item.

Clothing wholesaler John Hickling and Judy Berger, who runs and markets vintage fairs, claim to be the first to have sold clothes like this in the UK.

They started their Vintage Kilo events in Britain in 2009, when many consumers were still feeling the effects of the financial crash.

They charge 15 a kilo which equals about five T-shirts, three or four dresses, or a heavy winter coat.

It may be a relatively new phenomenon in this country, but shops selling clothes by the weight are popular in Holland and parts of eastern Europe.

Image copyright Jenessa Williams

Fashionable thrift

Appealing to thrifty necessity has spawned a profitable fashion business.

The two entrepreneurs have held 48 Vintage Kilo events around the country this year and the aim is to double them in 2017, selling clothes from the late 60s to the 90s.

Market researchers IBISWorld Ltd, have valued the second-hand clothing market in the UK at 658.7m for 2016/17, and despite the upturn in the economy since 2008 the market for second-hand goods in the UK continues to grow.

Jenessa Williams, brand manager for the Vintage Kilo events said: “I think young people and those into fashion want changeable, new looks that don’t cost them a fortune.

“They’re becoming more aware of the ethics of the high street and want new clothes without consuming resources.”

According to Ms Williams the events also feed into the trend for upcycling which means people re-model or re-work clothes by adding embroidery, patches and other additions and then put them on Facebook and Instagram.

She says 21-year old painter and print-maker Elizabeth Ilsley, who has created an internet sensation with her subversive, customised leather jackets, has bought from their events, as have traders and stylists for music bands.

Image copyright Jenessa Williams
Image caption Designer and artist Elizabeth Ilsley wearing one of her customised leather jackets at a Vintage Kilo sale.


Maria Malone, principal lecturer in fashion business at the Manchester Fashion Institute, says her students attend the sales and, as term gets underway, there is one on campus this weekend.

“There is no longer a stigma in buying value for money clothing as seen with the growth of Primark, this has translated into removing the stigma of buying what was once known as second hand – now re-branded into the term ‘vintage’.

“Students are exploring their personal style and want to look different from everything sold on the high street,” adds Ms Malone.

But what is vintage?

John Hickling says the definition is constantly changing.

“The great thing about vintage is it is all about nostalgia. It means different things to different age groups,” he says.

“When I first started 10 years ago people didn’t think clothes from the 1980s could be called vintage.

Image copyright Glass Onion Vintage

“Now I hear young people talking about the early 2000s and remembering clothes their mothers wore in that period.”

Trained eye

The vintage kilo sales are just one aspect of John Hickling’s business, and while they cater for those looking for a bargain, there is also a more expensive end of the vintage clothes business. Mr Hickling’s company, Glass Onion Vintage, buys over 20,000 kilograms of clothing a month from recycling companies in the UK, Europe and the US.

He works closely with recycling wholesalers and has given them training to help them spot what he wants.

“Straightforward designer items are not as common now because people are more aware of their worth, so we’ve asked them to look for good, quality fashion items. Denim and college t-shirts have been very popular this year. Even if they are damaged we can re-work them, saving them from ending up in landfill.”

Image copyright Glass Orange Vintage
Image caption A member of staff at Glass Onion Vintage sorting through denim clothing

The clothes that have been picked are delivered in bales to Glass Onion’s warehouse and distribution centre in Yorkshire, which supplies more than 200 wholesale customers with recycled, and refashioned clothes.

They include high street companies such as Urban Outfitters, which take high quality vintage pieces, and Lush cosmetics, who use Glass Onion’s scarves to wrap shoppers’ purchases in, rather than a bag.

Mr Hickling is hoping to open a manufacturing facility to keep up with demand for his re-worked pieces.

Through the vintage kilo sales he is also able to do some small runs to test the popularity of various designs very quickly and, he says, increase supply if necessary.

Classic Vintage

Charity shops too now recognise the value of selling designer classics.

Retail expert, Mary Portas helped set up boutique charity shops for Save the Children, and when Oxfam launched its vintage section online it saw sales through its website shoot up by 400%.

Image copyright Peter Macdiarmid
Image caption Clothes worn by actress Audrey Hepburn sold at Kerry Taylor Auctions in 2009

At the top end Kerry Taylor Auctions have been specialising in designer vintage and clothing since 2003, selling collections worn by Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor to name but a few.

In June the auction house sold clothing designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen for Madonna and Bjork.

But in October they are holding an auction where prices are in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

They include 1930-50s bridal gowns with reserve prices starting at 150- 250 and include names such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Moschino.

Image copyright Kerry Taylor auctions
Image caption A Moschino top from 1997 coming up for auction in October

Kerry Taylor says despite the increasing popularity of vintage, she finds it frustrating that there is still the most amazing ignorance about its value.

“People know about paintings and silver, but when it comes to someone’s wardrobe they can have a complete blind spot,” she says.

“Some years ago I also had a young man working for me, who told me that as a student employed at a clothing recycling company he pulled out a beaded Balenciaga cocktail dress worth a couple of thousand pounds.”

And she adds: “Next week Oxfam want me to value a Gabrielle labelled Chanel coat from the 1920s which someone left in a plastic bag outside one of their shops.”

Very few of us have exquisite designer items lurking in the back of our wardrobe, but next time your mother or your grandmother have a clear out make sure you take a good look at what is being thrown away. It may be worth more than you think.

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