|Louise Sleigh of Catwalk Creative Vintage|
I am very proud to present to you a long overdue interview with my darling friend from the other side of the globe ... Louise Sleigh!
Louise is the owner of CATWALK CREATIVE VINTAGE, an online store and valuable vintage resource, and writes her very own successful blog, CATWALK THREADS, which features her finds, thoughts and expertise on all things vintage. Based in the UK, she has been in the vintage business for many years and is herself a walking encyclopedia in this genre! I have known Louise now since 2008 when I started The Fashion Birdcage, and I was (and still am) proud that she was my very first interview!
I trust you will enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoy sharing it. Louise doesn't do things by halves, so I'd like to thank her publicly for all the time and effort she's put in from her busy schedule to put together a comprehensive interview aimed at providing valuable information for anyone interested in vintage.
Thank you Louise, you are a real darling for sharing your wealth of information. xxx
Yes, vintage has definitely seen a boom over the last few years and I hope it continues. The internet has played a huge part in this by allowing us to shop online in the comfort of our homes. There's a good choice of online shops and selling venues and that certainly wasn't the case ten years ago.
There's now a huge online community with social network sites and blogs, each one touting the benefits of wearing vintage.
|Frank Usher Soft Pink Satin/Silk Dress Size Medium c.1970's|
Does vintage see fads come and go, just like mainstream fashion?
If your business involves selling vintage clothes then you do see fads come and go to a certain extent. One season, it's flowing maxi dresses and puff sleeve blouses and the next, it's punk and power-dressing 80's style. Catwalks are awash with design influences from the past so it's fun to search out an authentic piece and know you won't find exactly the same on the high street. Summer sees a lean towards fashions of the 1970's although many vintage fashion professionals don't consider this era to be vintage. Not yet anyway!
Vintage offers us more than a passing fashion trend. It's possible to fill your wardrobe with original design classics that are still very wearable today. You can find everything from chic day dresses to couture evening gowns and everything else in between. Vintage enthusiasts will tell you that wearing vintage is all about the style and cut of the clothes along with the choice of fabrics rather than a passing trend.
In your opinion, how has the vintage genre changed over the years?
The vintage genre has changed dramatically because there are now so many online venues selling modern reproductions. Also, clothes are barely one season old before they are deemed 'vintage'. This can be very confusing although it’s great if you prefer your clothes brand-new but want to achieve a vintage look.
That said, there is something eternally cool about authentic vintage clothing that no amount of replicating can achieve. The differences are clear from the fabrics used to small details like buttons. It all boils down to preference really. Vintage (meaning 20 plus years old), isn't for everyone.
Your knowledge of vintage never ceases to amaze me! Where did your passion for it come from?
I'm not sure where my passion comes from. I just love old things and want to save them for others to enjoy. You either 'get' vintage or you don't. Whatever I do in life I try and give it 100%. I appreciate the historical importance of clothing and textiles. It provides a wonderful insight into our social history and I like to spread the word a little. It's satisfying to find a new home for a previously cherished garment.
|1970's Lilac Floral Bow Blouse Size Small|
Your blog, Catwalk Threads Vintage, has a very healthy following . . . you consistently provide useful information, tips and interviews with other vintage lovers.
Thank you! Yes, I love my blog. Ideally I would like to write more frequently but sales are on the up which means I can’t spend as much time on it as I’d like. I use blogging to promote myself and those in the business of selling vintage or who use vintage materials in their work. I'm constantly finding inspiration from others so again, it’s great to spread the word. I think anything positive you can do to help the small business community is a good thing. It would be selfish to keep all the talent to myself!
Has blogging helped you connect easily with your audience? Has it helped promote your primary business, Catwalk Creative Vintage?
I would say so. Blogging has helped me connect more easily with my audience because I see it as another 'public face', I use it to talk about anything 'vintage' related. I've just checked my Google analytics report and can see that quite a high percentage of my website visitors come from my blog. I'm therefore achieving what I originally set out to do. My blog is free to use so it makes sense to keep the content as fresh and interesting as possible and hopefully attract new followers along the way.
|Marie France Lilac Jersey Dress c.1970's|
Tell us a little about your business? What services do you provide and what's your point of difference?
My online vintage business, Catwalk Creative Vintage, was estabished in 2006 although I was selling on eBay long before that. My background is in business though. I worked in the insurance industry for many years and built up lots of experience dealing in customer service. I guess my point of difference is that I give each and every customer my personal and undivided attention. That's great news if you're a control freak like me! Keeping the business small means that I can do everything from hand-picking my merchandise to tissue wrapping and packaging. I like the personal touch and my aim is always to exceed expectations. I've had some wonderful feedback from my customers which makes it all very worthwhile.
I also offer a range of styles, each with a different price point. I don’t stick to one era or price band. I like to include everything from vintage designer gowns at £450.00 to cute vintage day dresses at £45.00. You might find a Hermes scarf alongside a chiffon scarf at £10.00. I like to mix it up and give my customers great choice.
|Pierre Balmain Blue and Gold Evening Dress Size Small to Medium c.1970's|
How do you go about sourcing fabulous vintage fashion and home wares?
I have yet to meet a vintage fashion professional that has divulged exactly where they source their vintage from. When I used to do vintage fairs, customers would always come up and ask where I got my merchandise from. Like I'm going to tell them - not! Seriously though, vintage can be sourced from various places and it's different for everyone. It takes a long time to build up business contacts and you learn as you go along. I used to buy everything and anything until I realised it was a complete waste of money. I'm definitely more discerning with my purchases now.
Because I'm a well-established, I find that people now contact me directly via the website if they've got something to sell. I might also source pieces from local antique markets or similar. There are not many rich pickings to be had in UK charity shops these days, since they tend to sift out all the good pieces and sell them online. That's not to say that vintage garments have disappeared completely but you have to be on the lookout all the time.
|1950's Tureen by Crown Clarence England|
Over the years, has it become harder to find quality stock?
I've found it slightly easier to find stock since people now contact me directly to buy their 'old clothes' and I have a clearer idea of what I'm looking for.
What's your favourite era, and why?
My favourite fashion era is the mid-1960's to mid-1970's. My favourite designers are Ossie Clark, John Bates, Biba, Jean Muir and Bill Gibb I love the glamour and the diversity of styles from this era from pea coats and mini dresses to tailored suits and flowing, maxi gowns with wild prints. Designs were flamboyant and revolutionary during this time but still have a resonance today.
|Victorian Half-Canteen of Cutlery with Original Oak Box c.1900|
Why do you think people gravitate towards vintage fashion?
I think people gravitate towards vintage fashion for many reasons. Wearing vintage is a great way to develop your style and there are so many designs to choose from. On the whole, vintage clothing is well constructed using quality fabrics, a reason they are still around today. It's a great alternative to the mass-produced fashion found on the high street and it's nice to own something that was 'Made in England' or wherever you happen to come from. There is something quite lovely about wearing an antique piece of costume jewellery or owning an original Art Deco beaded bag. You can successfully wear vintage with the new to achieve a unique look that’s all your own.
|Vintage Royal Albert Petit Point Teacup & Saucer|
When making a vintage purchase, what should we look out for?
When making a vintage purchase (online or off-line) it's a good idea to have the following in mind:
* Measurements: know your measurements and write them down. PLEASE!!! This is key to finding clothes with the right fit. Consider the style of the vintage garment or overall look you want to achieve. Body shapes differ from one person to the next, and not everyone has the same proportions. In case of an A-line shift dress, it may not matter that the waist and hip measurement are a few inches bigger than your measurements, as long as the bust fits you comfortably. However, in the case of an hour glass shaped garment, it will definitely matter if the bust and hips of the garment are too big, unless you are able to adjust the garment, or you are able to get someone else to adjust it for you.
Refer to our Clothing Size Guide http://www.
catwalkcreativevintage.co.uk/ information_46926.html for more information. Most vintage websites include their own size guide but if shopping online, be sure you know all the important measurements before you buy. A well informed choice will avoid the disappointment and expense of returning garments that do not fit.
* Condition: Always go for the best quality you can afford. If you're able to view the clothing in person, check seams and weak areas such as under the arms and zips. If you are shopping online, make sure you can see lots of photographs and read the condition notes in full. These should include details of any flaws or alterations made to the garment. Even merchandise that is listed as NOS (New Old Stock) might have condition issues caused by poor storage over the years.
* After Care: You should know the fabric type and whether there are special care instructions.
* Is it labelled? If the garment is labelled, there should be a photograph of it.
* How old? Do you know what era you are buying? The listing should note at the very least, the decade it originated from.
* Has the clothing been altered from the original design? There has been a rise in the 'hacking off' of hemlines in order to cater to modern tastes. This issue is becoming increasingly prevalent which is a shame since there are plenty of original mini and maxi dresses out there to keep everyone happy. These alterations ruin the lines and pattern of the dress and most often are not finished properly. The seller also might fail to mention the alteration which results in the buyer having no clue what decade their garment originated. This might not be an important factor for some buyers - "who cares whether my dress started life in the '50s, '60s or '70s?" However, sellers should be honest, stating the original date of manufacture along with any alterations that have been made. It is only then that you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to proceed with the purchase. You wouldn't expect to buy something new in a shop, only to find a glaring alteration that the sales assistant had failed to mention. You'd have every right to take it back and demand a refund. Why should selling vintage clothing be any different?A true vintage clothing connoisseur would always prefer to buy the garment in its original state if possible, although some alterations cannot be avoided. For example, there may be a fault with the garment that means an alteration is necessary in order to make the piece wearable again. Many vintage sellers are experienced seamstresses and can make an alteration without compromising the original design. Any alteration should be mentioned.
|1970's Pink Evening Dress by Trina Lewis & Marjon Couture|
"Everyone is in tiny cocktail dresses. I'd be much more interested in seeing a girl in a t-shirt and a couture skirt." RAF SIMONS, Fashion Designer.
|1960's Day Dress by Marjon Couture Size Medium|
What are the pitfalls of purchasing vintage wares online?
The pitfalls of buying online are that you can't try the clothing on before making your purchase. However, if you measure yourself and use an online shop that provides all the necessary information, you should be fine.
Always read terms and conditions and any shop policies before making your purchase. I operate in line with UK Selling Regulations and offer a 7 day return policy. However, these terms will differ from business to business so read the small print first.
It also helps to know what country you are buying from. If you buy online from another country, remember there may be additional customs and duty fees to pay. It is the buyer's responsibility to pay those so find out beforehand and check carefully what you can and can't import. Certain countries may have shipping restrictions in place too. Google 'Customs & Excise' or 'Imported Goods' to find out more.
You are relying on the knowledge of the seller so take a good look around their website or shop and get a good feel for the place before making your purchase. There are lots of auction and selling sites now that allow items to be listed as being ‘vintage’ when clearly they are not. Question the seller if you are in any doubt.
What do you suggest to anyone who has just bought something which arrives in poor condition? Can we do anything about it, or just cut our losses?
As mentioned earlier, my business operates in line with UK Distance Selling Regulations so I offer a 7 day return policy no matter what the reason for the return. I would advise anyone reading this to check what applies in their own country. It will be different elsewhere but read, read, read the seller’s terms and conditions page before making your purchase.
If the item arrives in a condition other than as stated in the listing, you are quite right to contact the seller to voice your concerns. Any reputable seller should mention even the slightest issue.
Vintage fashion professionals provide a superb level of customer service and the ones I know personally are extremely proud of the merchandise they offer for sale. Not only do they source the item but they clean, press, repair and generally get the item ready for sale so you can enjoy it. Full condition notes should always be provided. Stating an item is in ‘good wearable condition’ doesn’t mean anything. If that’s the only information provided, ask the seller to be more specific. The onus is on the buyer to read all the information provided before clicking the ‘pay now’ button.
What makes a garment 'vintage' and what makes a garment 'retro'? What's the difference?
The term 'vintage' and 'retro' means different things to different people. I refer to anything made 1930's to 1980's as 'vintage' and newer or more casual clothing from the 60’s and 70’s as 'retro'. Anything pre-1930 is antique. As mentioned, there are many vintage fashion professionals that can't agree on this point and do not consider clothing post 1960 as vintage either. There's no definite answer to this one.
|Blue Glass Clip Earrings c.1940's|
You're a proud member of the Vintage Fashion Guild - what are the benefits of membership, and are there many places for vintage lovers to come together and be social?
I've been a member of the Vintage Fashion Guild for a few years. It's a great place to research the history of fashion and meet like-minded people. There is a public and private forum so you don't have to be in the business of vintage to participate.
The Vintage Fashion Guild’s mission is to promote and protect the interests of vintage fashion enthusiasts while serving the needs of the members of the Vintage Fashion Guild. To that end its objectives are to:
1. Protect the interests of vintage fashion vendors and encourage professional practices.
2. Promote, establish, and encourage among our members ethical behavior and professional standards of expertise about vintage fashion, in order to reinforce the buyers’ and
collectors’ confidence that the age, style, details and condition of the items are accurately represented.
3. Raise awareness of vintage fashion and provide a forum to bring together buyers and sellers.
4. Establish a central educational resource available to both buyers and sellers.
5. Create a positive environment for and enhance the image of vintage clothing.
6. Encourage the conservation and wearing of vintage fashion to preserve the history, availability and survival of vintage clothing in future years. The VFG discourages the habitual practice of modifying or altering existing vintage to suit the current trend.
7. Position vintage clothing as a viable, attractive and environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional fashion.
|William de Lillo Fringed Tassel Brooch c.1960's|
You can read more about applying for membership here http://vintagefashionguild.
Also visit 'Best In Vintage', an informative blog showcasing some of the best online vintage sellers http://thebestinvintage.
|Halston 1970's Black Sequin Beanie Hat Size Small|
There are various social networks such as Vintage Network Worldwide and
CJCI (Costume Jewelry Collectors International).
|Amber Coloured Glass Bead Necklace c.1970's|
Catwalk Creative Vintage was established in 2006 . . . How has your business changed over the years?
I've seen quite a few changes in the business. I now offer a range costume jewellery and homeware pieces and have introduced some high-end vintage designer pieces too. In a few months I'll be getting more work space so I can expand the business further. It's all very exciting.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to open a vintage fashion business? What lessons have you learnt along the way, and how should they go about their research?
Think very carefully before you go into the business of selling vintage. It’s not as easy as people think. It’s a lot of hard work and it can take over your life! However, if you are dead-set on starting your own vintage business then try and get as much work experience as possible.
Work in your local vintage boutique and find out as much as you can about the merchandise, how it’s priced and how to deal with customers. Go to your library and read all you can about the history of fashion. There’s loads of research information available on the internet including the Vintage Fashion Guild. Get reading!
Visit online shops, costume galleries, museums and vintage/textile fairs. Talk to the vendors and find out all you can about how they started in the business.
Perhaps start by ‘testing the waters’ at your local vintage fair at the weekends. See how it goes and build up a client base that way. Even the experts had to start somewhere. You can also try selling on one of the many online sites now available.
Most sellers of vintage will tell you they're not in this business for the money since you have to put everything back into the business in order to keep your stock fresh. However, be discerning with your purchases. You don't have to buy everything and not everything old is worth something.
Choose a business name carefully and think about branding your image and what you want to sell. Cost out all your stationery, packaging and stock requirements. You’ll need to hand out business cards and brochures.
It’s not easy working in this business but if you have a genuine love for what you’re doing and have the self-discipline to run your own business, it can be very worthwhile and rewarding.
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