When Rory Westbrook founded True Vintage in his Portsmouth University bedroom back in 2014, little did he know that it would grow to become one of Europe’s biggest online vintage fashion stores.
The entrepreneur, now 26, said he started the business after he noticed a gap in the vintage clothing market. Like many independent retailers, he started buying and selling vintage items from his flat. True Vintage has since dispatched over 100,000 orders and raked in almost £2 million in revenues in 2019.
True Vintage has also built a cult following, with almost 410,000 followers on Instagram and a band of loyal shoppers hungry for retro sport and streetwear from household brands like Adidas, Fila, Nike, Yves Saint Laurent, The North Face and Louis Vuitton.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in fashion and worked in retail from the age of 16,” Rory told Retail Gazette.
“Vintage and 90s fashion always appealed to me, especially how each item is unique, and the colours and patterns are often bright, bold and loud.
“Branded vintage also holds its value, even after it’s worn. In some cases, items become even more valuable over time.”
Since its inception, Westbrook has brought in family and friends on-board to help expand and grow True Vintage – allowing the business to retain its independent streak. The online retailer is now based in south-west London, and is operated by a team of 14.
Like many other retailers, the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on trading – but for True Vintage, this was mostly a positive impact.
“Our audience was unable to spend their disposable income on social activities during the lockdown, which increased our sales,” Westbrook explained.
“Our audience was also more online during the lockdown, which gave us a better opportunity to engage with them through our app and social channels.
“Obvious impacts like remote employees impacted some of the day-to-day, but it was an amazing effort from everyone at the company and we managed to make it work.”
As vintage fashion becomes more popular, especially with an influx of sellers popping up via eBay and Depop, Westbrook said True Vintage was able to retain its individuality.
“We have a unique point of difference to other platforms because we source and sell all of our products,” he said.
“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.
“As a brand, we’re also a team of passionate vintage enthusiasts as opposed to a large corporate brand.
“Most of my team have been with me from the get-go, working alongside the brand as we grew from the small flat in Portsmouth to the south-west London warehouse and office we call home.
“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 globally and our customers are passionate about the sustainable and unique values.”
As well as having a rigorous sourcing process, True Vintage also prides itself on being a sustainable retailer.
“Buying vintage is more than enjoying unique and classic clothes,” Westbrook reflected.
“It signifies an awareness of the impact businesses has on the world around us.
“It’s what drives us as a brand to continually find ways to reduce any impact we have on the environment and to ensure we are at the forefront of the sustainable fashion movement.”
Regarding fast fashion, he added: “The negative impact of fast fashion is general knowledge, and consumers expect brands to step up and take action.
“Consumers are more passionate than ever about buying quality over quantity, and it’s this mindset that guides people towards vintage and sustainable clothing.”
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As chain retailers continue to thrive in this harsh trading climate, Westbrook explained why independent retailers are more important that ever.
“Independent retailers will always hold value with consumers and provide a different experience to that of large retailers,” he said.
“Not only do they provide more unique products, but they offer a sense of community and individuality that large retail businesses can never match.
“Independent retailers offer more exciting energy that’s both personal and niche, and consumers will always value this.”
When asked what had changed the most since the beginning of True Vintage, Westbrook pointed to its scale and pace of growth.
“We started in my university flat and are now based in a warehouse in south-west London, and we have so many exciting opportunities in the pipeline,” he explained.
“The businesses rapidly scaled in the last six years, and there’s so much more opportunity for us on the horizon.
“I saw the opportunity but never imagined or anticipated the speed at which the brand would grow.
“The vintage clothing market was becoming increasingly popular, and alongside the growth of online shopping.”
Another highlight of 2020 was how True Vintage stepped up to show its support for the NHS, with a custom designed bear t-shirt. The product helped raise £30,000 for frontline workers during the pandemic.
As 2021 looms, True Vintage plans to continue to grow and diversify its brand with new ventures. Despite the business’ rapid growth, Westbrook has never forgotten its independent and family-driven roots.
“True Vintage wouldn’t be where it is without the support I’ve had from both family and friends,” he reflected.
“Surrounding yourself with people you care about, both professionally and personally, is essential.”
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