The trend of vintage clothing and sustainability has exploded within recent years, with more consumers actively choosing to shop “slow fashion” to help the environment.
One such retailer in this sector is Cow, with its loyal customer base and five standalone locations across the UK alongside its newly-opened London store.
Retail Gazette caught up with Cow’s Seven Dials’ store manager, Fleur Devanney, to discuss opening its latest store and more.
Fleur explained that the team had always wanted a presence in the city, but they had been waiting for the right moment and location. When a property at Seven Dials became available, she said it felt like a great position for Cow – they’d be surrounded by other ethical retailers and independent, innovative brands.
Like all the other Cow stores, Fleur said the Seven Dials site has a “completely unique fit out which has been created entirely from recycled and repurposed materials, right down to the fixtures and fittings”.
Described as an “innovative hub of artists, musicians, and designers”, Fleur explained that Cow and the team pride themselves on bringing like-minded people together.
“Whether that be through the staff we hire down to the creative process behind choosing our stock and reworking damaged pieces that would have gone to landfill otherwise,” she explained.
“The people we have on the team always have a creative background from stylists to models, to fashion designers and artists.
“We believe this is important to maintain this demographic from our staff to our customers.”
Fleur put Cow’s cult following down to the devotion from the staff to “always create a friendly, welcoming vibe whenever customers are instore”.
“Customer service is incredibly important to us”
“We believe it is especially important to build rapport with our customers and treat them how they wish to be treated,” she added.
“Whether that is giving them a personal shopping experience instore or simply asking them how their day is going.”
Fleur said that the areas in which Cow stores are based always have a community feel to them.
“It is not just a case of doing a bit of vintage shopping that day, its going out, having a chin wag with the staff or even coming to one of our instore events.” she said.
According to Statista, there are approximately 3943 stores selling second-hand and vintage goods across the UK. Fleur said that despite there being so much competition within the vintage market, there are multiple elements which set Cow apart.
“Our staff are one factor to make us stand out from the other vintage stores,” she explained.
“We want everyone to feel welcome and not met with a straight face as soon as they walk through our door.”
She added that the visual merchandising within Cow stores was also at “an incredibly high standard”.
“Whether that’s mannequin/window displays or down to the clothing rails themselves,” Fleur said.
“The way we place stock on the rails makes it easy for customers to shop – we like to create a whole outfit across one rail as opposed to all the same item on a rail.”
“Sometimes shopping vintage can be a challenge for people that are not used to it, they may not know what to look for or what items to pair together.
“So, we take out that concern and lay it out easily for them.”
One area not to forget is Cow’s reworked section.
“This is an aspect that sets us apart from the others,” Fleur emphasised.
“With a whole team of sewing machinists in the warehouse and nearly one each in all our stores – we are constantly working hard to bring new life to damaged stock that would have gone to waste and added to the devastating impact that fashion production can have to the environment.”
All of Cow’s reworked pieces are trend led or one-off pieces from its Rework Edit line where they add a more bespoke aspect to the certain garments.
“With limited tourism and the pandemic still affecting many people we had reservations about opening”
Last year it was revealed that the UK is the fourth largest producer of textile waste in Europe, according to a study published by the fashion retailer Labfresh. The study found each Briton throws away about 3.1kg of textiles every year, and that 1.7kg of fashion waste is landfilled yearly per person. The UK clothing industry, which is the third largest in Europe, sees consumers spend £980.50 a year on new clothes.
Fleur explained that Cow prides itself on sustainability because everyone at the retailer is aware of the impact fashion production can have on the environment, whether its via water wastage to produce a pair of jeans down to the packaging clothes are dispatched in.
“Even our cardboard boxes are second hand – taken from companies that have used them once and would then dispose,” she added.
“I believe sustainability should be on every single business’s agenda without question.
“Climate change and global warming is such an important cause that we should all be aware of and if more people acted on their part to help, we could be one step closer to doing good for the environment.”
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, retailers across the sector had been hard amid nationwide lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. Small or independent retailers were significantly hit with experts predicting that over 250,000 small businesses across the UK were set to fold this year.
Fleur explained that independent retailers were particularly important for the UK high street because it gives opportunity to them to stand out in an otherwise saturated market.
“Instead of helping the incredibly rich get richer – help the other people just like me and you have a chance at success,” she said.
Despite being slightly apprehensive to open and begin work as Covid numbers continue to rise following the easing of all legal restrictions Fleur said they went ahead as they knew they’d see success thanks to its loyal customer following.
Future plans at Cow Seven Dials include events featuring live music and DJs. Fleur said student events, offering food and drinks, have been incredibly popular in the past for their other stores and the team feel that it was important to unite customers with party-like elements.
“We are so happy and excited to have started our Cow London venture in Seven Dials.” she told Retail Gazette.
“Its only just begun and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for sustainable fashion, the brand and our fantastic customers we have walk through our door every day.”