Harley Oxley and Freddie Rose were part of what they call “the charity shop brigade” when they met as students in Newcastle in 2015.
“We were on a student budget but wanted to have our own identity and wear unique clothes, and the charity shops in the city were incredibly cheap,” grins Rose.
“We would get together with friends and go to the ‘bag fill’ or ‘kilo sale’ to find new clothes and people started wondering how, because we were on a budget, we kept messing up our wardrobe. “
They bonded over their love of preloved fashion, and today that passion has spawned a £1.5 million turnover vintage business with a Covent Garden store, as well as presences at Selfridges, Adidas and other major brands.
Initially, the friends – both now 30 – moved into other roles: Rose worked in sports marketing, Oxley at a boiler start-up.
“We continued saving and realized we had the perfect skillset to build a business,” says Rose.
Vintage Threads started as a side hustle, initially selling used fashion online “through a WordPress site that a friend set up in a few hours in 2016. We wanted to bring vintage to a new audience and promote its sustainable benefits.”
The pair were both living in London in 2018 and growing Vintage Threads after quitting their day jobs. The nearest laundry to Oxley’s (bedroom) headquarters in Hackney was a 20 minute walk away.
Instead of walking, “I spent my evenings riding my bike to the laundromat, rolling a huge suitcase behind me so I could get there and back as quickly as possible to start packing orders and to begin the inventory for the website. “I was always greeted by people honking!”
Rose says they would then upload the photos, shoot social media content and manage order fulfillment “until the wee hours of the morning.”
In the early days, supplies came from “kilo sales” – the purchase of bags of clothes paid for by weight – and from charity shops: “They had a lot more jewels up for grabs.” [back then]“Remarks Rose.
But as demand increased, they set off on sourcing trips abroad, during which they “drove around the Amalfi Coast in old racing cars and played midnight five-on-five tournaments with our suppliers in Thailand.”
From the start, the duo focused on building their own brand rather than using resale sites like Depop and eBay. Marketing involved “bringing bags of stickers, flyers and branded lighters with discount codes to music festivals.”
Growth was driven by social media: “The Instagram boom coincided perfectly with the way we wanted to connect directly with our audience and created the perfect customer journey funnel to our website.”
After opening a studio in Hackney Wick in January 2020, the entrepreneurs have had “a year we will never forget,” says Oxley.
Due to the lockdown rules, Fred and I essentially spent months in the studio together – FaceTiming, steaming and photographing clothes, packing orders and our Instagram started to grow.”
All stocks were and are picked by hand: the two now have 23 “pickers” worldwide to whom they send a shopping list.
They search local wholesalers and charity shops, send photos back to the founders and then get a guide price before the items are shipped to London.
Rose and Oxley also visit Italy, their largest supply market, every two weeks.
Lockdown was a catalyst for growth: sales quadrupled from around £20,000 a month to £90,000 a month as shopping went digital.
However, supply was limited as many major UK warehouses were closed: “We had to find new vintage suppliers from countries where there weren’t such strict lockdowns, like Malaysia and Indonesia.”
After lockdown, sales fell as “everyone wanted to go back out on the high street and look at clothes rather than staring at a screen, so we had to pivot.” The duo returned to their roots, with stalls at Truman Brewery in Shoreditch and markets.
They opened their first store on Neal Street, Covent Garden in January 2022, and pop-ups elsewhere led to the chance to open Vintage Threads in Selfridges in October.
“They were looking for a beloved partner to promote sustainability. “It was a big moment for us to see a brand that started in our bedrooms gain a permanent place in the world’s leading department store,” says Rose.
The company was self-funded from the start, with profits from the initial purchase of £350 worth of stock from a vintage wholesale warehouse being reinvested.
Vintage Threads now has a team of 16, all 30 or younger, and its founders are looking to expand across Europe and the US. “We want Vintage Threads to be the first vintage company to have a store in every major city,” says Oxley. “Something no one has managed to do before – scaling Vintage is a challenge because of its unique nature.
“The best moment is getting up every day and doing what I love. It doesn’t feel like work to me.”