We went to visit Marketplace Boutique Award winners House of Jam in their East London studio to get the lowdown on life running a vintage boutique (and of course, to cuddle their dachshund, Ernie!)
Tell us about House of Jam! Who, where and when?
Steve: We are an online boutique selling vintage and reworked lines and we have recently started a small range of our own in house designs. We are based in Dalston, East London, and have been running for about 2 years now. In that time we've taken HOJ from a bit of a bedroom hobby to a full time business.
The team currently consists of 3 full timers. Jazz and I are the two directors and then we have recently had an amazing addition to our team, Jemma, our studio manager. We now couldn't live without her! We also have a crew of interns and models who are integral to the brands output.
How did your obsession with all things vintage start?
Jazz: I suppose it all started back in the day when I used to go to Portabello at the age of around 15 with my mates. I loved the vintage there because you knew every piece had a story and was one of kind, making it even more special.
All of my high street items can feel instantly out-dated after a month or so, whereas my favourite vintages pieces last for for years. I've never been a huge fan of fast high street fashion and I love the ethical/upcycling aspect of what we do by turning trash into treasure!
What do you look out for when buying vintage?
Steve: We normally have a little team briefing on our way. What we look for is forever changing as we try to be as trend led as possible. Saying this, it can be dangerous to go with too many preconceptions of what you want to buy.
Anyone who buys vintage wholesale will know you never know what you're going to get. If you arriving thinking, "right, I need 20 of this and 10 of that" but the stock just isn't there, you can end up buying things just for the sake of it. To try and not fall into this trap we have what we call the "Instatest". This means everything we buy has to be Instagrammable, if we wouldn't Instagram it we wouldn't buy it.
And what is selling like hotcakes at the moment?
Jazz: It's quite hard to say at this time of year, with us being in between seasons. We have been shifting a crazy amount of sheepskins over the past few months but as we move into spring we're obviously not selling as many. On the vintage front our oversized checked dresses have been doing really well.
In terms of our own label collection the best seller has been our monochrome zig zag dress which people seem to love.
We can't get enough of Ernie, who has fast become the official HOJ mascot - does he love vintage as much as you guys?
Jazz: He bloody loves it. Where ever we take him he always comes away with a little something. It's often pretty cold in the wholesale warehouses we go to so we always get an extra bit of knitwear to wrap him up in as we get our thrift on.
One place we went to in Birmingham gave him an actual mink collar with full head, hands and feet…which he destroyed after about 10 mins!
Tell us about your typical working day!
Steve: Creating a typical day is something we are actually trying to develop! With us being still a relatively small team we're constantly juggling everything between us.
We have a mini team chat at the start of each day, which is often dependent on the time our studio manager Jemma finally rolls in! She claims "if I try and be on time I turn up later" Subsequently we have just decided to change our working day to start at 10am...although we have told her 9:30am!
The day then consists of the getting the basics boxed off first, postage, customer service, ensuring we have enough content going live during the day etc etc. Once thats out of the way we all have our individual projects we are working on to grow and develop the business. This could be finalising the A/W '14 collection, developing new reworked lines, initiating new marketing plans - all sorts really.
We try to all have different areas we are in charge of and responsible to drive forward.
Oh and a constant supply of brews and Berocca!
Tell us about your studio - how have you made it your own?
Steve: It's still very much a work in progress. We still have the shower installed from the guy who was previously living here illegally, and you definitely wouldn't eat your dinner off the floor, but we're getting there!
This is hot of the press, but we are actually currently looking at retail spaces that can be the new HOJ HQ, that'll mean we have a shop and studio all under one roof…so we could be coming to a high street near you! (...if you live in East London)
We'd love it if you could share a few top tips for hunting down quality vintage!
Jazz: DIG DEEP - whenever you think you have had enough going through a rail, or a bin or bail, just keep going. Whoever has been through it before you will have probably given up at a similar time, so there could be some absolute gems left at the bottom!
BE ON TIME - A lot of sale events have a start time…it sounds obvious but make sure you get there first. When we first started we would turn up late and a lot of the best bits had already been snapped up. We are often setting off at 4am from London to get up to a supplier up North in time for the opening!
LOOK FOR YOUR NICHE - Try not and just follow what everyone else is selling or buying. Obviously don't ignore popular trends completely, but don't be afraid to try new things and develop your own brand's niche.
VISIT HOUSE OF JAM - 'nuff said x