Fashion’s past is making a bright future for Barnsley entrepreneur

John Hickling at Glass Onion Vintage.''Picture: Scott Merrylees
John Hickling at Glass Onion Vintage.''Picture: Scott Merrylees
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STROLL Into any high street fashion store and you’re likely to find a corner packed full of once-loved and cherished items looking for a new owner.

Whether it’s an 80s tracksuit that has gone from the sports field to the catwalk, or a re-worked oversized shirt that has taken on a new life as a crop-top - vintage fashion is big business.

Claire Mitchell sorts through some of the designer T-shirts. Picture: Scott Merrylees SM1008/39c

Claire Mitchell sorts through some of the designer T-shirts. Picture: Scott Merrylees SM1008/39c

And a South Yorkshire company is leading the way, sourcing clothes for the likes of Urban Outfitters and Lush Cosmetics, who use Glass Onion Vintage’s scarves as an alternative to gift wrap.

Founder John Hickling started selling used clothes brought from charity shops online 12 years ago to make a bit of extra money while at university in Sheffield.

Now his enthusiasm from vintage and recycling has seen his Barnsley-based business grow internationally, and from selling on Camden Market he now handles 20,000 kilos of vintage clothing a month from recycling firms across Europe.

Mr Hickling, 33, of Sheffield, said: “The demand has really grown, with the interest not just in vintage clothes but in recycling and renewing old fabrics. When I started, vintage was borderline fancy dress, now companies like Topshop and Urban Outfitters bring them in as part of their stores. Every Urban Outfitters store across Europe has a vintage department.”

James Worton sorts through some rails.''Picture Scott Merrylees

James Worton sorts through some rails.''Picture Scott Merrylees

The company runs from a 23,000 square foot warehouse and distribution centre in Stainborough, Barnsley, and supplies more than 200 wholesale customers with recycled, upcycled and remade clothes. Its stock is sold around the world, including Japan, Sweden, Holland and Chile.

As well as sourcing bulk buy clothes, Glass Onion also sells direct to customers at pop up sales - where fashion lovers pay by the kilo for vintage clothes. At an event in Oxford earlier this month, 2,000 people were served in one day.

“When I was at school I sold chocolate bars, I’ve always had an interest in being entrepreneurial,” said Mr Hickling. “Eight years ago I saw a shop in Berlin selling used clothing by the kilo - and I thought it was a great idea. It’s an unusual way of buying but it seems to really work.”

Later this month he is travelling to America to meet contacts and source suppliers.

John Hickling. ''Picture Scott Merrylees

John Hickling. ''Picture Scott Merrylees

“It’s almost like dealing in antiques - we have to find the products. We work with recycling companies who process used clothing and fabric, and buy dead stock lines,” he said. “I’ve just met someone in Birmingham who had tonnes of dead stock from the 90s that has just been sat in a warehouse. We also deal with one off collectors.

“The appeal with vintage is that everything is so unique and the quality is really different to what you’d find today.

“We recently brought some 1960s Swedish military coats - if you were after something similar brand new, it would be around £200. Every single piece in unique.

“You are not going to walk into a bar and see three people wearing the same thing as you.”

Glass Onion also sells swatches of fabric to designers, particularly 1950s prints, which are re-imagined and used an inspiration for new fabrics.

The businesses has recently started manufacturing its own products from recycled clothing, like cami tops from old men’s shirts and t-shirts from dead stock fabric sourced from France. And it hopes to expand into direct retail soon.

Glass Onion is holding a kilo sale at Holy Trinity Church, Leeds, on June 13. For more information visit www.glassonionvintage.com