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Q&A: Kate Peters, managing director, Beyond Retro

Vintage fashion independent Beyond Retro opened its fourth London store in Dalston last month – a 10,000 sq ft space – its largest yet. Managing director Kate Peters tells Drapers about how trading is and why vintage has moved beyond 50s tea dresses.

Why did Beyond Retro open in Dalston?

Beyond Retro has a reputation for contributing to eclectic, artistic and emerging neighbourhoods that go against the grain of traditional retail areas. Dalston stands up as one of these culturally iconic areas in London, with a burgeoning creative scene that continues to grow.

The space is pretty vast at 10,000 sq ft. Why did you opt for so large a space?

Our main priority was to find a space that would accommodate the wide breadth of product on offer. Once we discovered Simpson House, we fell in love not just with the building’s vastness, but also its history. This 1920’s sewing factory had plenty of character, with original art deco features that we have endeavoured to retain.  At 10,000 square feet, it’s the perfect size and character for a Beyond Retro store.

Brinkworth Design worked on the concept for you. How did you find a suitable scheme to fit with the brand ethos and product offering?

Brinkworth Design contributed some elegant design solutions for our newer UK stores, and in addition much of the interiors are created and designed by our in-house visual merchandising team.  We aim to create an exciting atmosphere for customers, using unusual pieces we found along the way. This has allowed much of the design to evolve organically. Eclectic elements and a fine eye for detail are critical for us to create that unique and vibrant experience Beyond Retro is known for.

The irony of organic designs means the building process is usually more expensive than your average development. However, it’s vital for Beyond Retro stores to come alive and stay true to brand, so it is definitely worth the investment.

How is trading?

Sales in Dalston have exceeded our original projections.

Who is your customer?

Beyond Retro’s core customer is the18 to 30 year old (both male and female). However, each of our stores brings in different groups of people, making us a more diverse brand as we continue to grow. The Dalston customer is trend aware, music savvy and culturally conscious.  We see a mixture of creatives from the East London areas, and young professionals from Stoke Newington and beyond.

What are your best selling items?

Dresses. This is due in part to the breadth of offering; from sequin party dresses to vintage floral day dresses, there’s an abundance of items for our customer to choose from. Our Beyond Retro MADE line has also really taken off.

What’s your Beyond Retro MADE line?

These are items that we make from old garments and re-design into new pieces. One of our most popular items from this range is our leather duffle bag, made from re-sourced leather jackets. As none of the items are made from the same pre-existing product, each piece is unique. These items fit into our philosophy of maximizing the life of a garment while being trend facing. Our team is able to produce at commercially viable levels and this has become an exciting area of growth for Beyond Retro.

How do you present it? How do you approach product mix and price points?

For us vintage is no longer just about supplying the obvious lines such as 50s tea dresses and ironic vintage t-shirts, it has evolved into something that is more trend led.

Beyond Retro has a London based product department that keeps our sourcing team up-to-date on street style and up-coming trends. It also forecasts next season’s looks. Each item that goes into a Beyond Retro store is individually selected by our team members across the globe. On average, we look at 1,000 garments before one is chosen for our stores.  Thousands of pieces a week are then injected into our stores to ensure fresh stock is put out on a daily (and even hourly) basis.

One of the challenges of retailing vintage is that all of the pieces are unique. In response to this Beyond Retro has invested heavily in developing a POS system that allows the tracking of thousands of individual SKUSand lets us to do accurate forecasting and demand planning. This system means that instead of monitoring for just one or two stores (typical for the average vintage retailer), we are able to manage large inventories across three continents and plan activity for at least 6-8 months in advance.

Highstreet young fashion retailers are suffering because their core customer has less to spend due to government cuts and increasing education fees. What’s your view on current consumer demand for this demographic?

The pressures facing our customers are certainly apparent. We find that our competitors are not just other vintage stores, but larger high street retailers. Although our stores in the UK and Sweden are doing well comparatively with these retailers, the climate is undeniably tough. With this in mind, our team have made it their priority to be more innovative and more resourceful. They push to ensure our products are of real value and continue to pursue a high level of customer service. By opening a new store we have created more employment opportunities for younger people in the process.

See tomorrow’s issue of Drapers (page 9, news, December 2) for the latest on vintage stores scouting out retail sites in Dalston.

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