Welcome to Shanahan Studio Session Jake Visser, who is the owner and founder of The Reclaimers. Jake speaks about setting up his new business with his family and finding your passion in life. The Reclaimers is a vintage clothes shop in Great Malvern. The Reclaimers works on four principal ideas of Sustainability, Community, Individuality and Creativity. They believe in growing a sustainable community within their local area. We speak about running a fashion retail business, career advice and finding your way in the fashion industry.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
I have always loved Fashion, I literally don’t remember when my love of Fashion and clothes started. When I was 16 I got really lucky, and a lovely teacher named Leslie at Brooklands College Weybridge agreed to let me on to a Fashion and Clothing BTEC course (even though I didn’t have the right grades, and all I had to show her was a few tie dyed T-shirt’s me and my mates had made that summer!). After college I thought I deserved a break! So I took a year off and went and worked as a waiter in Marrakesh, then sold tea and coffee off the back of a golf buggy in Hampshire and rounded out the year with a solo trip around Europe on the train! I then fumbled with what to do but ended up studying Fashion Design at Plymouth College of Art (once again let onto a course I didn’t really have the grades for, and with very little work to show, by an amazing teacher this time named Alison).
I had an amazing three years at PCA and really worked out what was in my fashion tool box and what just wouldn’t ever be (that’s sewing, I will never be a brilliant seamstress). My time at PCA gave me a better idea of what kind of direction I was meant to be going in, and after finishing University and working as a breakfast waiter at a hotel followed by a couple of months blowing that money around South East Asia, I was back and had managed to land myself an internship with a startup company called Lula Laora. That’s how I got my first job in fashion, and moved myself to London. It was unpaid which is rubbish isn’t it! That being said I did learn a lot and I am still very grateful to have done it.
Is there anyone in your family in the fashion business?
No, we don’t really have any connection to the Fashion Industry in the family. But we do have a really strong connection to style, for as long as I can remember (literally some of my first memories) me and my Momma would go shopping. We really enjoyed the whole ritual of a day shopping browsing the rails, stopping for coffee then more browsing, then maybe lunch. Momma really encouraged my love of fashion and shopping, so it must now be her fault my bank balance is always so low!!
Was it difficult for you to choose a career in fashion and how did you know this is what you wanted to do for your occupation?
Fashion is such a massive industry and I think when you start learning about all the different possible jobs it's quite exciting and daunting at the same time.
But I was really lucky honestly because I never really decided to work in the Vintage sector of Fashion.
I had been interning for Lula Laora and loving it when I just ran out of cash. I needed a job (and cash) quickly so ran down Brick Lane applying at every shop and got a job at Beyond Retro. It was the BEST unplanned thing ever!! I already knew that I loved buying and wearing vintage but I had never worked in a shop before (kind of lied on my C.V saying I had n't told them) so I had no idea how much I would end up loving selling it too!!
What were you doing before you opened The Reclaimers?
I had just moved back from London to my home town of Malvern (because I was broke). I managed to get a job working at a local pub, and it was great to tide me over but I really wanted to be working in Fashion again! I had kind of worked out that I didn’t want to be in London anymore, and that I missed the countryside. But I was also aware that if I wanted to work with vintage fashion I was probably going to have to move to a city. I then had a chat with my Mom and (as Moms do) she knew best and suggested that I start selling vintage furniture just on the side and see how I go. Anyway, two weeks later we were looking at a shop on the high street and furniture had turned to clothes, don’t ask me how I have no idea.
How would you describe your store?
I think if I had one word to describe us I would use the word COMFORTABLE. Physically we are quite a bright and airy shop, our cash desk is made of old worn pallets and we have tables made out of floor boards, both made by my very talented Dad, thanks Dad you are a boss!
Actually, come to think of it, the whole shop has been hand made using recycled items by my family!
My Uncle made our changing rooms and put up our shelves and Mirrors.
My Auntie, Momma and cousin painted, and my Grandma gave me my first spider plants (that have now multiplied and are consuming the shop). This is partly why I think we feel comfortable, I think when you walk in you can tell a lot of love has gone into the shop. And we haven’t just gone to shopfitters.org.net or whatever it is. And I think that seems to make people feel quite comfortable here.
What is a typical day like for you and your team?
I don’t really have a team! My cousin works with me on a Saturday and she’s amazing! But a typical day is just me. So my day can include anything from creating a window display, buying stock, doing our accounts, setting up collaborations with local artists and businesses and managing our online presence as well as running the physical shop and making sure that is a nice place to be.
So I don’t really have a typical day, it is very changeable! And that is one of the best things about running your own business: you never really know what your day is going to be like.
What are the first things customers see when they walk through the doors?
This is really easy to answer… IT’S ME!! I sit right by the door working on whatever nonsense I have to finish that day and try not to scare customers away.
But in all seriousness, I do like being the first thing people see when they come in, it means I can greet them and have a little chat with them. The Reclaimers are built so much out of my experiences and even as a space it's where I am six days a week, and I designed the look and constructed it with my family’s help! It’s a bit like welcoming people to your home, it would be pretty weird if people just walked in and wondered about while you hid in the downstairs loo.
What sets your store apart?
I think the fact we are a locally owned small sustainable business is really important in setting us apart. I really believe that small business (and sustainable ones) are the future of the high street. The truth is with all the major retailers switching their focus to online I think what will be left on the high street is experiences you can’t get online. And hopefully that will leave gaps for small start-ups to really flourish and take over.
What is one thing you think customers should know about your store that they may not be aware of?
We are owned and and run by a younger queer person!
I think it’s cool to support young people setting up their own stuff in their own areas and trying to create the community that they want to see there. I don’t think that our industry (or the LGBTQIA+ community actually) should be so London-centric or city centric either.
There are smaller towns all over the country just like Malvern and I think that we have a hell of a lot to offer!
What’s your vision for your business?
The Reclaimers is built off four key principles of Sustainability, Creativity, Individuality and Community for the future. I want to keep hitting these principles in everything we do!
We are currently setting up an Art evening class to run through July that will be run by a local artist! We also plan on doing more music events and workshops! This kind of community building I think is really important, and is and has always been at the heart of what we want to do as a space. We could just sell vintage clothes but wouldn’t it be even better if we could be part of creating a sustainable community that supports each other in our area? But don’t worry, we will always have wavy vintage garms to sell you...
Get ready this summer there is always going to be something going down at The Reclaimers!
What is the importance of ecommerce for your business?
E-commerce is like another string to The Reclaimers bow, over the second lockdown I built on our website. It’s definitely a work in progress. I have a degree in fashion design not web development so I’m very much learning on the job but it has been interesting and we are constantly just trying to push it further! I recently worked out how to put a search bar onto our site so that was an exciting day.
Does social media help your business with branding and interacting with your clients?
It definitely helps us interact with our customers, for example we are in the process of launching an evening class at the shop and we were able to use an Instagram poll to gauge people's interest in it. Turns out they are very interested and had a bunch of ideas for other workshops and classes we could run! How brilliant!! It’s like crowdsourcing ideas!
What do you think your biggest challenge will be?
I don’t know really, but we opened on the 7th of August 2020 and have so far withstood 2 lockdowns so hopefully that will be it for this year. Or at least it would be nice to think that will be the hardest part!!
How do you keep your store’s inventory fresh and up to date?
I go wholesale shopping around once a month and slowly bring the stock to the shop floor. This obviously means that our stock is never going to be the exact same, if you come in on Monday and then again on Saturday we are going to have brought out some new stuff for you to get little snatchers on.
We also use a really reliable vintage wholesaler in Stourbridge. So I know I can get good quality stuff all the time. And I’m not have to panic when I see some good stuff dropping.
What are a few must-have items right now?
Ooh that’s a hard one…
I guess denim always works, a good pair of vintage Levi’s will never go out of style! That’s just a fact.
I am really enjoying some oversized 90’s t-shirts or shirts at the moment. They are really super comfy and I think they are dead stylish! (I do love a cheeky French tuck on the oversized shirt into the vintage jeans).
What are your best-selling products?
Best-selling is quite difficult to think about really when we never have two of the same items, and when new items are dropping literally every week. This can change the focus of the rails so for instance the menswear section could be quite knitwear heavy one week and then flip to shirt heavy the next, this obviously then can change what people buy most of.
However, there are some items that always seem to sell brilliantly, for example dungarees! We can never get enough of them, people just love them and I totally agree! DUNGAREES FOR LIFE!!
Did you always know you wanted to own a store? If not, when did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
Not really no. From a very young age I would tell anyone who asked that I wanted to be a Fashion designer, but then as I got older I think that seemed like quite a gay thing to want to do. So my young gay self then looked at other ideas, I thought about being a primary school teacher for a while. But honestly it was always going to come back to Fashion in the end. I tried loads of different parts of the Fashion system whilst at Uni and it just so happens that all the bits of that I really loved are all wrapped into owning a vintage shop! Along with getting to help people get excited about sustainable clothes!! And being part of helping someone find a new item that they then love and wear and make memories in is a really cool thing to do… or I think it is.
What is your favorite thing about your job? Most rewarding? Most challenging?
The best part of running a shop is getting to chat to people and seeing them get really excited about a piece of clothing that you picked out from a whole warehouse full of stuff! The most challenging is definitely e-commerce. It's not something that comes naturally to me but I am pressing on with it and just trying to make the feeling of our in-store experience translate to online.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to open their own store?
You’ve just gotta do it!! The perfect time is never going to come around and you are never going to have learnt enough to know exactly what you are doing! So, if you think running your own shop will make you happy, then just jump in!! Be open to the idea you know nothing (John Snow) and learn on the job! I think the only other thing is just asking for help! There is nothing wrong with needing some help!!
What inspires you?
Ooh there are quite a lot of different inspirations that all sort of blend together. Obviously finding Bowie when I was 16 was a complete revelation! His music, style and I don’t care what you think attitude always seemed dead cool to me. I also really respect the idea that he wasn’t afraid to change his outward persona. I think that was really cool.
I also have a deep love for Isabella Blow, I went to see the Fashion Galore exhibition at Summerset House with my sister when I was 17 (my sister Georgia then stole me a poster for the exhibition from the pub she worked in at the time and gave it to me for Christmas) It really changed my ideas of fashion and style and that those two things aren’t the same. For me style was always going to be the more important idea. Also her ideas on supporting and nurturing young creatives I think was really cool and is definitely missed now.
Isabella Blow keeps an eye on us at the shop, the poster is now framed and hangs proudly on the wall. When it comes to Fashion editorials I really think there is no one better than Grace Coddington. At the moment I have been looking back on her now infamous Grunge and Glory shoot with Steven Meisel. Those pictures really do feel so new they could have been taken at any point from the late 1980’s right up to now. I get a lot of inspiration for looks for the shop from Grace’s way of styling. She is an expert in layering and contrasting.
Honestly this section could become a whole essay on its own. I love Fashion history and could (and do) spend days pouring over my reference books and magazines searching for one image I saw three years ago. I also get a lot of inspiration from music! There honestly isn’t a minute in the day I have quiet. There is always a radio, playlist or tv on. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Folk music which I’m really enjoying! I could honestly go on forever so I will leave it here.
What’s your personal style?
For me fashion and style are brilliant ways to just play about and have fun. My style really has bounced about a bit, there was definitely a gender bender Bowie moment and pre that I think there was a preppy blazer dude look for a while (with a bleach blonde quiff twas quite the look).
But at the moment I am pretty settled into a kind of Raver Grandad style which has been really fun. I think being back in my home town has made me revert to my teenage loves like a really good rude t-shirt, some funky trousers and a hell of a lot of knitwear. Basically I just want to be 16 again!!
What motto/quote do you always try to live by?
The Reclaimers motto is definitely WWLD? WHAT WOULD LIZZO DO?!
I ask myself this at least four times a day, I think.
What advice would you give anyone pursuing a career in the fashion industry?
I would say know your worth, I really don’t believe we should just be expecting young people to work for free for a year or two just to break into an industry!
I understand why we do it (I did it myself) but I really don’t think that we should be enabling the Fashion Industry to block out people from less advantaged backgrounds! And outside of any of that if you are working you should get paid! That is just normal and fair.
What advice would you tell your younger self and what is something you wish you knew?
I wouldn’t tell myself anything really! I had a lot of fun finding it all out (or as much as I know so far, I should say), and the ride has taken me to some pretty cool places really. Even when I failed at something it wasn’t really the end of the world like I thought at the time. I definitely wouldn’t want to ruin anything for my younger self. NO SPOILERS.
I would love to know how to do my taxes! I’m trying to learn about it all at the moment but it's dead boring. Older self if you are out there come and give me a hand!! I don’t mind spoilers when it comes to taxes!!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Well, I would like to think I will still be doing this! It would be fab to have pushed The Reclaimers even further and created a real sustainable community around it. I am really excited to see how sustainability is going to become a massive part of our everyday life in the next few years. How is it going to change the way we think, act and obviously shop? However, I will be thirty though so maybe I will just be hiding in the woods pretending I’m still 29.
Where can people find you online?
People can find us @the.reclaimers on Instagram @thereclaimers on TikTok and at www.thereclaimersvintage.co.uk if you want to shop for some fresh vintage garms!
Thank you so much Jake for your time and a lovely conversation about everything fashion, life and career advice! It was amazing to speak with you about your beautiful vintage store and I can't wait to visit you one day in Malvern. I wish you the best for your future. Hannah x