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An Interview with COW Vintage

By Emily Ashton

COW is a very popular vintage fashion brand with an online shop and physical stores in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. They sell interesting one-of-a-kind pieces; proving that you don’t need to sacrifice style to be sustainable!

Just this summer their newest store opened in Leeds. I was able to speak to Sorcha, the lovely store manager, about all things COW.

What was it like opening a store during a global pandemic?

The store managed to open on the 15th June, but it was a bit of an anti-climax.

“With the nature of our store we wanted to do a big event, we wanted local creatives, DJs, window displays and student events. We have just had to adapt to do things differently. Word got out from just talking to people and from there we just grew and grew”

“You have to learn to operate a store in different ways, like wearing a mask and we have to just go the extra mile with our customer service. I have worked in retail for nearly eight years now on and off, and I’ve never had to work in this kind of situation before.”

Students from Leeds are known to have an ‘edgy’ style. Do you think the clothes you sell fits in with that dynamic?

Sorcha used to work at the COW store in Sheffield and has noticed a customer shift when moving to work in Leeds.

“It’s really exciting because I feel like the Leeds student really appreciates the stuff that we do! For example, we do loads of custom bleach stuff like workwear, denim etc, and I find that really appeals to the typical ‘edgy Leeds’ student.”

“The price point is almost an afterthought because I think the Leeds student loves one-of-a-kind pieces. They don’t want to be the same as everyone else, that’s typically the edgy, different, unique kind of style. That’s what they get here, and I think that’s why they come to us. It’s nice to see that people appreciate the handmade part of it. It’s not just about it being vintage, they want something that really stands out. I’ve never really seen that in a COW store, until I came to Leeds. It’s really nice.”

A lot of students are concerned about fast fashion and it’s environmental impacts. What is COW’s take on sustainability and combatting fast fashion?

“The whole heart of COW thrives off the clothes having been sourced, nothing is ever new. We might get a rack of t-shirts or a rack of sweats and they are from the 90s, they are from way gone back, and it’s so nice to see people styling them again and differently. I think that is really important.”

“Even our plastic bags are biodegradable, 50% goes to Greenpeace, in a way everything we do we try to make as sustainable as possible. Vintage clothing as a whole is sustainable, you can see that from the rise of Depop. But we go that extra mile with our reworked stuff, we see potential in everything and think of innovative ways to give clothes a new lease of life.”

“The clothes we get in might have a rip in them or a dirty mark on them that can’t be take out by a washing machine. Instead of throwing them away or discounting them, we think what else can we do with it. A lot of the job is seeing the potential in everything. We get boxes and boxes of deliveries, and it might be damaged. By altering and revising things slightly, everything becomes a one off.”

What is the difference between your ‘reworked’ pieces and ‘custom’ pieces? What can people expect to find in the store?

“The custom is stuff like the bleach jeans, patchwork jackets etc. We have a whole team in the Leeds warehouse that make unique pieces from vintage garments that aren’t shop floor worthy. They might be a bit boring or dull, or not a ‘strong’ piece so we grab these pieces together and turn them into a cool jacket. Off the top of my head in store we’ve got a Dickie’s shirt, a Barbour jacket, some Carhart pants that have all been like custom. They are almost new items but made from old things.”

“The rework stuff is anything from if we have a Nike t-shirt and it’s got a stain on the bottom so we crop it, or a t-shirt that’s not sold well we might crop it and change it into a specific cut. The rework tends to be simpler items, cut to a pattern. We have a seamstress in store who has all these patterns on the wall, and she makes specific items to fit the pattern. Whereas custom truly is one of a kind. It all goes back to seeing the potential in all of the items.”

Now that we are going into a second lockdown, what will you be doing to carry on the success of the store?

“It’s just about mentality really and trying not to let it get you down. It means we have to connect and engage with our customers in different ways, for example through Instagram and Reels.”

“A second lockdown also gives us time to step back, evaluate and think of things we can bring when we reopen. For example, new custom styles, bringing in creatives to help me with window displays, and hosting events, there’s a lot to think about. I know everyone says it but it’s just about adjusting to the new normal and having to think outside the box. People say retail and the high street is dead, but I beg to differ, it just has to change.”

Follow & go show some love to COW on Instragram @cow.leeds or have a browse on their website

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