Interviewed in London, October 2016
Caked Vintage is an online boutique on ASOS Marketplace specialising in 90’s sportswear and hand-picked denim styles.
Jazz; “After finishing Uni in 2010, like most people, I was at a bit of a loose end about what to do and what direction to go in career-wise. I loved vintage and used to get all of my clothes from eBay from small vintage sellers. I’d spend hours searching for unique pieces at a bargain price, which sparked the idea to start selling pieces myself, as a way to make some spare cash. I didn’t have any real expectations of where it would lead at this point, but just wanted to try something new and see where it might go. I was working in bars at the time so it fitted well around this. I decided to team up with a girlfriend as I thought it would be more fun and we could pool our creativity and ideas. We’d hunt for cool pieces in charity shops and go to kilo sales as much as we could in our spare time. We would then rework pieces and shoot them ourselves using myself as the model before selling them for a profit on eBay.
The selling gradually picked up, but my friend and I decided we were too headstrong to work together, and decided to go our separate ways. I moved back to London and started seeing Steve (who now runs the business with me) and around this time we moved in together into a small flat with a spare bedroom we used as a mini studio. To begin with Steve just helped me with the postage and shoots, but as the business grew he became more involved and eventually we became partners.
The business really started to develop when we switched from eBay to ASOS Marketplace. Ebay is hugely saturated, whereas ASOS Marketplace was more curated, and specifically for fashion. You could really make yourself stand out, with the added bonus of the ASOS.com main site customer coming to explore the new ASOS Marketplace for vintage items they couldn’t get on the main site.
ASOS Marketplace is where House of Jam turned into a brand. We started to see the potential and set ourselves goals every month, with the aim of going full-time. I was working in a school and Steve was working in publishers at the time; things were quite hectic! I would be taking in Ikea bags packed full of parcels to the post office on my lunch breaks.
I was determined to quit my job and be self-employed, so with the help of Steve, who has a background in maths and accounting, we started working out exactly how much we needed to turn over for this to be possible. One thing motivating me was seeing the growth each month. ASOS Marketplace provide you with stats so you can see how well you are doing and where you rank in sales on the whole site. We were around 10th place which for two people with day jobs, was pretty inspiring. This really helped to motivate us to keep improving and tweaking things so we could keep moving up the ranking and increase our sales with the ultimate goal to both be full time.
It’s really important to always be looking at ways you can grow, not be too critical or harsh on yourself, but not to get complacent; there are always things to improve on. This is what has pushed us to grow to where we are now. We always looked for feedback including from our managers at ASOS Marketplace about areas we could improve on. We also completed customer surveys, offering discount codes in return for feedback on our brand and products and service.
We reached a milestone in terms of sales, and I decided to go full-time and Steve followed shortly after. We were still doing it all out of the spare bedroom with no real marketing or proper business plan, so it was rewarding to get it to that level, and we saw the potential it had. By now our flat was bursting at the seams with vintage. It was everywhere, even piled up in the kitchen. We decided to take the leap and upgrade to a proper studio space with the space to grow and hire staff when the time came.
In terms of sourcing stock, vintage can be a really hard business to be in, stock is finite. For example, we’ve been looking for denim jackets lately and supplies seem to be drying up. We sometimes wonder if it’s all going to run out! It gets stressful because we are reliant on a certain amount of stock to generate a certain amount of sales each month. However this stock isn’t always guaranteed, and sometimes you can’t get it, but the bills always need paying so you have to manage your cash flow really carefully. It’s completely different to selling new products where you can place an order whenever needed.
After reaching the number one selling spot on ASOS marketplace it became apparent that we could no longer sustain our current growth only the two of us. Within any start-up if you try to do everything yourself certain areas will start to suffer. It’s important to bring in extra help as soon as it is financially possible. As such a small team it’s important to find someone who fits. You’ll be spending a lot of them together in a small space so you ned to make sure you will 100% get on!
Photo by Matt Monfredi
After working with various interns we found one we had confidence in, and took them on full time. Hiring staff can be daunting because you have to be sure that you can commit to their paying their wages. Training new staff takes time away from you, so after you’ve investing that time you don’t want to lose them.
An important lesson we’ve learned is how to delegate and manage time efficiently. For example, if you are a great stylist but you spend all your time trying to do your accounts, that’s not the best use of your time. I think a lot of our success is down to our varied skill set coming together. I’ve always been in charge of creative direction, sourcing, designing, copy writing, styling and Steve does the accounts, book keeping, graphic design and marketing.
Managing your cash flow is the hardest thing for businesses. We set ourselves sales targets and if we need an extra boost, we’ll do an Instagram or Facebook ad. You have to target the ads to the right people and get the right image, but it definitely generates traffic and sales. You can’t really grow your business on Instagram without ads now, you used to be able to do it with hashtags but it doesn’t work like that any more. It has revolutionised the online sales industry. Test out your image on a small spend and see what get clicks. Then if it’s working spend more. Don’t blow your budget until you know it’s a good ad.
Over the course of the business a lot of stuff has gone wrong and you need to just make sure you learn from each error. An example of something we struggled with was sampling, when we designed and launched our first in-house collection. You make a prototype and think that your design will translate to your supplier and they will make it how you want. But they won’t necessarily. Once it’s made, you can’t get your money back so when you are working with factories you can’t be scared to be specific. It can be difficult but you have to put your foot down. I used to have the attitude of; ‘oh lets just go with it, it’ll be fine’ – but now I have realised I need to slow it down, get it exactly right and save a lot of hassle down the road.
After selling the new lines and vintage side by side for a few years we decided that the products didn’t fit well together in terms of look or price points. It was at this point we launched Caked Vintage, the sister store to HOJ which now sells exclusively vintage and second hand items on ASOS Marketplace. I’m not sure how much longer we will continue to sell vintage though, as the game is changing. Sourcing stock is one issue, but also I feel ready for a new challenge. It’s difficult to expand the business past this point with vintage as it’s so labour intensive with such low margins and you have to house it all and shoot each product individually. There’s also a lot more competition than when we started, which drives prices down as people try and undercut each other.
Photo by Matt Monfredi
We have talked about hiring people to run Caked for us so we can focus on new solo projects and try working separately. Although myself and Steve get on great, it’s hard working with your partner all day then going home together in the evening – it’d be nice to have something else to talk about!
My main focus for the near future is my own brand that more reflects my personal style now. I’d like a fresh start with a whole new aesthetic, completely unconnected to the vintage we’ve sold in the past. I think the new vision is more minimal, oversized, print-based designs, like basics with a twist. I’d like to work with a print designer and produce in-house prints and fabrics; Instagram has made it easier to hook up people up for creative collabs.”