Winner Profile: Vintage Village

Vintage Village is organised by Alan Lowe and Sarah Norris, but it didn’t start off that way… Read on to find out more about the 2012 Winners of Best Vintage Fair! This is the second in our series on the the winners from the Best of Vintage Manchester Awards this year- stay tuned!

Back in the summer of 2010, Alan approached Stockport Market’s management with an idea to open up the Victorian Covered Market Hall on a Sunday for a vintage fair.  Up until that point, the market hall was always closed on Sundays, but Paul Downs, the market manager, and Esther Morrison of Stockport Council were keen to give it a try and offered their full support.  The first vintage fair was held in September 2010 and Sarah was one of the stall holders.

This event hosted about 20 stalls, barely half of which was vintage, was only lightly attended and not the greatest of starts, but it was up and running!  Sarah approached Alan and told him that the venue was fantastic and the fair had great potential, but it needed much better promotion, and rashly offered to create a website, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts, and got very bossy about the need to create a distinctive identity.  The Vintage Clothing and Accessories fair became The Vintage Village, and shortly afterwards the very talented Toni Child kindly offered her design services (completely out of the blue!) and helped create our logo, as well as the basis of our poster and leaflet design.

Lace & Liquor Vintage stallholders at Vintage Village, photo by Frankie Cooksey.

One of the key principals for Vintage Village is the importance of looking after their traders, because any event of this type stands or falls on the quality of its goods, and the happiness (or otherwise!) of the people trying to sell them.  They offer traders their own free Trader’s Page on the website to showcase their business, and hold the Finds of the Fair  each month, which involves a specially invited guest whose mission is to browse around all the stalls and pick out their personal favourite items from the fair.  This has proved very popular, not only with the traders for highlighting some of fantastic pieces they bring along and giving full credit to them, but also the job of Finder of the Fair itself, which Alan and Sarah have no problem recruiting for.

Neither Alan or Sarah had any assets or finance at the beginning, literally starting from nothing and they used whatever free facilities they could find, such as the Google-based website.  They believe they are still only starting really and are learning all the time.

Before Vintage Village came along Alan had a print design business, and had started selling vintage clothing as a sideline three years ago, although he had been interested in vintage for quite some time before.  His first venture in fair organising was at a mill in Reddish, which is where Sarah first met him when she took a stall there.

As for Sarah well she’d been a collector of old things since childhood, going through numerous phases including radios, plaster ornaments and pulp fiction paperbacks.  She always wore second-hand clothes as kids because money was tight, but her mum was heavily influenced by Biba and would always be amazingly turned out in cheaply acquired 1930’s dresses, or 1940’s suits and snakeskin platforms even though they couldn’t always afford to turn the heating on!

In the late 1980’s Sarah’s mum started a vintage clothing business called 20th Century Frocks in Lincoln – by basically emptying her wardrobe – and soon found a shop premises on Lincoln’s Steep Hill which ran until about 2000.  Sarah would help her at the shop, and had done plenty of buying and selling herself by that time, but then left to study Design History as a mature student at the University of Brighton.  After her studies, she moved to Stockport with a load of collections in boxes, trunks and suitcases, and two hefty overdrafts. So to make some money she started selling off some of the stuff she’d hoarded.

Browsing Photo by Alan Lowe.

Alan loves the sense of achievement he feels when he sees people turning up on the day, after all the hard work behind the scenes pulling it all together.  Getting a real buzz from seeing everyone enjoying themselves, and, the fact that a few traders who made their start at our fairs- selling part-time are now running successful businesses themselves, most notably Stuart Thornley Cake Design, which he finds incredibly rewarding.

Sarah’s favourite aspects of running the fair are meeting so many like-minded, informative, imaginative – and sometimes a teensy bit eccentric, it must be said – people, both stall holders and visitors. She also love thinking up new ideas, whether it is for themes for each fair, new attractions, competitions or give-away’s.  She trys to stay away from clichés and constantly works to keep it fresh for the friendly and enthusiastic crowd.

Regular customers Bill and Michelle Bridges. Photo by Alan Lowe.

One thing that really stands out for both Sarah and Alan is seeing people dressed up in their vintage finery when attending the fairs, which they feel is the best compliment. Vintage Village also has a huge and loyal following on Twitter and Facebook, and one of the things Alan and Sarah are thrilled to see is to see people posting photos of their best buys, which they then showcase in the Visitors’ Gallery.

Future plans for Vintage Village are perhaps another venue in a different area, but Alan and Sarah are both keen for it to be in another equally historic and attractive building as Stockport’s market hall.  That’s a challenge, because there’s a lot of other vintage fairs out there and precious little new territory to discover, but they’re working on it.

In the meantime, they will be continually developing The Vintage Village, adding and enhancing it with whatever they can think up and sort out within their budget (and usually at the last minute, knowing them!)