Friday, 19 November 2010

Article in Craft Business magazine - all about the Rag Rescue business.

On the Shopfloor

After discovering a trunk full of 1840s clothing, Sandie Kerensky decided to put her passion for textiles to good use and launch a business like no other. Read on for her inspirational story

Having worked as a special needs teacher for more than 18 years, I had grown tired of the increasing amount of time I was spending handling the managerial side of things and decided to throw caution to the wind and try something new. I was 45 years old and although it was a huge risk, I knew it was ultimately the right thing for me to do.

From a very young age, I always had a very keen interest in textiles and soon began working with my husband selling antiques. It was an amazing experience and we would literally go from one fair to another to see what we could find. However, it was not until 1996 when I came across an old trunk full of fabulous 1840s clothing, that the idea for Rag Rescue really took hold.

Following my discovery, I spent the next two weeks going through all the mesmerising items I had found to see if there was anything I could rescue. The costumes themselves were simply awe inspiring and although many of them were in a terrible state and had certainly seen better days, I was amazed at the vast amount of components – buttons, ribbons and scraps of fabric, for instance – that I was able to salvage from them.

On a mission to ensure they went to a good home, but also curious to discover whether they could present a profitable opportunity for me, I decided to take them to a couple of fairs and see if they generated any interest. The response was simply extraordinary and before long I had everyone from dealers and collectors, to designers and students asking for my goods.

Realising that I could be on to something big, I quickly began looking for other distressed fabrics, such as laces, trimmings and ribbons, that I could sell and eventually decided to launch my own website, Rag Rescue, two and a half years ago.

An Innovative Idea
Specialising in one-of-a-kind, vintage haberdashery items, the store now boasts everything from salvaged embellishments, trimmings and lace work, to rediscovered sewing cottons, silks, embroideries and needles – many of which are simply impossible to find else where.

Materials tend to come from the unlikeliest of places and I find I will often come across the most amazing products when I least expect it. However, that is not to say I am not always on the lookout for things to rescue and I spend a great deal of my time visiting house clearances, auctions, antique fairs and car-boot sales to see what I can discover. I also have many people contacting me directly to say they have recently cleared out an old relatives attic and were wondering whether I would want to see if there might be anything of interest.   

Rag Rescue certainly is not your everyday craft store and while we might sell many of the same things as traditional haberdashery outlets, the fact that our goods have been salvaged and boast such a strong and fascinating history definitely makes them stand out. 

People's perceptions have really changed over the past few years and while there will always be customers looking for the latest products and materials, most generally seem to be moving away from many of the newer, more contemporary haberdashery items on the market and gravitating towards truly authentic, vintage materials from the past instead.

Environmental matters have also become increasingly important and people are now far more interested in where their goods have come from and whether or not they have been recycled than they were before – something which has definitely worked to our advantage.

I now have customers from all over the world purchasing their materials from me and tend to do a lot of business with people in Japan, Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Europe. America has also become a surprisingly strong market for us and we seem to have developed a huge following overseas, which is great. Having said that, the UK is definitely still our biggest area.

Customers use the materials for a range of different purposes and I am often amazed at just how inventive they can be. We really do attract a very varied demographic and while we get a lot of trade from professionals – dealers, antique collectors and designers, for example – we also appeal to an astonishing number of young shoppers as well, particularly art and fashion students who will usually continue buying their goods from us once they are established and also frequently recommend the store to their fellow colleagues and friends. Of course, crafters also account for a large part of our business and we literally have everyone from quilters and sewing enthusiasts, to embroiders and dressmakers shopping with us.

Hurdles to Overcome
As a complete newcomer to the industry, the greatest challenge for me has been getting my head around the internet and advertising side of things. It has definitely not been easy and is something I have pretty much had to start learning from scratch. Fortunately, my previous interest in textiles meant I had a good understanding of that aspect of the business, so I wasn't totally clueless!

Luckily, we have been given some great media coverage in the press since our launch and although we are still nowhere near as well known as we would like to be, we have certainly done our best to get our name out there. However, it has been difficult and there is still a lot more we would like to do to ensure people know who we are and what we are known for.

Of course, cash flow is always a problem and the overhead costs of visiting fairs can be extremely expensive. At the moment, we attend around two or three a month and have to fork out about £500 each time, which isn't cheap! 

The economic downturn has also been an obstacle and although we have not been affected by it personally, I have definitely noticed a change in our customers' behaviour and, whereas in the past most people would purchase as many items as they wanted from us during their visits to the site, we are now finding that shoppers are being more cautious and only buying one or two products at a time. They are also being a lot more careful about the choices they make and testing the waters before making their decisions.

Fortunately, we do not appear to have suffered at all so far and have actually experienced a massive boost in our sales over the past year, which is pretty amazing given the current climate. In fact, we are now selling approximately 500 to 600 of our items each month and have seen our customer base increase enormously since we launched.

Brighter Musings
At the moment, our smaller fabrics seem to be the most in favour, with consumers mixing and matching different materials to come up with their own designs. We are also seeing a growing number of people incorporate our accessories into their everyday garments – stitching old buttons onto new jackets, for example – to create something completely unique.

Our vintage French toile is also incredibly popular right now and literally sells out as soon as it goes on sale, with other materials from France also doing especially well. Anything from the 50s or 60s is also very much in favour and we are always on the lookout for new things from forgotten eras that we can stock.

Generally speaking, there seems to be a lot of interest in vintage clothing and materials at the moment and a number of different factors – the economy and environment, in particular – are encouraging a growing number of people to make their own things. Whether it's sewing an old ribbon onto one of their t-shirts or making an entire quilt out of scraps of old fabrics, customers are definitely more interested in reusing previously-owned items than they once were, which is great.

At present, I am really enjoying running the business and plan to put all my efforts into making it as successful as I possibly can. For me, Rag Rescue has never been about generating a big profit – although that is, of course, important – but ensuring that some of the world's most beautiful, hand-crafted pieces are not forgotten, but enjoyed, valued and recognised for as long as possible.”

No comments: