Hester Fleming turned a love of Vintage Jewelry into a thriving online business. Read about her journey from London to New York and back to Sydney.
Tell us about yourself and your business, particularly what inspired you to begin.
I started buying and selling genuine vintage jewelry and Accessories in 2010, when I was living in London. I loved spending the weekend exploring the markets of Bermondsey, Camden Passage, Spitalfields and the large collector fairs around regional England. To help sharpen my buying eye, I gravitated to reference books to help distinguish particular styles with eras, and back my investment! I knew there was a strong market of clients interested in vintage, however they lacked the time to source pieces at a reasonable cost, so this is where I could come in.
Once I built up a large enough collection, I rented a showcase at Grey’s Antique Market Mews in Mayfair, London. However, it was a challenging time in London to start a business. The economy had gone into shock and people weren’t shopping the way they used to. Lack of foot traffic and sluggish sales in the antique centre, led me to develop my own website. I had been working for a digital publishing company, so I felt I had the skills to experiment with an ecommerce platform, and implement an integrated marketing plan.
To measure interest online, I sold a few test pieces through my Facebook profile. The result was really positive, so I launched my own site with an email newsletter over a few weeks. Towards the end of 18months in business, my husband, James, and I were asked to move to New York at the end of 2011! I was excited to explore what the New York vintage scene was all about but slightly daunted by how my business could work in a city where I knew no one.
What steps did you take to launch your business in a new country?
When I arrived in New York, I spent a lot of time investigating local markets and talking to the traders. Most weekends, I would get up early, coffee in hand and visit markets all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. I quickly realized 20th century signed Vintage Jewelry and Accessories was very accessible at a reasonable cost. I eventually developed a great rapport with a few traders, which enabled me to put together a collection that was far more in tune with the New York customer. I also worked on upgrading my website, organized a photoshoot for rebranding purposes (I’m still in love with the result), attended a few digital marketing workshops and conferences, continued to collect as many potential client email addresses as possible and had a baby! Once I was back on my feet, I decided for more momentum, I would participate in the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Shows and the Williamsburg Artist and Fleas market. Both were great for expanding my audience and feeling a part of the fashion fabric of New York. I can now say my customer base in New York includes stylists, fashion bloggers, jewelers, avid collectors of historical costume jewelry and the every day style conscious elite! I also met some wonderful friends in the trade who I will always treasure.
What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / I’ve made it in the USA moment.
As we all know, New York is tough. I was shocked when I observed how quickly customers browsed and purchased at vintage events. I wondered how I would ever make an impact. It was when customers started to email me last year, to check on my attendance at upcoming vintage events, that I knew I’d made an impact.
What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business in New York and how do you think it differs from doing so in Australia?
The key lesson theme for me, has been confidence. New York is so loud. However, I have learnt you can still make a significant impact by being true to yourself and what you’re offering the world. I’m currently in the process of setting up my business in Australia, so it will be interesting to see how the Sydney customer responds to my concept and whether it will need altering, like it did when I moved across from London to New York.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
I’ve found the best way to market my business has been by talking about it (with a constant stream of business cards), participating in events, and being consistent with email newsletters. Over summer last year, I wrote an ebook about vintage buying in New York, which created some buzz. I also had a great Instagram campaign running, which definitely helped with exposure and revenue.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been sharing information and their networks?
So many wonderful people have helped me along the way. Vintage traders who have been on the scene for decades are fantastic at imparting their knowledge. The organizers of vintage events have been so supportive once I’ve pitched my concept to them. For an extra push, last summer I joined Lucy Shahjahan’s Momentum Circle program. I loved connecting with like minded individuals, in a fun and productive environment. The process helped sharpen my brand, increase revenue and move forward with new ideas.
What advice would give someone thinking about starting a business?
For everything I have invested in my business, there has always been a return one way or another. Don’t have any expectations. Build a business concept that you are genuinely excited about. It’s what you learn and the community you build with it, that adds so much value into your life.
What is next for your business?
My husband, daughter and I have recently relocated to Sydney, so I’m in the process of setting up my business here. Selling to Australians in New York has given me the confidence there is a market ready for me here.
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