HLN meets: Beth Chappell, owner of The Pansy Garden Vintage
Call it the Little Women effect, or our increasing desire to shop second hand—either way, vintage clothing sales are soaring. HLN talks to Beth about taking trend-led, curated vintage shopping online.
By Jenny Brownlees
A large majority of the high-fashion collections we see on the runway are heavily inspired by decades gone by, meaning the real deal is often very right now. In spite of this, many stylish shoppers dismiss retro fashion—citing a lack of time or patience to scour vintage shops for one-of-a-kind gems. This has been cleverly remedied by a new generation of vintage traders who are doing the hard work for you, sourcing the chicest curated collection of vintage for you to browse—say hello to shopping via your Instagram feed. Newcastle-based Beth Chappell is amongst this new generation of sellers, expertly hand-picking unique, trend-focussed wares that customers will cherish forever. Her business, The Pansy Garden Vintage has amassed an impressive twelve thousand followers on Instagram alone, has gained fashion influencer-approval and supplies a loyal customer base worldwide—not to mention being featured in national press including Who What Wear, Refinery 29, Restless magazine and more. The Pansy Garden stands out not only for its stylish weekly drops of wear-forever womenswear sold at an affordable price point, but for the female-strong, women-championing community it has built alongside the business. Here, HLN talks to Beth about style, sustainability and retro’s recent revival…
Hi Beth, can you tell us a little about you and the path that lead you to starting your business?
I’m Beth, I’m 25 and I was born and raised in the heart of the West End of Newcastle. I started The Pansy Garden last summer, in 2019. When I started selling vintage I had no idea that it would become my full-time job, and essentially my whole life. I had just left a retail job to begin a PGCE teaching fashion and textiles. I’ve always been a casual buyer of vintage, a seller, retro-obsessed and a hoarder, but I never saw it as a career option—I was always pushed towards getting ‘a real job’. During the few months gap I had between leaving my job and starting the PGCE, I dug out the vintage I had been collecting since I was sixteen and launched The Pansy Garden. I saw it as an extremely pleasurable time filler to begin, but by the time August came around, things were really beginning to take off. People seemed to love the products I loved, which was the best feeling. Selling vintage pieces quite quickly changed from something tiny to something much bigger. I had previously studied BA fashion at Newcastle College, so I found TPG a great way for me to utilise my skills and focus all of my creative energy. As the business grew, I decided to not go ahead with the PGCE and pursue the wonderful journey that is Pansy. Although saying that, teaching still remains in the back of my mind, especially being up North where we have a lack of working-class people entering the creative industries.
Who in your mind is The Pansy Girl?
A Pansy Girl could be anyone—there is no one characteristic which could define my girls, other than a deep love for vintage. I have customers from New York to Hong Kong and each and every one of them shares that passion.
Do you enjoy shopping and wearing vintage clothing yourself? Do you have a favourite era or style to buy for TPG?
I have always been obsessed with Subcultures and this is the main reason I entered the world of vintage all those years ago. When I was sixteen I’d dress head to toe in vintage, from 60’s crimplene dresses to 70’s flares. It’s strange because back then vintage wasn’t seen as cool as it is now. These days my outfits are a lot more relaxed, I like to style myself in a way that doesn’t look costumey. Pansy mainly focuses on late 60s and 70s fashion, as I believe those eras are the most wearable and frankly, they’re timeless. Designers like The Vampires Wife and Gucci heavily influence Pansy, just as they themselves are vintage-inspired.
Can you share the steps you took to set up the business? Was selling via Instagram so much easier than setting up a bricks and mortar store, or did it present its own challenges?
I began Pansy with nothing but the stock I had been collecting for eight years. During my time at university, I went through the classic ‘who am I’ phase and bought so many items that became sadly abandoned, until I unearthed them last summer. In the latter part of the third year of my degree, I also managed to buy two rails of the most amazing pieces for a steal, and this was predominantly what I used to build the foundations of my business. Quite early on I decided the online market was so much more me, and much more fitting for Pansy. I wouldn’t describe Pansy as overly commercial, although I do stock trend-led products, and I feel my products really market themselves better online rather than in a physical store. For me, social media comes naturally—I enjoy really connecting with like-minded individuals and building a community online. I have traded at vintage fairs in the past, and as much as I enjoyed it and loved meeting people with similar interests, the online market is just so much more fitting for TPG. I have made some of the most amazing friends from all over the world through being online.
Vintage clothing is a token of the past, and often has a backstory. Are you able to find these out, and are these important to you?
I have been told many amazing stories about some of the pieces I have. Not too long ago I bought a group of dresses from a woman who had actually used them for a charity fashion show herself in the ’70s, she told me about all of the mischiefs that went on that night, which is just so wonderful. Although I do love the stories behind the garments, this isn’t really what I look for—I look for quality first. Secondly, I always ask myself if the garment is wearable, I like pieces that someone could buy look totally on-trend in.
We love the many beautiful prints available at Pansy. Do you have a favourite print style to wear or sell?
I love, love, love chintzy floral prints, those that resemble an old Laura Ashley wallpaper—this is undoubtedly my favourite style. They are just so wearable and modern prints are never quite the same!
Has there been anyone who has worn The Pansy Garden that’s given you a pinch me moment?
I generally scream inside when anyone shops from Pansy and loves their item, as that’s really what makes it all worthwhile. I’m also really lucky that I have an incredible customer base made up of some of the trendiest girls and fashion influencers. Liv Purvis, (@livpurvis) https://www.instagram.com/livpurvis/ Rebecca (@aclotheshorse)https://www.instagram.com/aclotheshorse/ Sophia Rosemary https://www.instagram.com/sophia_rosemary/?hl=enand Harmony Youngs (@harmonyyoungs) https://www.instagram.com/harmonyyoungs/ have all shopped and worn Pansy dresses which to me is just insane.
Do you have a favourite vintage icon you think had great style?
This is a tricky one for me because although I do love icons of the past, I generally look forward. When I first started selling vintage and I was bang into the 60’s I was, of course, obsessed with Twiggy. As time has progressed, I look at current icons and designers of the past and present. My favourite past-time designers are Laura Ashley, Gina Fratini, Droopy and Browns and Jean Varon. My favourite current icons or designers are Harris Reed, The Vampires Wife and Gucci. I think this is because I’m a very fashion-forward and conceptual thinker and like my vintage to have a current edge.
What do you think vintage shopping or shopping small offers in comparison to other larger retailers?
When you shop vintage or from any small independent designer you know you are getting something totally unique. I think the reason my dresses are so popular is because there is usually only one of them! Although, a couple of times I have managed to find the same dress twice. Of course, there are positive environmental factors too, which is so important.
Competing with fast-fashion retailers that arguably contribute to the pollution of our planet, do you feel like you are playing a positive role in promoting vintage clothing as a source of sustainable fashion? Is the sustainability aspect important to the brand?
Sustainable fashion is hugely important to me, although I would be lying if I said I didn’t wear some modern clothing too. I always ensure anything I do buy will be worn plenty of times and that it’s a staple. I feel like Pansy promotes sustainable fashion well, especially since considering over this last year the prairie trend has flooded the high street. I am trying to show people that vintage is the original, and the original will always be the best. I’ve seen a huge influx of people buying vintage who have never shopped it before. The tides are turning and it’s amazing to see so many people are steering away from fast fashion and moving into vintage or even buying from independent labels.
One of the common complaints from women wanting to shop vintage is that sizes were so much smaller then, so it’s often difficult to find a vintage garment as a plus size woman. What do you think about this? And is sizing something you’d like to expand on in future?
This is something that really gets to me too, because I wish I could stock more plus size garments. I try my best to get a good size range but truthfully, it’s the hardest part of the job. A vintage size 12 measures to a modern UK 8, this is why it is so difficult. But I am and always will be working to try to find and stock larger sizes.
To someone new to shopping vintage, what would you suggest to look out for? Are there any suit-all styles to try?
I like encouraging people to experiment, although with Pansy being fashion-forward, what I sell is usually quite trendy anyways. I have a few friends who wouldn’t have ever been seen rifling the rails of a second-hand shop, yet love the products I sell. I also encourage easing in by trying a staple item like a blouse or a pair of flared trousers. Today, our high street is flooded with knock offs of these and as I’ve said previously, you cannot beat the real thing.
What does a typical day running TPG entail for you?
Pansy is solely run by me and I usually work seven days a week, from morning until night. Some days are more relaxed than others, but they all consist of something work-related, whether that be shooting stock or catching up with customer queries, I am always on the go. I recently got my first little studio in Heaton and I spend four days a week there shooting stock, sizing up and matching edits. My favourite part of the job is sourcing and matching. I have an obsession with curating edits and drops and putting a collection together is the task I thrive on.
We love your look books, brand imagery, and how inclusivity your model choices are – is this important to the TPG?
To me, one of the most important things about my brand imagery is relatability. I don’t want anything too perfect looking, I want my girls to look and feel a correlation between the images and themselves. I recently began working with a local photographer and stylist Darina Mohammed, (@d_a_r_i_n_a_x)https://www.instagram.com/d_a_r_i_n_a_x/. Darina has the perfect style for Pansy and she’s such a lovely, creative person. I try to choose relatable and diverse models more than anything else, although I would like to be even more diverse and showcase plus-size models, but as I said it’s so tough with vintage as the sizes are generally really small.
What do you hope for the future of the brand? What are your short term and long term goals?
I have big dreams for Pansy, although I’m sure it will be a long and bumpy road. I plan to keep sourcing the best garments I can and eventually have enough products to cater to everyone. I also really want to keep growing the Pansy Collections and editorials, I feel they are the thing that truly makes Pansy more than a standard vintage shop.