From ‘Trash’ to Treasure: An Interview with Vicki Malone
Vicki Malone is a Scottish designer, currently based in Berlin. With her label ‘Vic & Lily’, Malone adapts and styles vintage clothes to sell on sites like Etsy and ASOS. On her blog, Vicki encourages readers to up-cycle with easy to follow DIYs. Her work has gained a worldwide following, exemplifying highly creative, sustainable fashion.
TW: You started selling vintage fashion in 2011 while living in Hong Kong. Why vintage?
VM: I had been acquiring a lot of vintage for myself. In Hong Kong space is limited so, like everyone, I was running out of space. I had a lot of stuff I wasn’t wearing anymore, so I thought, ‘why don’t I try and sell it?’. I thought I’d share it with other people.
And you found there was a big interest?
Yeah, people were surprised. In general, they wanted ‘new new new’. A lot of the younger people got it, but many were still kind of funny about it. When I started selling on the internet, because some of the stuff was a bit different to what you would find in the States or in the UK, it was something new for them.
You say the young people in Hong Kong got it. Research has shown that millennials are the biggest consumers of vintage fashion. Is that something you have found?
When I started doing my markets, I just assumed that the people who would want vintage were people my age or a bit younger. I would take it to the markets thinking that my customers are all just going to be 18-30, but there would be older people coming up saying, ‘Oh, this is lovely’. I was really shocked at who my customer base was.
Releasing your debut collection last November, you said ‘every piece is made by us.’ Who is ‘us’? How does your production work?
It’s just me! I am Lily as well. It was a name I gave to a company I had before I went to Hong Kong. It always sounded a bit more fun, and she’s also kind of my alter-ego. Obviously, I have help sometimes. I would love to build this up so I can have a team, and I’m still trying to work out things. I think it could be a great business model for helping a community. I’m still trying to find the best ways to take garments apart so it’s affordable and the garment at the end isn’t £200.
The reasoning behind your business is sustainability. On your blog, you say it is one of your ‘top beliefs’. It's now a buzzword in fashion. Why is eco-fashion particularly pressing?
I’ve been thinking about these things for a long time because I have a supplier background. The more of the garment a supplier makes, the cheaper the garment will be to buy. There's so much waste because it’s all about profit. I watched a documentary called ‘True Cost’ and I was screaming at the television and crying. We've got to make better choices. I’ve shopped at Primark and H&M before, but now I try not to.
Your clothes are also affordable. Why was that important to you?
When I was a student, and even in the last few years of high school, my friends and I would take trips to Edinburgh to this great vintage store, but it was quite expensive! If you wanted to buy a really nice vintage dress, you wouldn’t want to spend more than you would for a regular dress, right? I base myself as my customer; I want to make sure that I can afford it.
People often forget that it’s not just the clothes that are sustainable, but the people making them as well.
Of course! I treat myself fairly, but if I was paying others there is no way that the garment would be affordable if I was paying them a fair wage. At the moment, I’m just having fun and playing about with things. Pricing things according to how I feel they should be priced, how much I’d want to pay, and how much I think they’re worth. So yes, sustainability is one important aspect in treating the Earth well, but we also need to care about the people who make the garments.
Part of your business is ‘DIYs’. Your blog features articles on how we can make our own outfits from vintage items, or clothes we already own. In one post, you turn an outdated dress into a jumpsuit. Why do people do this?
A lot of people want to be different. They don’t want to buy from H&Mand walk down the street and see someone wearing exactly the same thing. I want to offer something else, and because I have the background I have the ability to do it. It is also an outlet for my creativity.
There's so much waste because it’s all about profit.
You said before that you view your customer like yourself. So do you believe that customers are willing to take clothes apart?
The reason I do the DIYs and the upcycling is to tell people that it is a possibility - you’re not restricted. Just because the garment is this way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. It’s educating people. I taught myself how to sew on the machine but I liked to keep things as simple as possible. So if I can do it, I know that others can too.
Your debut collection focused on ‘easy to wear shapes’, and you opt for styles that ‘can be dressed up or down depending on how you feel.’ But ease is not always the priority in fashion - why is it for you?
I’m always running about or making garments on my floor - I’m always doing things. You don’t want to be constricted in what you wear. Don’t get me wrong, I love to dress up. I like to pile on a whole bunch of jewellery or wear printed pants or add a pair of heels. But if you go out, you want to be dancing. You want to make sure your outfit can accommodate that.
Part of your skill is identifying items that have ‘potential’. What does that mean for you?
When I’m scouring through markets or thrift stores some garments are easy; I could resell that no problem. Sometimes it’s such a shame when an item is stained. But it could be made of a really great fabric, and sometimes it would work well as something else, or the print’s really fun. There was one time I found this huge dress. It was a really cute polka dot print and I thought, ‘Ah, I’ll add elastic to the waist – super simple.’ It looked great.
Do you gravitate towards certain periods, or do you not think of fashion like that?
Most of the time it’s just what catches my eye. I’m in love with 1930s fashion, and a lot of the stuff that comes up on my Pinterest is beachwear from the ‘30s.
How do you ensure the style fits now? A reason why some steer clear from vintage is the fear of looking like an extra in a period drama…
When I started buying vintage for myself and my friends, we would pick up stuff and we’d just cut it shorter. And sometimes, we’d get rid of the ‘80s sleeve or take the shoulder pads out – automatically you look less like an American football player. Cutting hemlines and sleeves are the most effective way of modernizing a garment.
You sometimes feature pieces that come from your grandmother, and some are so special you can’t help but keep them. Has family influenced your idea of fashion?
I’d never really thought about it before. My great-grandmother and grandma kept all of the stuff that had passed on through the family. They wrote down everything - what it was, where it had come from. Those pieces are really precious. Whenever my grandmother went out to a special occasion, she’d wear gloves. Who does that now? But she did. Inadvertently, that love of the old has seeped into my veins. I have all these gloves although they're really pretty to look at, I'd rather they got a life. One person's trash is someone else’s treasure. Some people buy vintage items for inspiration, or redevelop into new fashion, so who knows where these things go. But if I’m helping someone else to be creative, it’s a wonderful thing.
Vic and Lily can be found at: