Written November 2011.
Sitting in the middle of Bedford Place (Southampton) is Hepwrights, a vintage shop, selling a variety of clothing and accessories from previous decades. Although many shops surround it, there is a certain charm to the shop that forces you to look inside. The shop itself is comforting; the deep green colour of the carpet, the buzz of the customers, the positioning of the lighting. Rated as one of the best vintage boutiques in the South, Hepwrights offers more than a simple shopping experience. Here, these clothes have lives, stories of how they got to where they are.
Catherine stands at the front of the room, head to toe in vintage clothing; a maroon Windsmoor skirt, a long flowing crepe lace jacket and a beautiful hand crafted necklace, which was originally a brooch, adapted by one of her suppliers. It is obvious she takes pride in her appearance. “I cannot help but express myself through clothes,” she beams. “It’s just who I am.”
She is an expressive character and even describes herself as eccentric and sharp, saying she has similar characteristics to those of a Spaniel; excitable, interested in everything, full of life and energy. She shows this in how she presents herself, using hand gestures when she speaks and sighing heavily with wide eyes before explaining a long winded story.
She is pleasant to talk to and a joy to watch. She’s infectious. Even when talking about harder times in her life she emphasises how overcoming those times made her a stronger, braver person and how light can always come out of the dark.
“Life just throws shit at you sometimes, doesn’t it?”
Catherine started her business 7 years ago. The reason she was open to a change in her life was due to having just recovered from severe depression. The tone of her voices lowers slightly as describes how the disease affected her. “With most people who go through trauma, there tends to be a before and an after.” But battling her issues helped her overcome new fears. “I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do it otherwise,” she insists.
She and a friend, Donna, decided that between the two of them, they had enough clothes that they didn’t wear that it made sense to sell them on to people who would appreciate the beautiful pieces of clothing that were just gathering dust in their wardrobes. ‘A Lass Too Fat’ was one of the original names for the business, as that was the main reason - they believed - for the clothes to be sold. However, they settled with the name ‘Spy Baby Vintage’. And that’s where it all kicked off. With a budget of £250 and Donna’s spare bedroom, Spy Baby Vintage was steadily materialising.
As all successful companies do, it expanded. “First, we moved into my front room but there wasn’t enough room there either. So we moved into the basement of my friend’s coffee shop,” Catherine recollects. She never intended on owning a shop and wanted the business to be online. But as soon as the customers upstairs learnt what was beneath the floorboards, they couldn’t resist taking a look.
“To begin with, I said the clothes weren’t for sale, but I gave in. Most of the time we hadn’t even worked out a price so if a woman came to me asking how much, I would say, maybe, £120 for a skirt and if they replied ‘Bargain!’ I remember thinking ‘Damn, I should have priced it higher!’ ”
They stayed in the basement for about a year, until one day, not too long after they officially put a sign up announcing themselves to the public; the owner asked them to leave. “It was only temporary,” admits Catherine.
And as they left the basement, Donna left the company. “She’s a musician,” Catherine clarifies, “This was more a hobby for her, where it was something I wanted to do full time.” Although the partnership ended, Catherine still respected Donna’s wishes. “She asked me to change the name. ‘Spy Baby Vintage’ was our project.”
This is where ‘Hepwrights’ came into play. “I wanted something classic,” she explains, “So I took ‘Hep’ from Katherine and Audrey Hepburn and also the Hep Cats,” which instantly says a lot about her style and taste. She rented a small office space, and although she planned on staying online, held an open door sale once a month.
But then life got dark again for Catherine. Between 2007 and 2008, both of her children fell ill, her house burned down and she was in two separate car accidents. The strength she shows whilst talking about this time is astounding. Having lost the majority of her possessions, she had to rebuild her life again from scratch. The only thing she had intact was her business.
After two years of being in the office space, Catherine decided to start looking for a shop. “I started put all my energy and focus into the open door sale and public buyers. I would have one, and then spend the month planning the next.”
She signed the lease on 34 Bedford Place, Southampton on September 27th 2010. Having just celebrated it’s first birthday, Hepwrights is constantly moving forward, from a homemade business to one of the best vintage stores of the south. The combination of the clothes and the atmosphere and of course, the lovely Catherine Wright, makes Hepwrights a shopping experience to remember.
She sees her store as more of an adoption agency. “Each piece fits one person. The sizes vary in vintage clothing, the woman’s shape were entirely different.” And she knows the story behind practically every piece of clothing in the store, which is helped by having private suppliers where everything is sourced within Hampshire.
Visit her website http://hepwrights.com/ or follow her on Twitter @hepvintage. And if you’re ever in Southampton, pop in and say hello. Catherine herself makes the journey worthwhile.