how she did it

Case Studies // “My Biggest Risk Became ...

“My Biggest Risk Became Not Following My Dreams”

Woman of the Week 26th February 2012

“My biggest risk became not following my dreams of working with vintage fashion, being self-employed, and most importantly having the luxury to design my own future.” Read Claire Robinson’s story below.

What does your business do?

Circa Vintage Auctions is a charming new business venture to the West Midlands. Following my Fashion Retail Management degree I set up Circa Vintage Auctions, where I specialise in valuing and auctioning vintage fashion items. This includes clothing, accessories, footwear and jewellery for ladies and gentlemen. Sales also include vintage fabric and other sewing paraphernalia.

Circa Vintage Auctions aims to promote a young, fresh, up-to-date and chic approach to live auctions, whilst introducing new and exciting to the world of vintage fashion.

Each sale has a fabulous combination of designer labels, unique or handmade pieces, and grouped lots.

The lots come from all sorts of places. Some are from my personal collection which I have added to for years. Some belong to people who lived through those times and other are passing on their relatives memories.

Each piece is sentimental and special, and it’s this romance that makes me fall in love with each piece.

For my clients I value, photograph, catalogue, write about on my blog and sell their items to their maximum potential. It costs £2 per lot, not matter the value or size, which is unusual for auction houses, who usually charge many confusing and hidden costs. Upon the successful sale of a lot the vendor is also charged 16% commission, which is competitively low, hoping to encourage client retention.

The photographs and valuations are compiled into a digital catalogue which is not only uploaded onto the website but is also sent out via email to the 200+ people we have on our database already!

The weeks of work I put in all come down to the exciting live auctions which are a great opportunity to pick up unique designer pieces, vintage winter coats and glamourous party frocks at a great price!

Plus, it’s also a fabulous opportunity for vintage traders to pick up some fantastic new stock.

Lucky winners get to pay for and take home their new items at the fall of the hammer and our buyer’s premium charges are also very competitively low!

I hope this method of selling vintage fashion is new and exciting for everyone and can continue to breathe new life into some of the worlds most legendary and classic designs.

Circa Vintage Auctions puts great emphasis on the ethical benefits of vintage fashion and sees it as a fantastic method of recycling and reusing. I continue this value with every aspect of the business possible, including the packaging, flyers and stationary we use being reused or made of recycled materials.

What motivate you to start your business?

My fashion background stems from a long-standing fascination with vintage and antique fashion.

Upon completing a BA hons in Fashion Retail Management, I have gained valuable experience and knowledge in the area of fashion business.

My 3rd year dissertation combined business skills with my interest in vintage fashion, and brought my natural entrepreneurial spirit to life. The idea of applying for graduate jobs, attending interviews and working for a large faceless company didn’t excite me enough to do it.

My biggest risk became not following my dreams of working with vintage fashion, being self-employed, and most importantly having the luxury to design my own future.

I have since completed a course with The Prince’s Trust, and upon successfully pitching my business to their panel was rewarded funding which supported the development and viability of Circa Vintage Auctions.

What’s a day in the life of you like? 

When I wake up I check my email before getting ready to go to work. I don’t drive so catch two buses to where my office is located. I use the time on the bus effectively by contacting clients and sending emails from my Blackberry.

If an auction is approaching I often take detours to work and distribute flyers and business cards.

When I arrive at the office I begin photographing items for the current sale. It is important to do this during the day as natural day light makes the photographs look ten times better! Each garment is carefully fitted onto the mannequin with pins to show how the garment fits. Each item also has a few closeup shots to show the patterns or detailing.

During the day clients often contact me via phone, email or even by visiting me in the office so I need to be ready for this at any time. They often want a valuation immediately, which is possible, however I do like to do thorough research on every item I receive so ask the client if it would be okay for me to find out as much as possible so I can be as accurate as possible.

As the evening draws in I sit down to touch up (on photoshop) and rename the photographs, so they relate to the lot numbers in the catalogue. I also update the catalogue, for which I use a specialised computer system for.

Once I have completed this and have got up to date with my catalogue I log on the my social media accounts; Facebook and Twitter and spread the word about Circa Vintage Auctions.

I also update the blog on my website, often with my favourite lot of the day. This is automatically linked to facebook, twitter and linkdin so the website is generating traffic from every angle!

I make an effort to attend as many local networking events as possible, this means there is usually 3-4 a month. These may be first thing in the morning, after work, or meeting my Princes’ Trust mentor.

Being as I am working on every aspect of Circa Vintage Auctions I am constantly thinking and working but I love every minute of it!

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Learning to switch off! I am still to perfect the art!

I am very hard working and have a lot of ideas so find it very difficult to include other things in my life! I often sacrifice other things for the well being of by business.

How did you overcome these challenges? 

I am still to overcome this!

What advice would you give to other business owners?

You have to both want and expect to work hard- if you’re in the right business you will be passionate about it to take it in your stride and enjoy the work! That’s the point of running your own business!

How do you keep motivated during difficult times? 

Think about the dead-end job I would be in if I didn’t persevere!

What’s your favourite quote? 

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

{Coco Chanel}

Who inspires you?

My boyfriend Chris. He is a successful business man and a very lovely, energetic and positive person. I look at him and what he has accomplished and see what can be achieved!

Do you have a business philosophy?

Honesty is the best poilcy!


Twitter: @Circa_Vintage_



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