A small shop in Chelsea highlights why opting for second hand can even better than buying new, finds Lucy Cleland.
Sign of the Times (SOTT) has sat quietly on Elystan Street, just off quaint Chelsea Green, for the past 35 years. It’s beloved by its long-standing local clientele, who come in to browse rails of exceptionally high quality second-hand designer clobber – Chanel, Prada and Gucci, along with Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana and Margaret Howell – in its bright white surrounds.
In the past year, though, since the young and energetic Antonia Timpany, 34, took over the reins, it’s making its digital presence very much felt and introducing some exciting new initiatives. ‘When I first got involved with the business, everything was still done on written receipts,’ says Antonia, who was given work experience at the store straight after university. She’d cut her fashion resale teeth already having set up and grown Timpanys, another pre-owned designer resale store in Berkshire (which still exists online, driving the audience to the SOTT site). Now, though, in a plan inevitably hastened by Covid-19, new items are put straight on Instagram or Whatsapp and the response has been remarkable – with buyers and sellers engaged all over the world.
‘My aim is to make resale better than retail,’ says Antonia, about her plans for SOTT. ‘We can deliver to London same day, and can have something shipped to New York, for example, with next-day delivery.’ And of course she’s already got an advantage as the tide slowly shifts towards sustainability as the most important consideration when it comes to replenishing our wardrobes. Buying endless new stuff isn’t as guilt-free as it used to be and the trend is definitely towards recirculation of what’s already out there.
And what’s not to love? The feel-good factor, not only of discovering an item that’s not piled high among others exactly the same on the shelves or hanging on racks, but also of knowing its authenticity and quality are verified (the team is rigorous when it comes to choosing only the best quality products), not to mention the price, equates to a win-win buying experience. It also allows access to some of the most vaunted fashion names out there. Such is our attachment to certain brands and the hold they have over us that just possessing a Chloé silk shirt or a Gucci belt in our designer armoury can mean a lot.
Antonia’s most exciting new enterprise has been introducing a personal styling experience, deploying her secret weapon, store manager Claudine, who’s been with the business for 21 years. Claudine knows the clientele – and the product – inside out. She can pull together an outfit in five seconds flat and makes for a fantastic sounding board when it comes to your own style anxieties. You can book in for a private session before or after opening hours (or via video call); or, of course, they can come to you. With this flexible, personal and digital approach to second-hand, Sign of the Times’ future is surely assured – not something you can easily say about a business in these uncertain days.