On Retro Fashion, Motivation & Individuality: Interview with Revival Retro founder Rowena

7. Dezember 2017

An interview with business lady Rowena from Revival Retro on individuality, motivation, retro fashion and the love for her customers.

Die deutsche Version des Beitrags findest du hier: „Über retro Mode, Motivation und Individualität – Interview mit Revival Retro Gründerin Rowena“. 

As you know I love speaking and writing about inspiring and strong women. Women, that conquer the world with their own independent businesses, ideas, designs and talents. My last interview this summer was a talk with Angelique from Topvintage Boutique and Vintage Diva Clothing.

Another woman, that inspires me a lot with her positive mind, incredible power and love for fashion, is Rowena Howie – the owner and founder of Revival Retro Boutique London. I visited her shop last year, had a wonderful day at one of her big blogger events and did a lovely photoshoot for her online shop, which I wrote about in my post „The making of a photoshoot“.

„I don’t consider it as selling clothes or having a shop. For me it’s about helping women feel confident, happy and feeling good about who they are.“ Rowena.

This year I was back again, for another wonderful two days at her boutique. I talked to her about her business, how it feels to live and work in the British capital, her new clothing range and how to stay positive and motivated as a business owner.

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Vintage Models Greta Gardner, Acid Doll and Nora Finds in front of the Revival Retro Boutique, wearing retro fashion from the store. 

The photos in this in this post were taken at another funny shooting day in September with Tory Smith, as well as on a blogger event at the store where I met some wonderful vintage ladies -Wilhelmina Af Fera, Nora Finds and Greta Gardner, Hettiesky, Sandy Doll, Misa Gasi and Miss Lillian Love and of course the wonderful and super sympathic sales ladies Sarah and Lottie.

Dear Rowena, how did you start with Revival Retro? Was it a one-woman-shop in the beginning? And what did you do before founding your own business and selling retro fashion?

I worked in the travel industry prior to Revival Retro, in many companies but immediately before Revival I worked specialising in overland trips from Asia to Europe.

I’d been working for them at their Australian HQ and when it was time to come home I flew to Bangkok but then travelled by train, van, jeep, donkey, horse, foot and boat all the way back to London. I worked for them for many years and I’m lucky enough to have visited some far flung destinations including Outer Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and the Hindu Kush.

Revival Retro came about because I took up swing dancing as a hobby in London. It wasn’t a bricks and mortar shop, it was just me selling dance shoes to friends and acquaintances at dance classes. I kept all the stock in my bedroom, I still had a day job I would go to.

Once I became the go to person for shoes, people started asking me for clothing they could dance in. The vintage scene was already big in London but vintage originals are often too fragile to dance in and the original clothing from the 1940s was already hard to find. ‘

Reproduction’ (retro fashion) or ‘vintage inspired’ clothing wasn’t very common when I started out, I had to import a lot of my range from the USA back then.

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Photos from our shoot at the British museum in London – Rowena wanted to have some typical British backgrounds. I am wearing autumn/winter fashion from the store.

All the photos in this post were taken by Tory Smith Photograpy.

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You are always such a positive, optimistic and cheerful lady! What is your secret about your amazing attitude? Have you ever been worried or in doubt when founding? And if so, how did you manage to face your doubts and overcome them?

Firstly, thank you. It doesn’t always feel that way.

I probably come across like that because I really believe in what I’m doing. I don’t consider it as selling clothes or having a shop. For me it’s about helping women feel confident, happy and feeling good about who they are.

Though I believe in that goal I am still wracked with worry and doubt every day. Running a business is really hard, I worry about London rents and rates, the website technical aspects, the paperwork and administration, the staff training and development, the emails I haven’t answered, the list of things I have not done yet… brexit, exchange rates, the future of the high street.

Sometimes the pressure of my work seems too much to bare, then I walk through the shop and I see a customer trying on something in which she looks amazing and I see the rapport between her and my staff and them both smiling and joking together.

That’s how I’m reminded all the hard work is worth it.

retro fashionAll of us vintage ladies trying to fit into one photo. We are wearing Revival Retro of course. 

What is special about having a business in London or in the UK?

Whether it’s London, the UK or anywhere in the world – what matters to me is that it is a physical store not just an internet store. With an internet store you don’t get to meet the people or build the same kind of relationships, we wouldn’t be able to offer our expertise in the same way or give the hands on help that makes all the difference.

Having said that, London is special, there’s nowhere else quite like London (and I’ve been to many cities around the globe). London is so multi cultural, there are locals and many many visitors from every walk of life.

The diversity makes it interesting, especially as we are in the business of helping people express themselves, finding their individual style.

retro fashionFounder Rowena on the day of the blogger event, welcoming all the ladies in her store. She is wearing the 40s inspired garments from her own new label. 

Fashion is now global, you see the same chain stores in every city but people who seek out small boutiques to shop for more unique items to express themselves – these are interesting people and make the best customers. That’s why having a physical shop is great – we get to people’s stories, who they are, why they are looking for something and what it means to them.

You are managing your shop for already seven years now. You are shipping lots of brands with an international online shop, have even been invited to Downing Street No.10 last year and won several awards with Revival Retro! What do you think makes your business so successful?

I think the success could be attributed to respect. I think people get that we care, that we are genuine and that we are passionate. It’s not just me, the whole team is like that. It doesn’t matter if retro is not your thing, it doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to shop, it doesn’t matter if you don’t live nearby, you can see what we are doing and why we are doing it.

You can see we love it. I think people admire and respect that, even if what we sell is not their thing.

Your own retro fashion range is in the making, what a big step! What made you come to this decision and what are the Revival Retro garments about?

We sell many of the best brands from all over the world but clothing companies are under pressure to make things as cheaply as possible, customers demand this. If a garment cannot be made economically or easily then it may not be made at all.

Talking to our customers in the shop we increasingly hear that our ladies are looking for value for money and not the cheapest. That gives us some scope to make some of the things that don’t get made elsewhere, or better versions of what can be found cheaply elsewhere.

A nicer fabric, a superior fit, an uncommon style. We are being guided by what our customers tell us they want to buy but can’t find.

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The first suit designed by Revival Retro. All these garments are made in London. You can find them on their website. For a typically British shoot it was raining of course!

retro fashionThat in sight and the relationship we have with customers to learn those truths is what gives me the confidence to move forward with this. Understanding what my customers value is what is driving the decisions of what to produce, when and how.

Because I value relationships and people it was important for me to be involved in the design and manufacture process. That’s why I’m currently making everything here in London; I get to know the people who are making my garments as well as who is buying them. We all talk, we learn, we do things better next time!

Do you think there is a contradiction between being a successful entrepreneur and selling garments inspired by a time when women were not independent enough to found their own labels, shops or businesses?

No I don’t, but for me Revival Retro is not about recreating the past, it’s about learning from it.
The clothes each of us chooses to wear on a daily basis give us the confidence to present ourselves to the world, to express the complex selves that we are, made up of hundreds and thousands of ideas and inspirations (unless you are trying to painstakingly copy someone else’s look but I don’t recommend that).

I am inspired by Chanel and Schiaparelli, I am emboldened by the Pankhursts, I dare to be different – thank you Dietrich. I am here because a WW2 nurse and the wounded soldier she was caring for fell in love with each other.

I am not a successful entrepreneur in sum total because of these heroines. I don’t dress according to their decade or design to live as they did then. I don’t refute the privations endured by our sex throughout history nor the modern ones we still struggle with today.

I think each and every one of us is challenged every day to resolve who we are, what we want to be, what we want to change. In making sense of our place in the world, individual expressions from what we wear to what we say and do, is informed by our understanding of the achievements and failures of the past but it is more focussed on the future we want to create.

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Above you see Acid Doll trying on a new pair of shows. Below you see Nora Finds and sales lady Sarah helping my find a perfect pair of retro trousers.

In my post on 50s Styling I show you how I did the Teddy Girl hairstyle.

retro fashionWhat is the message that you want to transport to your female customers – for example about fashion, self-confidence or style?

For me popular fashion is mass produced, it creates looks that can be copied. It is replicated until it is no longer popular and a new trend will emerge that will become the next popular fashion. In contrast style cannot be replicated. It emerges, changes, can be interpreted in many ways. It is not necessarily unique, but it is individual.

One is not better than the other, they both have merit, however, greater value can be found in style because you assign it’s worth rather than it being prescribed to you. I think it’s incredibly valuable to be able to exercise that kind of power. To be in control of how you assign worth, it affects self perception and acceptance, perhaps more importantly though it allows for change via self discovery and to find confidence in so doing.

In our youth, trends and fashion are more appealing. Vintage is also a trend led fashion for many and some may find they grow out of love with a vintage look.

The simple fact is it’s necessary to play with fashions and trends in order for your style to emerge and in fact it’s an ongoing process. During the course of our lives, our body changes, our circumstance change, our outlook changes. We change all the time and so does our style. The thing is, that’s ok.

Revival Retro is unusual for a clothes shop in that it serves such a wide range of age, background, affluence, interest and motivation. At Revival we offer vintage inspired items that are classic and elegant, so can fit into the creation of a vintage look or someone’s individual style.

Our customers aren’t one dimensional, neither is Revival Retro.

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Above you see me wearing my favourite look from the day at Revival – a cowboy inspired 40s style with a beautiful blouse, suspender pants and handmade hat by Atelier Millinery. Below I am chatting with Rowena and Sandy Doll.

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In the end, of course, I would also love to know something about your personal style. What are the clothes that you feel most confident and beautiful in?

I am not a frivolous shopper, I can go for ages without buying anything, then something will come along and I will know it is exactly me and I must own it. Then if I prove to myself I was right and I enjoy wearing it often. I will try to buy multiple of the same thing as it may be months until the next exactly right thing!

I like to be “well put together”. I build my wardrobe over time and any outfit I wear, each piece might have been bought between one week and ten years ago. If I ignore the evening dresses then my wardrobe is actually very small, it consists of a few favourite things that I mix and match to wear often.

I’m not very good at hair and make up. I prefer to let my clothes do the talking.

What – apart from the business world – makes you personally happy?

Small pleasures, a beautiful view, the company of friends, a really good cup of coffee, sunshine on my face.

Such an inspiring and motivating lady! Thank you dear Rowena for this amazing interview. I can simply recommend every lady that comes to London to visit her wonderful retro fashion shop, I promise you will find a treasure to take home as well as you will have a lovely day with the ladies of the store. 

If you are not able to travel over to Revival, have a look at their webshop and the unique garments, accessories and shoes they sell there – they do also have a gentlemen’s retro fashion range!

If you are interested in the every day life of these ladies, you can follow their Instagram account, where they give funny insights into their work and passion.

I wish the Revival ladies and Rowena all the best for 2018, may your new plans and ideas come true!

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Further Blogposts from London and about retro fashion:

The making of Harry Potter – Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
On the trail of the British Empire – A day at London’s V&A
The making of a photoshoot – A special day at Revival Retro London

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