Interview with ThriftVIPs Madeleine Wallner | Share Your Story

Interview with ThriftVIPs Madeleine Wallner | Share Your Story

Nikki McCaig Blog

Over the years, I’ve worked with, become friends with, been inspired by and had the pleasure to interview some truly incredible women. I firmly believe that every woman, no matter her profession, age, passions or misfortunes has an inspirational story to tell, and as my platform begins to grow, I want to help share those stories.

This week, I’m incredibly excited to interview Madeleine Wallner, founder of ThriftVIP – a business assisting with the reselling of sustainable thrifted and pre-loved clothing. Her company ethos is centred around the idea of Slow Fashion, eco-friendly shopping and mindful clothing choices, fighting against many of the critical issues facing the fashion industry today.  As well as working within the diverse and eclectic Nottinghamshire fashion-scape, Madeleine’s work has also become entwined with the local community, collaborating with students, Nottingham Fashion Week and local thrift designers.

Tell us a little bit about you, and what inspired you to set up Thrift VIP?

The inspiration for ThriftVIP came from a love of fashion and styling, and the thrill of discovering unique pieces.  I started learning to thrift whilst spending 3 years on a student budget, studying fashion promotion at university down south. There were no fashion courses like it here in Nottingham then.  I was living in quite an affluent area so often ventured out to buy pre-loved pieces from local charity shops. As a fashion student, I was looking for unique clothing at great prices, inspired by the designers I was learning about at the time.  I got in touch with a vintage supplier via Drapers Record who sold dead stock from an airfreight container in Essex and things grew from there.

A friend and I had just graduated so we decided to make a go of buying stock and selling to the students in the university’s canteen. It started as ‘Vintage Originals’ before it became Thrift Generation, and most recently, Thrift (Generation) VIP. Keeping the ‘Generation’ bit in the logo was important as that’s what it’s all about: new generations of people appreciating the past generations’ clothes, and future generations who build on that which we are now moving towards with circular fashion.

I somehow knew eventually there would be a necessity for a generation of thrifters which is happening now.  Sustainability is vital for humankind. I still occasionally use the tagline “We are The Children of the Thrift Generation” which featured on the T-shirt worn by one of the models in the Independents Fashion Show on the opening weekend of Nottingham Fashion Week, 2016.

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Amongst the dead stock offerings were these amazing vintage transfers. We used these to embellish thrift garments, alongside our own ideas for up cycling the pieces we’d thrifted locally.  A lot of pieces needed no work at all and were good enough to sell as they were. It all evolved from there really. We went on to roll out pop-ups at different universities before the word pop-up became a thing (and vintage for that matter).

This was all back in 2002. I think now it’s become really popular, and more accepted. It highlights how much decent quality clothing gets discarded and in turn shines a light on the problem within the fashion industry. I’m so thankful that someone back in the 1970’s decided not to burn clothing which is what happens – it’s inexcusable. It proves that a lot of us can now benefit from this growing Fashion Revolution movement in new innovative ways that makes so much more sense. Charity shops are making more money now, often hiring fashion savvy managers which is great!   

I continued with Thrift Generation as a hobby as it wasn’t the right time for us personally to continue then as a business (we were in talks about a retail unit at Kingly Court, Carnaby Street).  Eventually, years on I decided to step things up a level with a more tailored offering for discerning fashionistas and I now source differently to better suit a new kind of customer. I’m more or less priced out of the high street now when thrifting to sell on so have had to look to a new offering as a small retailer.  For me, small scale is manageable and vintage/pre-loved is difficult to scale up unless there’s another offering and I don’t want to just buy and sell in bulk, I want to be more careful with how much stock I have which in turn produces less waste. Alongside selling I’ll be working on a number of different services to offer in the near future for ThriftVIP Lovers.

I suppose you could say the motivation for doing this comes from a punk ethic of rebelling against the fashion industry machine as it stands.  I was completely disillusioned about the industry when I finished university and wanted little to do with it as it was. I adore haute couture but fashion can be so much more than that.  Alexander McQueen, Katherine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood were the designers who inspired me to use it as a platform for change. Fashion with added purpose beyond the aesthetic appeals to me and it can be both beautiful and poignant.

Over the years, what do you believe has been your biggest professional achievement?

Probably achieving my degree so far.  As much as it’s nice to be able to put a few letters after your name on a business card, I think it shows dedication and commitment.

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What do you believe is the key tool to balancing personal and professional responsibilities?

I haven’t worked this out yet and with the digital age it gets harder to not cross-over into personal territory, from being ‘on-brand’ but at the moment, I am my brand, it’s just me! I made the decision to document my personal journey setting up as ThriftVIP on my personal instagram page as it helps to spread awareness of the condition I have and also shows others that it’s ok to talk about other things connected with our work. After all, don’t we spend most of our time at work in our lives?  If being authentic in this helps, then let’s do it! There are limits to this and if you’re an over sharer like me then there are pitfalls, but we live and learn. We all make mistakes from time to time!

Before even considering making ThriftVIP a business I’ve had to test myself for two years to find a baseline for working with a chronic condition.  Before I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a full time Fibromyalgia Manager.

Personal responsibility is partly the reason why I want to set up ThriftVIP – to encourage others to really think about consumption in a new way.  To shop while sharing the same values as me. I’m still a part of consumption but it’s a more responsible one. Look for the #haulternative.

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Sharing my story and sharing the message: when we have less stuff and more time, we’re happier, is a big part of why I’m doing this, and as a retailer I have a  responsibility to the consumer. At the same time I’d like my customers to visit the site in a state of calm and take their time, to make more considered choices. Having less to choose from can really help, rather than spending hours scrolling though pages and pages of stuff which I have found very depressing in the past, never finding what I really need.  I do believe however that aspirational purchases are still important but they need to be for the right reasons for us. I like to be inspired online too.

There are some amazing new AI technologies now that can help and support this and it’s happening now. For example there are some sites which take into account your existing wardrobe so when you’re shopping you can see what you’ve already got and make more thoughtful decisions based on that. Sizing is a big issue when it comes to returns and I’d really like to get that right. This means giving as much detail as possible, right down to the models sizing.  It also helps those with limited sight to make the right choices. Algorithyms can be really helpful and will play their part in helping us to reduce consumption as much as encouraging us to buy; we just have to harness it in the right ways and take on that responsibility as a company. Unfortunately introducing these aspects into business is costly and the big companies get there first. But remember, we can change through people power and our own purchasing decisions too. We are all responsible, and social media plays its part in spreading that message in the meantime.

One thing I will say about balancing it all is that learning to say ‘no’ has been brilliant and liberating. It’s a vital component in balancing my health and business model.

What made you choose Nottingham as the base of your thrift business?

Well, learning to thrift was more of a necessity than a choice really.  The cost of living mainly and getting treatment for my condition by ‘down-sizing’ in terms of affordable living.

I was living and working in Brighton before I moved back here.  I loved my life and work there as a dance teacher, and just had enough to keep the roof over.  That was until I got really poorly and ended up bed bound then more or less housebound. Several years later I decided to sell up and use some of the money to pay for treatment as I was getting nowhere with the NHS.  I had a stint in Penzance, Cornwall to try and take myself into nature to heal but I was too poorly to really enjoy it, and it made little difference to getting my health back. I needed more specialist treatment and somewhere to base myself for a while, so going back to my home town seemed the right thing to do and helped me to free up funds to help myself back to health.

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Coming back to my home county after living away since university was difficult as it felt like I had failed.  Now I feel like it was meant to be as I’m finally getting back on track with health and learning to live with the condition, finding new ways of working by working smart, and coming back to fashion which is what I left for in the first place.

It was always a toss up between dancing and performing or fashion. It would have been risky to follow the dance route after having ME in my 20s, but it was an option on my UCAS form at the time and I did finally do this in a different way by becoming a dance teacher in my 30’s, albeit for a very short time.  It seems the fashion route will work out after all and my timing with setting up again, now with Thrift (Generation) VIP couldn’t be more perfect as more people are catching on to the idea of pre-loved, vintage and sustainable fashion as a regular choice and in a much bigger way. The Fashion Revolution finally arrived!

Now I’m here, it seems like the perfect place to thrift and a great base for thrift adventures!

Which women inspire you to keep working and pursuing your passion?

Mary Portas. Her resilience and insight within the industry is second to none.  I’m currently reading her book ‘Work Like a Woman.’ Also Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hammnet, and the strong women in my family.

What do you believe has been your biggest hurdle to overcome throughout your professional journey?

Dealing with a chronic condition has set me back my whole working life, since the age of 18 when I had to give up a performing arts course. It’s stopped me from working for over ten years now since I had to stop dance teaching in 2008.  Finally I feel like I’m able to start joining in with the world again now. The terms however are strict and often frustrating due to only being able to put so many hours in each week (if I’m lucky), so I really have to pace myself, be extremely patient and work very smart.  My time and energy are worth so much to me as I don’t have a lot of it to go round, so it has to be spent very wisely.

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The prospect of becoming self employed again and working part-time is terrifying as I don’t yet know how much I’ll be able to do, but I have to find out, otherwise I stand still which is not an option.  Basically I’m working on making a job for myself as I don’t currently fit in with societal shapes. I still have to find part-time work too which will be a challenge after so long out of work, and due to the number of hours and type of work I’m now limited to, but I cannot give up hope and believe I can and will work again. I’ve always been in very physical and people facing roles so I’m optimistic I’ll find something in-between.  I want to be self sufficient again and regain my dignity and pride. I’m hoping I’ll get this chance and my time to shine once more.

What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to learn how to thrift and shop sustainably?

I’ve just talked about this in my latest blog which is in this months newsletter:

It goes out on the last day of the month, Thursday 28 Feb to my subscribers, but you can get a sneaky peak now: 5 Ways you Can Live a More Fulfilling Life With Clothes & Avoid Dumping on The Environment….

I’ll also be putting the link to the newsletter on my instagram page on 28th Feb until the new site goes live.  I’ll give you a couple of nuggets here too:

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  • Every time you’re out, check the local charity and thrift shops, antique centres and vintage shops as they receive new stock all the time.  Make sure you check it thoroughly for any marks, and loose stitching, and if you’re buying something higher end, check the price online first! I often use eBay and Depop/Etsy as an indicator and look for the lowest price.  Sites such as Farfetch, Vestiare Collective and Mythersea are also helpful for checking current prices for designer pieces. If you’re in Highgate visit charity shops there as it’s where Kate Moss is known to take her cast- offs.  Pop-up38 in Soho’s Old Compton Street is a gem too with proceeds funding their co-ed school in Kabul, Afghanistan.
  • Specialist kilo thrift sales, antique and vintage fairs, car boot sales, clothes swaps/swishes and sample sales are all great places to find unique one-off pieces and end of line products at good prices.  You’ll also find new brands selling at introductory and sale prices of their collections at events such as London Fashion Weekend (although these are new, you’re mostly supporting the smaller businesses).  The ticket price is fairly high for events like these, but there are other fashion related elements to enjoy too so make a day of it if that’s your thing.
  • To really champion circular fashion, use these 4 ‘R’s: Rent. Resale. Recycle. Repair.  Using these four R’s will also help with your wardrobe detox (definitely a good starting point), by allowing you to divide pieces into these potential categories.  It helps you to feel better about letting things go, knowing that they will live on and bring joy to someone else.  Renting out our higher end pieces is something I’m considering for future services for ThriftVIP so be sure to check back when we’ve launched or subscribe to our newsletter using the link above to February’s newsletter.

Do you have any exciting projects you can talk about coming up this year?

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The launch!  I’m hoping to launch phase two – to finally start selling, in the week commencing 22 April 2019, to coincide with Fashion Revolution week, and Earth Day.  Fingers crossed I get it all done in time! Ideally I’d like to launch on 22nd to give an exact day & date, but the week commencing gives me a bit of leeway to allow for any unforeseen technical problems.

UPDATE: The lovely new ThriftVIP website has actually launched since the release of this interview, so go and show it some love!

Thank you so much for reading and getting to know Madeleine as part of my Share Your Story series. To find out more about her work, or to follow her journey through her social profiles, all links are included below:



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