Friday 27 July 2012

Leftovers from scratches

Margot Waggoner’s, half French, half American girl living in London, dream to open shop with vintage clothes came true much sooner than she'd expected. Once opened she thought it wouldn't survive longer than three months, but Leftovers has been growing for two and half years. She says she was lucky, I say she found her niche.

When you come in to Leftovers, a shop with French vintage clothes in Brixton Village in South London, you are welcomed by clothes hanging from the ceiling, on the walls and on the railings. Clothes are all over this tiny place. You feel like you entered an old attic where you can browse for a whole day and you can be sure you'll find a fashion gem or two. Behind the counter sits a frail brown-hair girl welcoming you with a smile and engaging small talk. That’s Margot Waggoner. Her small unit in this South London market is full of clothes brought from south of France and from Paris. She looks for them at flea markets, in vintage shops and on the clearances at the castles for sale! London  airport staff doesn’t check her documents anymore, because they know who “the girl with the bags” is. At the moment she can’t count how many clothes she displays but they are all over the shop – children’s clothes, dresses and accessories.
The beginning wasn’t easy though, and Margot didn’t even expect to run the business for longer than a few months. But it seems that her passion, energy and spirit, and courage to take a risk, won.

From Paris to London

Margot studied Fashion Design in Paris but didn’t want to be a designer. She thought she could be a stylist. While still studying life led her to work in a shop with vintage clothes and antiques run by Brigitte Compagne. It's more of an institution than an ordinary shop - top designers, film producers and costume designers go there to find an inspiration, costumes for the movies, or to have a chat with the owner. Margot continued to work there after her graduation in 2008. She admits: " I learnt there how to make a business". After she moved to London to be with her boyfriend, she did an internship at Alexander McQueen's. – While there I realised didn’t want to go deeper into the fashion industry because this business seemed too stressful and too fast paced. I love clothes but I hate fashion, because it has nothing to do with each other –  the owner of the Leftovers comments. She was dreaming to own a shop but was sure that such a thing can’t happen any sooner than in 20-30 years. The opportunity came as a surprise. - I was coming to Brixton for shopping and found out about competition to run a business in Brixton Village. My boyfriend, who is an accountant, helped me to write the business plan and the agency organising the competition accepted it – Margot tells the story. That time many new businesses moved in to Brixton Village.

Welcome to Brixton

At the time Brixton Village wasn’t a place where people wanted to go. There were Colombian restaurant, a hairdresser and… drug dealers. Spacemakers, an agency which specializes in recreating urban space, took the challenge to rejuvenate Brixton Village, and it was them, who announced the competition. Businesses that won were allowed not to pay a rent for three months but the units they were given required a fundamental refurbishment. That’s when Margot thought that her shop will survive only three months. She had some clothes ready to sell as she had been collecting them, so when the opportunity to open her own shop appeared, she was ready. - I had around twenty pieces of clothes, but Brigitte, from the antique shop in Paris, offered me some more and in return we shared the income – explains Margot. Even now her mentor supports her by advertising Leftovers on her own shop website.

What am I doing here?

In the beginning it wasn’t easy. It was cold and customers weren’t many. Doubts if she had made a right decision were unavoidable. - We opened in December, so time before Christmas was pretty successful. January and February were really hard, because it was cold and we didn’t have any heating. In the beginning, there were weeks when I wouldn’t see people in here. It was depressing. When my mum or my boyfriend called I had hoarseness because I wasn’t talking to anyone for a whole day – says Margot. She was making enough money to pay the bills and buy a lunch. Thankfully she didn't need a loan to start the business, so she could be thinking about expanding. She started her business from savings and with friends’ help. Somehow she survived the tough times.

 Her patience was rewarded that summer. It became warmer and Brixton Village became more popular. People started coming and the shop started making a real profit. She became her own boss, learnt book-keeping and other skills. Business is only in her hands, so she barely have time to rest - in past two years she had only few chances for short getaways but nothing longer. Margot started thinking to hire someone but she realises she is not yet able to pay them enough money. – I don’t want to pay minimum wage because I know what does it mean to work for such  money. I prefer to wait and find someone in the right time – a person who will be happy to come to Leftovers and meet people everyday – explains Margot. This is what can be called a responsible business.

A nose for success

Margot thinks her success lies in the clothes she sells. They all come from France, so for the English customers they are unique. Moreover, she puts her heart into searching and knows the industry she is working in. It's being noticed and Leftovers are being mentioned in press like ASOS Magazine. It was singer Jessie Ware who recommended Leftovers in an interview there. 

Now, when the business is going in the right direction, Margot can think about further development. - My next steps are to set up the website and online shop. My shop can’t be bigger, so I choose to expand online – she admits. Margot admits that London is catalyst of her success. - While I was in France I thought that opening my own shop is impossible – customers and investors there have less trust for young people. In London they see their energy and risk they take and appreciate that – admits owner of the Leftovers. Her success sets a path for others.

written by: joanna sopylo-firrisa

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