Founder of Limerick-based Spice Vintage Grace Collier is leading the charge of small business owners defying Covid-19
A Harley Davidson t-shirt. Some 70's flares. A printed silk bomber, and Docs for good measure. Put them all together and you've got the typical uniform of a Spice Vintage lover - vintage and second-hand pieces of beautiful quality, with plenty of fun thrown in too.
They all come from a little Irish website founded in Limerick by Grace Collier. Grace fell upon Spice much like many other small business owners - she hated her day job, her prospects were low, and never expected that a hobby could turn into something more. "I've always loved vintage clothes, and had been selling them on eBay and at Dublin Flea Market and at different stalls for years, but I never thought it could be a career.
I was living in west Cork when my best friend's mam asked if I wanted to take over a unit on her street as a temporary pop-up for vintage - they wanted to take over the unit but needed a few months to prepare, and I was delighted at the chance to do it. I'd two weeks to get myself sorted, borrowing money to get it off the ground, getting my dad to drive me around and unpack, but it was all worth it - it went so well, and I knew it was something I could be really good at.
After about six months, I had to move on, and was wondering where to go next. I literally Googled 'Irish towns with no vintage shops' and Limerick came up, so that's where I went!"
From 2018 until this year, Spice had already built a substantial following on Instagram - the bricks-and-mortar store in Limerick was thriving, and vintage lovers from all over Ireland were buying from Grace's Insta-story sales. She'd already struck the balance between online and in-person sales that so many small businesses struggle with - so when Covid-19 hit earlier this year, Grace wasn't phased.
"I just thought 'right, this has happened, everyone's in the same boat, let's get on with it'", she said. "I'm a very optimistic person, and when I have something that I care about, I just go for it. Determination gets me through, and of course I have worries about how it might go, but I just don't let them bog me down.
Spice Vintage now operates with a weekly stock drop on Grace's website every Friday at 6pm. Potential buyers, make sure you have your details ready - items routinely sell out immediately.
"When Covid hit, I had to close the shop, head back home to Laois, and try to figure out a way to keep the business going online," Grace said. "I knew I had to build a website to have something more concrete than Instagram, so I watched a few YouTube videos, took a few weeks to set it up, and we were away!"
Was it really that simple?
"Obviously there were challenges", she said. "I'm making it sound like it was easy, but it was a lot of work, and very tough going. Getting stock was really hard - I normally travel and hand-pick pieces myself, and when I couldn't do that, finding suppliers that would take the time to allow me to go through every piece over Zoom was a struggle. When I tried to sell purely through Instagram, and was absolutely bombarded with messages, so much so that I thought my phone would break, that was very hard.
"But it's weird," Grace continued. "With Spice, I don't know what it is, but I'm just never too worried about it. I knew when Covid hit, that I'd build the website, I'd upload it all, and it would sell out - and it did. Building my Instagram page and having such amazing followers brings with it a type of confidence - the way they react to new drops, and how they support the business, just makes me feel like I'm on to a good thing."
For so many people, 2020 has been the year of shopping local. The devastating effects of Covid on small businesses has spurred us all to spend our money where it matters, supporting Irish businesses, and straying away from mass-produced products. This is especially pertinent when it comes to clothing - while activists for sustainability cry out against the terrible effects of overconsumption on the planet and severely underpaid and mistreated workers, Black Friday this year saw many fast fashion giants sell their wares for as little as 29p per piece. I wonder if Grace sees this shift away from overcomsumption as a factor in her post-Covid success.
"I think it's doubly validated something that was already on the way," she said. "It's amazing to see so many people talking about buying Irish on social media, and making an effort to talk about it, but for me, this is a feeling that has always been there, it's just gotten so much stronger from Covid."
"If I can do it, anyone can"
Spice Vintage has joined a wave of small businesses who have used the incredible challenges of Covid-19 to their advantage - building websites, social media pages and engaging with customers in a whole new way. For boutiques across the country who are the heart and soul of Irish towns, it's an opportunity to try something new - and Grace is leading the charge.
"I don't want to come across as some kind of feckin' Messiah who knows everything about everything," she laughs. "I'm the most computer illiterate person you will ever meet, but that's why I think that if I can do it, anyone else reading this definitely can.
If I could just reach any business owner, or even their daughter or niece or nephew, and have them think 'hey, maybe I could try that', that would be amazing. To have boutiques setting up Instagram pages, or building websites, so that they can make their business stronger, it would help so much.
I believe every fashion shop or business in Ireland can be online, you just have to get creative with it. If you've a family member who's into fashion, get them to help with the styling. If you've the time to watch some YouTube videos, you can figure out how to link your website to PayPal. Reach out to people, help each other out - we can all do it, and now's the time to get going."
I leave my chat with Grace feeling inspired - it sounds a little cheesy, especially as it's almost Christmas, but her positive attitude and unwavering faith in her abilities is so motivating. When I mention this to her, she laughs, as it's not the first time she's heard the sentiment. "I just love to help people where I can", she says. I offer that maybe her next career pivot will be as a motivational speaker - she laughs, but contends that she wouldn't write it off. "Sure they're a dime a dozen in America, but we don't have anyone here bringing the Irish craic into it", she laughs. "I can definitely talk anyway!".
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