Mad About Vintage: Inside the world of vintage fabric

Sarah Richards at The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace Pic: Sarah Richards

On the final day of our ‘Mad about Vintage’ series, we spoke to Sarah Richards about sourcing and reselling vintage fabric.

I meet Sarah on a cold and windy Monday evening, where she welcomes me inside with promise of a steaming hot cup of tea. I walk into a room filled with brightly patterned scraps of material and coloured thread popping out of vintage boxes, ready to talk about the world of vintage fabric.

Sarah Richards owns Olive Road London, a business that specialises in selling fabrics from the 1950s to the 1990s. “I’ve collected a lot of fabric over the years,” she says. “It made sense to start selling them onto people, so they can turn it into something new.”

The name Olive Road came from the street where her grandmother, who had recently just passed away in 2012, had lived for over sixty years. “Vintage has a history and a story that you’re selling. I wanted my business name to represent my story growing up,” Richards says.

Richards sells a lot of novelty fabric in all sorts of patterns Pic: Sarah Richards

Enthusiasts across the UK search, haggle and bid to get their hands on pieces of fabrics from yester-year. The versatility of what essentially boils down to someone’s discarded cloth is endless.

“People are getting more interested in history and are preserving things that would otherwise end up in a landfill,” Richards says. “Vintage fabrics often contain a unique mix of colour and print that is unlikely to be found elsewhere.”

Another key reason for selling vintage fabrics was to provide options for people with different body shapes: “When we talk about clothing from the past, people were generally just smaller back then. You can get bigger vintage items, but they do tend to go almost instantly.” In a way, Olive Road is a perfect stepping stone to greater inclusivity in the vintage world.

Almost all of Richards’ fabric has an eclectic history Pic: Sarah Richards

There most definitely is a knack to identifying whether a fabric is actually vintage, Richards says. “Certain items from different eras have specific characteristics; Clothing from the ’60s tends to be made of rayon and therefore, shinier. Barkcloth, a material popular in the 1950s, has a matte finish and a certain drape to it.”

“There are also some colours that are usually typical of certain eras. The fabric from the ’50s usually incorporates some form of muted pastels. The 1960s, on the other hand, are usually more associated with vivid colours. I’ve collected some lovely patterns over the years – fabrics with beautiful, turquoise paisley prints or even very bold flowers.”

However, the beauty of fabric isn’t Richards’ only passion. She is also passionate about using fabric as a tool for confronting the volatile textile industry. In fact, this very interview took place at her fast fashion therapy class, a workshop encouraging people to upcycle their old clothes into something new.

Richards’ dedication to vintage fabric and sustainability reflects a much larger issue. The “Fixing Fashion” report from the UK Environmental Committee estimates that 300,000 tonnes of textile waste is sent to landfills every year, meaning obscene amounts of fabric is wasted. It is people like Richards who champion vintage as a solution to this.

Indeed, her thrifty ethos is very reminiscent of the “Make Do and Mend” mentality during World War II. Women were encouraged to reuse old clothing, as well as alter and mend any hole in garments. Although we are not burdened by a war time economy, the sentiment of vintage fabric is very much still here in the walls of Richards’ workshop.

Follow our ‘Mad about Vintage’ series this week to find out more about the eclectic world of vintage fashion. #MadAboutVintage

Leave a Reply