HIP talks to Adam and Rebecca about their vintage clothing business, Sunless Antiques in Norman Road and the effect of Brexit on imports from France.


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When did you set up Sunless Antiques?
A: We’ve been selling vintage for around eight years, at first part time, alongside studying, initially selling in London at markets and online. 

R: We actually gave the business a proper name in 2018 and we opened the St Leonards shop in May 2019, which has been great so far!


What’s behind the name?
R: We had such a hard time coming up with the right name for the business, we had lists and lists and lists! Finally we landed on Sunless which is taken from the film, Sans Soleil, by one of our favourite directors, Chris Marker. 


What drew you to importing antique and vintage clothes?
R: We both got into French clothing, more specifically workwear, around a decade ago, both through friends who were interested in it and from working for other vintage stores. What started as a hobby kind of accidentally grew into a business.

A: Rather than buying wholesale vintage clothing or sourcing everything in the UK, we found travelling around France looking for stock was the most exciting way for us to do business.


Do they all come from France?
A: We mostly buy French clothes and antiques, but we do also sell a lot of English stuff too when we can find things that interest us, and there is some really great German stuff too. They are all so different and have their own unique qualities, different fabrics and fashions and so on, but also come from different social, cultural, economic and historical contexts, so each garment tells a story. 


Do you have any favourite stories of how you acquired some of your stock?
A: Probably a favourite story is when we met a French antiques dealer some time ago who came from a long line of antiques and second-hand dealers. His grandfather was a ‘chiffonier’ or rag merchant, and he threw nothing away. We were lucky to visit his old warehouse whilst it was being cleared, it was absolutely huge and filled from floor to the rafters with antique clothes dating from the mid-19th century up until the 1970s! 

R: We always love it when someone has cleared a house or attic and there are multiple generations of a family’s clothing in boxes all still packed together, untouched, sometimes for 100 years. Knowing we are the first people to see these items since they were packed away is quite an amazing feeling.

Stock aside, one of the best parts of our job is the friendships and relationships we’ve formed with other dealers, suppliers and sellers all over the continent and we’ve always been made to feel right at home in France. (Even if there can sometimes be an edge of competition with fellow dealers!) 


How did Brexit impact you on January 1st?
We now need to use a customs agent to clear the goods prior to boarding, so everything will have to be itemised and correctly documented in advance of importing. Import VAT is now added too, which needs to be accounted for quarterly on VAT returns, so more paperwork! 


Were you prepared for what happened?
It was really hard to prepare in advance, as nothing was really decided on until the last minute. Some prior information we had from various government departments was pretty much out of date by the time of the withdrawal agreement, so we have basically done our preparing since that date in order to carry on business as usual. 


What do you think will be the long-term effect for your business?
We would obviously have preferred for Brexit to never have happened for many reasons, the simplicity of import/export in the single market being one of them, free movement another. But we hope not to see a significant impact long-term for business, other than no longer having the ease of turning up at the border with a van full of goods, mostly without receipts and passing through with no questions. This is certainly a thing of the past! 


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