It's nice to be niche

Just like It's hip to be square, it's nice to be niche; in other words, it's cool to do your own thing, regardless of what the fashion police might seek to impose on the hapless shopping sheeple. As far as we're concerned, embracing individuality is every bit as important to businesses as it is to individuals and, while many high street retailers are undoubtedly suffering the effects of the economic downturn, there is evidence to suggest that niche independents may be bucking the trend.

A Business Zone article which dropped into our inbox earlier today, headlined Why now is a great time to start a retail business, suggests that this feeling is not misplaced and that independent traders are well placed to take advantage of a perceptible shift in shoppers' expectations. It seems that the cold and clinical, predictable, big store 'factory' retail model is gradually giving way to the more personalised customer experience offered by niche retail outlets, which provide both excellent customer service and individualised products and services. So small may yet become beautiful again, as it was in the 60s and 70s.

Growing up in the small Angus town of Montrose in the 70s, chief frocker Alison used to buy her clothes in the several small fashion boutiques that were dotted in and around the high street. She vividly remembers buying an emerald green batwing sleeved smock dress (which, with the benefit of hindsight, was truly hideous) in one such boutique. In another, she purchased a very distinctive (but a lot less hideous) black velvet two piece adorned with red stars, which she wore to her 18th birthday party with red shoes (on which she subsequently threw up after too many double vodka and pineapple combos). Her excuse is that Ziggy Stardust was big at the time!

The Boutique Elvira, which eventually metamorphosed into the Headline hair salon (currently run by a vintage hairdresser who cuts Alison's hair and still has a collection of 70s splash patches in his attic) was a particular favourite, stocking some amazing pieces of funky frockery. This poem, Tie-Dyed T-Shirt, by Fiona Ritchie Walker (an old school friend of Alison's), evokes distant memories of Elvira's and other old familar places.

Occasionally, small town and country dwellers would make a special trip to Aberdeen, Dundee, or even Edinburgh, to sample the delights of  big city shopping. Back then, there was still a strong independent retail presence, from smaller boutiques to big department stores like Dundee's Draffens (long since gone) and Edinburgh's Jenners. Retro Dundee has a wonderful collection of images which capture the essence of the city in past decades, including this picture of  City Square and High Street in 1970, and provides an enjoyable nostalgia trip for locals of a certain age.

dundee city square and high street 1970

Although The Frockery has no immediate plans to make a move to bricks and mortar from its exclusively online presence (with the odd vintage fair thrown in throughout the year) we are always more than happy to recommend independent vintage retailers who have 'visitable' shops.

Talking of bricks and mortar, one of our favourites  - RaRa and the Pretty Vacant Showrooms, based in Exchange Street, Dundee  - is undergoing a major refurbishment right now, but we are hoping to go along and help celebrate its re-opening in the near future. It stocks an ecelectic range of fabulous clothes, accessories and curiosities from bygone eras and is run by the lovely Erin, who is as passionate about vintage as she is about showcasing emerging new designers.

Another small vintage boutique we like is in Forfar, just round the corner from The Frockery. GladRags is run by a very knowledgeable and friendly female duo and stocks some fabulous pieces, both vintage and contemporary. We were musing the other week that Forfar is fast becoming a vintage lovers' paradise as no less than three small antique and collectables shops have sprung up in the past year to complement an already enviable range of independent retailers. The regular Farmers Market also features gourmet epicurean and gift products, from Cairn o Mhor (say it out loud!) fruit wines to farmyard inspired ceramics from our friends at Eeksy Peeksy. How cool is this cake stand!

cake stand eeksy peeksy

In our experience, independent retailers not only want to go that extra mile for customers but also want to support each other in business. You could say "we are all in this together", but in a nice niche way!