In a world dominated by the newest fashion trends, SYLK feels like a breath of fresh air.
A vintage and designer clothing boutique focusing on a minimal and timeless style, the business has gone from strength to strength. From humble beginnings on second-hand resale app Depop, SYLK have since hosted pop ups at sites including Ducie Street Warehouse, Ancoats and Urban Outfitters.
Founded in 2014 by teenage friends Dexter Burgess-Hunt and Sophy Grattidge, the pair never expected the business to get to this stage. As Sophy recalled, “we originally started under Dexter’s username.” In 2016, the name SYLK was born, and the journey began.
We are sat in their relatively new Manchester studio, a 20-minute walk from Piccadilly Station. For a surprisingly small space, it is a hub of clothes and creativity. “We’ve only been here since October,” they tell me. You’d never know, the studio mirroring the equally fashionable owners and aesthetics of the business. Think that dreamy fashion Pinterest board, but on steroids.
The pair met through mutual friends as teenagers, both growing up in Manchester. Whilst moving to London at separate times, the business continued alongside their retail jobs. “In London I don’t think we were even making much money of it,” Sophy explained. At that point they were doing it out of their bedrooms, simply as a hobby.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dexter and Sophy were both put on furlough. Focusing their attention onto the business, lockdown provided them with a security blanket for a test run of full-time self-employment.
When Sophy returned to work as lockdown restrictions eased, it gave her the confirmation that pursuing SYLK full-time was something she truly wanted to do. “I was going to train as a manager in the retail industry,” she said, “but just knew it wasn’t for me.”
Fashion has always been a strong part of both their lives. Sophy completed a Textiles degree at university, whilst Dexter undertook various courses in areas such as visual merchandising. Sophy cites Tumblr as one of her first memories of fashion, endless images of models and clothes giving her an early insight into what her future full-time job would entail. I don’t think her dad’s eccentric fashion led directly to the minimalistic essence of their brand though.
SYLK is not like other vintage stores. When you think of the word “vintage,” American vintage stores in the Northern Quarter might spring to mind. But as Dexter explained, “our niche is that you can come and buy curated vintage and designer pieces without having to trail through everything else.” SYLK stocks iconic designer brands like Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, and Gucci, amongst others.
“Whether you want a suit, or a classic shirt, or something that’s going to last in your wardrobe, you can come to us.”
Customers in the market for vintage clothing began to notice the unique aspect of their brand too. “The more we did it, the more people were noticing that we stood out from other vintage stores,” Sophy said. “A lot of people who come to us say I’m so glad I found you.”
The pair place a heavy emphasis on unisex clothing. Women’s clothing can naturally be quite fitted, which plays into Sophy’s preference for a relaxed fit which comes more commonly with menswear. The pieces SYLK stock are so classic, they can transform to fit and suit whoever walks through their studio doors, regardless of gender.
SYLK do most of their sales online, though you can visit them in their studio. Sizing on vintage clothing can completely differ from piece to piece, so SYLK offer appointments to try on and see what’s right. They also do refunds to “make it easy for you.”
It’s not been one smooth journey. Turning a hobby into a fully-fledged business is not an easy feat, especially for one they never expected to be their full-time jobs. As Sophy revealed “sometimes the business side of things can be a lot,” especially as neither of them come from a business or finance background.
Working for yourself is not as dreamy as TikTok may present either. Detailing the challenges, Sophy said that “pretty much there’s not a day that’s gone by where we haven’t done a piece of work of some kind.” Dexter added “in terms of workload it’s been pretty hectic.” Going home doesn’t mean you can just switch off.
“It’s hard having to do everything, especially with just the two of us.” In the last few months, the pair have hired an additional staff member, who works part-time. But HMRC, taxes and pensions aside – the business has been an enjoyable pursuit for them.
Of course, vintage clothing has its environmental benefits. With the fashion industry responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, businesses like SYLK help combat the harm caused by fast fashion. Most of SYLK’s stock is found from within the UK, the large majority being hand sourced by Sophy and Dexter themselves. The business is built on sustainability. From their mailing bags to the labels on the clothes, everything is made conscious of its impact on the planet.
Vintage clothing isn’t just better for the environment. Rightly put by Sophy, “you’re not only going to have it for longer, it just looks better.” An anecdote of a not-so warm puffer jacket from Dexter acknowledges the importance of sometimes ignoring trends and what might look ‘good’ in favour of practicality. After all, the quality of the items held by SYLK is incredible, especially given the age of them. When you buy vintage, chances are that no one else will be wearing it.
Both Dexter and Sophy hope that there will be a more sustainable future for the fashion industry. They share a philosophy that a circular way of buying clothes would help reduce textile waste ending up in landfill. It’s clear they’ll continue to put this at the forefront of their brand.
Here’s to hoping for a SYLK shop in the Northern Quarter soon.
Appointments to try on clothes can be booked on their website for free, with no obligation to buy. Find them online through their website sylk-store.com and on Instagram @sylkstore
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0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR