Rachael Johnson, born-and-bred in Newcastle and manager of The Yesterday Society tells Fashion North how she used her love for fashion to create her own business.
Hidden away inside Grainger Market in Newcastle is where you’ll find Rachael sitting amongst her vintage clothes and accessories with a herbal tea in her hand.
Four years ago, this was just a dream but now she has combined her passion of all things vintage with her work and she loves it. It all began when Rachael graduated from Northumbria University after studying Human Geography. She wrote her dissertation on fashion and whether people wore vintage to steal someone else’s identity or whether it was part of creating their own unique look.
She then went travelling across Europe and Southeast Asia and found multi-cultural fashion interesting. Rachael says: “In India, I was actually teaching over there. So, in my day-to-day job, I was required to dress in a traditional Indian dress. But, I was quite shocked at how modern the fashion was over there. A lot of it is sort of like a clash between very modern and very traditional – very covered up and then young girls had belly tops on.”
When the vintage lover returned home, she was unemployed. She got herself a job at Tyneside Cinema but was never going to be truly happy there. One day, Rachael was working with her friend Rosie and they got talking about her dissertation. She still desperately wanted to express her love for vintage fashion in her work. When Rosie was on her break, she went to Grainger Market, spotted an empty unit and came back to get Rachael. It was like fate, that unit was meant for them and that’s how The Yesterday Society was born.
They sat and brainstormed names together and planned how they could make the business work. Rachael searched for loans and after a while everything fell into place for them. However, they did worry about sourcing clothing for their shop. “I was quite conscious that we could absolutely love loads of items then people would look at them and be like ‘what?’ So, you have to be mindful of what other people are looking for as well.”
Rachael now gets some of her clothing from suppliers in Europe and America. But, with having a shop on the market, they find older people who are clearing out don’t know what to do with their clothes or if there would be any value in them. So, she has a look and buys items if they’re worthy of selling.
After a year at the shop when everything was up and running, Rosie left to pursue a career in London. Rachael says: “She still comes back and lets us know whenever she’s in Newcastle and lets us know what she thinks of what I’ve got in.”
Now, she runs the shop with help from her friends Graeme and Sacha.
The Yesterday Society really reflects her as a person and has its own unique look. You could spend ages looking around at the clothes and all of the trinkets on the wall. While Rachael would describe it as a cave, a lot of customers have said it’s like a little ‘front room.’ The only problem is, it has no heating, it’s very small and there’s a lot to fit in, she says it’s like “a game of tetris” trying to get the rails back inside when she’s closing.
Her favourite thing about her job is meeting like-minded people who are as into fashion and as quirky as her and say weird stuff that she thinks only she think.
Rachael describes herself as “vintage, quirky and weird – happily weird.” She also describes her shop in the same way, she says: “That’s weird, isn’t it? That I did that without realising.” Graeme describes her as “intelligent, textured and principled” while Sacha describes her as “witty, considerate and Amazonian.”
Rachael is a self-confessed ‘coat freak.’ Her most treasured item is an Afghan coat she got last year. She says: “My mam used to have an Afghan Hound when I was growing up and it was like the perfect coat at the time. I thought if I could have an afghan coat walking an afghan hound it’d just be amazing. It’s got like a huge collar and it just makes us feel like I should be in a film or something.”
She even admits to sometimes keeping the clothes for herself. Rachael has a stock room at home now: “I keep so much stuff, it’s when you’ve got unlimited access to it that you can just sort of come into work and think ‘I like that, I’ll take it home.’ I used to always say that I’d bring them back but I never do, just sort of goes into the closet and never comes back out.”
If she had to wear one item of clothing for the rest of her life it would be a “big warm coat.”
Rachael has a lot of faux fur coats. But, she doesn’t wear or sell real fur: “We get a lot of people trying to sell it to us and I’m a veggie so for me it’s an ethical thing and I can’t touch it – it really freaks us out.”
Her style is heavily connected to 1950s and 60s looks and she has taken inspiration from Marilyn Monroe and Twiggy. When she was younger, she used to love Ana Matronic from the Scissor Sisters and anyone who was a bit quirky.
The now vintage fanatic had some very interesting looks in the past. When she was 12, she started going to Hippy Green: “I’ve always been on sort of the edge of mainstream of fashion.” When Rachael was into metal music, she wore a dress from a sample sale with huge shoulder and hip pads with spikes and chains on: “I wore it on a night out and one of my friend’s friends told us I looked like one of the Legion of Doom – the old school wrestlers.”
She’s wore a china teacup on her head before and at university she posed in a bath filled with milk for a photography project. Rachael says: “Everyone thinks I’ve got loads of confidence because of how I dress but it’s the opposite. How I dress gives me more confidence.”
Now, she thinks she’s a little less quirky. Rachael’s just bought a house surrounded with wildlife. She says: “I’ve turned into a bit of a home bird now. I have a lovely new garden. I feel a bit like Snow White feeding all the animals.”
Looking to the future, Rachael plans to stay in the vintage trade. However, she says: “I would always say that I would love to retire, though and just work from home with loads of dogs, probably still stay in Newcastle though. I love Newcastle.”
Her advice to anyone wanting to start their own fashion business is “Go for it. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. If you love it, do it and then hopefully you’ll make a success of it.
You can find out more about The Yesterday Society at www.theyesterdaysociety.co.uk.