12:30 Friday 15 November 2013

A step back in time

Written byKaren Cox

All things retro — from china to clothes — has become something of a way of life for Gemma Miller and Allison Elkes who together have created The Vintage Suitcase, a company which sees them organising vintage fairs across Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

Stepping into an event organised by Gemma Miller and Allison Elkes, it would be easy to think you'd gone through some kind of time-warp.

Colourful bunting is flapping, gentle music from times well and truly gone by is softly playing in the background, women are emerging from the beauty parlour with victory rolls — and all the clothes being sold put you in a completely different era to the one you woke up in that morning.

However, attending an event held by the two women, whose business The Vintage Suitcase was launched at the beginning of the year, means you are at a vintage fair which offers a complete retro experience for everyone — whether you are a fashion conscious vintage fashionista, the collector of curios, a lover of handmade retro style soft furnishings or you just want a slice of homemade traditional cake and a cup of tea while you soak in the atmosphere.

The business has been born from a true passion for vintage, which began with Gemma's love of vintage china which has seen her amassing between 300 and 400 pieces.

With such a collection it was natural for her to supply her collection for the types of vintage tea parties which have become so popular in recent years, but after having her third child, Iris, sibling to three-year-old Kiki and Zach aged 11, at the beginning of the year, Gemma, who lives in Alton, Staffordshire, decided it was too much to manage.

She found she really missed the vintage scene and wanted to stay involved, so when her friend Allison confided she was looking for a creative outlet herself, they decided to join forces and become event organisers for vintage fairs as they saw a real gap in the market for these in the area.

Now they create a complete vintage fair experience, with successes so far in Matlock, Buxton and Bakewell. Their next event is planned for Uttoxeter when The Vintage Suitcase take over Uttoxeter Racecourse on Saturday, December 7 and Sunday, December 8 for their latest vintage fair — A Very Vintage Christmas — which will see more than 50 stalls there between 11am and 5pm each day.

Gemma said: “We're bringing a full vintage fair brimming with clothing and accessories, furniture and homewares stalls along with lots of textiles, soft furnishings and gift ideas.

jewellery textiles from The Vintage Suitcase

“We have a full vintage tea room, 50s retro Americana inspired dinner serving milkshakes and cocktails and a beautifully converted 60s ambulance that's now a bar serving real ale, spiced ciders and mulled wine.”

Amongst the different stalls will also be a vintage beauty parlour for hair and makeup, thanks to Sassy's Vintage Beauty Parlour where you'll be able to get a cat’s eye flick and red lippie while Miss Whittington's Vintage Beauty Parlour can provide you with a retro hair-do to match.

Live music from Velvet Divine and traditional games for children will also be there to add to the atmosphere.

“Mix this in with workshops, demos and entertainment for kids, we've got a weekend of festive fun in a vintage style for all the family.”

Gemma adds: “Our Uttoxeter event is almost like a home-coming event for Allison as it's her home town, so it's going to be a fantastic opportunity for her friends and family to come and take a peek at our events and see the success she's achieving with The Vintage Suitcase. We're hoping she'll become a local celebrity,” she says with a smile.

Although the stock and atmosphere at the fairs may be vintage, the way the business is run and promoted is anything but as Gemma and Allison find their traders predominately through social media sites and rely on facebook and twitter to find and promote new companies. They make a point of looking for those who are local.

“There is a nice buzz around the fairs via their social media platforms. We're very much focused on engaging with like-minded people via social networking to spread the word about our fairs.” However, away from the business side of things it's back to old fashioned values and Gemma says there is a nice community feel to the vintage fair scene.

“Everyone refers to us as a vintage family and we do all get on well. It's almost a vintage fair circuit.” Her passion for china is well known with friends and family all keeping an eye out for pieces to add to her collection, but she also has a fondness for 1950s dresses too.

“I do wear vintage whenever possible. I wish I could create the hair and beauty myself too but I'm just not that talented.

“At the Uttoxeter event we will have our hair and make-up done at the salon on the day and will be out and about talking to everyone.

“I love it — it's a lot of hard work, it really is, the first fair was also really nail-biting, but it was worth it and we love meeting everybody and looking around the stalls.

“I always end up coming away with far more than I had planned to!”

For more information visit the Vintage Suitcase website at www.vintagesuitcase.co.uk.

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