Europe’s millennial self-starters are a source of inspiration to us all. They are willing to take the risks most of us are unwilling to take. But how easy is it to go at it alone? What are the pitfalls of being your own boss at a young age? 

E&M caught up with vintage clothing and fashion entrepreneur Tillie Peel to find out.

Founder of The Bearded Gypsy Company, an independent vintage apparel vendor, Tillie Peel is a classic entrepreneur. UK-born, Essex-based, the 25-year-old displays all the qualities of a true businessperson: industriousness, resilience and creativity to name a few. And everything she has achieved to date was accomplished under her own steam. “I had my own place when I was 16,” she tells E&M. “Everything that I have done has been off my own back. And I am quite proud of that.”

A fashionista at heart, Tillie runs a vintage clothing pop-up shop and also sells her merchandise online. “Vintage is for completely any age,” she says. “Anyone could wear my stuff.” After being asked to leave a local market because she wasn’t selling food, Tillie decided to sell her clothes out of the back of a van in a pub carpark, where six other stalls congregated in a small entrepreneurial community. The event inspired Tillie to organise a High Street Takeover in June, to which more than 100 people applied.

Tillie’s clothes are mostly American vintage | Photo courtesy: Tillie Peel | Credit: Kate Jones Photography

Since then, she has managed to secure a spot at the local market in her home city, Chelmsford, and is currently in the process of launching a market there with 30 different stalls. The whole set up has “tripled in size” since she began the project two years ago, in a sign of Tillie’s growth ambitions. Her new market fayre will offer locals something unique to do on lazy weekends.

But the market fayre concept wasn’t always what Tillie wanted to do with her vintage clothing company. “I was completely sold on having a shop,” she says. “But the more I thought about it and looked into it, I thought, ‘this is probably the worst business move that I am going to make’.”

Tillie’s project is breathing much-needed life into her city | Photo courtesy: Tillie Peel | Credit: Kate Jones Photographyphy

Tillie cites the running costs of having a shop as one of the main reasons it isn’t a viable option for her at this stage. In the internet era, where she can sell her products online, the overheads involved would prove an unnecessary expense. 

Instead of running a traditional shop, Tillie has developed a business model in the form of membership platform for Chelmsford’s market traders to come together and sell their wares. Many of the market sellers who set up stalls with Tillie have part-time jobs or childcare responsibilities. “They have got something that they can do and they love,” she explains animatedly. “Lots of people are creating things, making things, we have artists and designers etc.”

The project has already received more than a hundred applications | Photo courtesy: Tillie Peel | Credit: Kate Jones Photography

The plan for Tillie is to host a market on the first Sunday of every month. She didn’t necessarily want to become an event organiser, she tells E&M, but has ended up becoming one anyway. “But is it really good because you are giving something back,” she divulges. “People say to me: ‘we’ve had a business for the last year in Chelmsford, but we have never had a platform,’ so it has given all these people a platform that is really needed here. And they can come and use this customer base in real life as well online.”

In a sign the authorities recognise the value in projects like Tillie’s, the local council has employed people to bring culture into the city. Tillie says: “It is really needed – it has been a massive thing for it to be happening here.”

Social media has been a big driver in Tillie establishing her name and developing her brand. “Instagram is the biggest tool I would say that I use,” she reveals. “I am quite visual in the way I do things.” But how useful is social media specifically as a business tool? “If you are going to be doing anything online, if you are going to build your Instagram, you have got to are bringing a lot to the table before people even think about buying anything from you, or trusting you,” Tillie believes.

The local authorities recognise the value in Tillie’s project | Photo courtesy: Tillie Peel | Kate Jones Photography | Credit: Kate Jones Photography

When creating a dynamic online profile, the synergy between company values and branding is key, Tillie says. “A lot of my branding is American vintage – so lots of leather jackets – cowboy boots and timeless things. Stuff like that is never going to go out fashion – that is key. It is just about what I see as well – and I want to travel as much as I can with it to bring the best things to my customers,” she explains. In terms of an online presence, first you have to create your own company values and work on the branding from there, she reveals. Facebook is really good for the events side of things, Tillie explains, as she reveals her reach on social media has already dramatically improved.

So what inspires Tillie to come up with her distinctive brand image and unique look? “It could be anything,” she divulges. “It could be something I have seen in a movie – there could be a spilt-second from a film and I might take a picture of it. It’s vintage – so there are lots of different eras that inspire me as well.”

The city of Chelmsford has a long market tradition | Photo courtesy: Tillie Peel | Kate Jones Photography | Credit: Kate Jones Photography

The entrepreneurial journey has not been without its ups and down for Tillie. “It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride,” she says. “You have got to be super-motivated. It’s a lot of hard work. You have got to prepared to work harder than you would in any other job – which is a shock to begin with. But as you keep going, the rewards speak for themselves. When you make that sale online or you make a wage that month that would match what you would be making with a full-time job it kind of makes it all worth it.” She adds: “It is kind of addictive.”

About the interviewee
Tillie started her entrepreneurial journey selling tickets to events in Spain. Since then, she has built her confidence as a young businesswoman and is now launching a monthly market to bring culture to her home city, Chelmsford, Essex.
  • mm

    From Birmingham to Buenos Aries, Milan to Valencia, Sam Stevenson's penchant for travel and world culture has defined his recent years. As a modern foreign languages graduate, he is always keen to visit and embrace new destinations. Along with writing, Sam has a strong passion for photography. He currently works as a freelance journalist and writer, contributing to various print and online publications. Find him tweeting @Sam_Stevenson_ and on Instagram @samstevo93

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