«Ten years ago, shopping vintage was considered weird. Now everybody loves it», says Jess Doolan from concept store Atika, UK’s largest retro store thriving post pandemic
Atika, a two-storey concept store in London
Ask a Londoner about vintage shopping. He or she will point you to the East end of the British capital. The area around Brick Lane in Shoreditch, in fact, is home to one of London’s best-known weekend markets. It has also been celebrating second-hand fashion for decades. Many treasure hunters consider the market itself as their main destination to shop until they drop. Nevertheless, the stores around it are just as well-stocked.
Atika on Hanbury Street prides itself in having the largest retro selection of them all. Twenty-thousand vintage items are, in fact, in stock any day of the year. The two-storey concept store celebrates its tenth birthday in August 2021. Its name, Atika, was borrowed from the Hebrew word for ‘old’. A post lockdown in-store party bash is currently being mapped out. «We started out ten years ago selling vintage furniture upstairs and vintage clothing downstairs», recalls Jess Doolin, who runs the retro shop’s communication department.
Atika was founded by a handful of London-based vintage lovers, including manager John Howling. He still works at the store today. Over the years, the shop has undergone several facelifts, with the product range continuously expanding. These days, Jess describes Atika as «a department store selling all sorts of different things, rather than a classic vintage shop». Secondhand clothing is still the main reason for most customers to pop in. However, they can now also buy lifestyle articles. Vegan soy candles, organic body scrubs, hand sanitizers and deodorants, birthday cards, tomato seeds and art magazines characterize the product selection.
Small independent businesses from London, the UK and beyond are encouraged to sell at Atika. «About three businesses reach out to us every day. We check their products. If they fit into our range and we have space, we are happy to add them to our stock», explains Jess. «Sometimes, if we feel we are missing out on something, we also reach out to people ourselves. We mainly find them on Instagram».
Clothing collections at Atika
The concept store extends itself over six-thousand square metres on two floors. It has five different rooms. Each of them is packed from floor to ceiling with clothing, bags, books, accessories, pieces of art and even plants, mainly cacti. Entering Atika from the street, visitors find themselves right in the middle of the main warehouse. «All our vintage stock is on the ground floor. We have a men’s ware room and a women’s ware room, but we do try to keep everything unisex», says Jess. «Downstairs, we sell our own in-house rework brand called Remix Collection. We have two people reworking clothing fulltime. It’s all about taking something old and making it into something new or just using the fabric to create something».
Sixty percent of Atika stock is currently concessions from other businesses. She estimates that the other forty is the store’s own signature brand. Atika clothing collection ranges from jackets to t-shirts and bags, from sneakers to hats and swimwear. It changes according to seasons, so visitors can expect to find something new every time they pop in.
The attention to trends in the mainstream and vintage worlds
While everything in the shop is second hand, Atika pays attention to trends both in the mainstream and vintage worlds. According to Jess, this year’s spring and summer season sees «platform sandals, miniskirts, florals, oversized sunglasses, Mongolian fur and everything in shades of green and brown», especially sought-after. Showing Lampoon, a current nineties-themed rave collection in-store, think yellow smiley faces, some of them glowing in the dark, printed on everything from hoodies to tote bags, she also confirms a revival of the decade of house music. «While the nineties have never really disappeared over the years, we are now seeing a massive revival. People are craving for dancing and nights out with their friends after over a year of Covid-restrictions and lockdowns».
Besides the seasonal bestsellers, there’s also evergreens that have remained customer favourites since the shop first opened its doors. «If there’s one thing that has lasted over all the years, it’s Denim jackets and Denim jeans. They are the fundamental vintage pieces. Everyone comes in for a pair of Levi’s and everyone wants a jacket». Atika’s own house brand features a spring/summer and fall/winter collection every year. The current one mainly includes sportswear, another customer favorite.
Average visitor at Atika
Talking about the average visitor to the store, Jess points out a more varied range following COVID-19. «Shopping locally and sustainably has become mainstream. I wouldn’t say that we have seen an influx of people since the sustainability movement. But, we do see a lot of people at our store now that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to shop sustainably».
Pre pandemic, most of Atika’s clients were students and artists. They were mainly in their twenties and thirties, locals and visitors to London alike, she explains. These days people from all ages, backgrounds and walks of lives pop in, for pleasure or for work. «We have had musicians work here and one of our current shop assistants aims to be an actor. Many of the staff – including myself – are former customers. We also work with different magazines that are on the lookout for clothing for photo shoots. Ten years ago, many still considered shopping vintage a bit weird. But now everybody loves it».
Covid-19 impact on Atika
During the lockdowns, Atika introduced Instagram shopping in addition to its regular online store. But despite having sold pieces through their websites for many years, they have no plans to further expand their online activities. «Our focus is on our flagship shop, on the in-store experience and the community spirit. Things that one can’t recreate online».
To further enhance the latter, Atika runs regular events at its Hanbury Street site. Sunday is the main market day on Brick Lane. Every week, the concept store collaborates with a drinks or food brand. It, in fact, treats its customers to freebies, such as shots at a bar next to the entrance. Pre-pandemic, there were also workshops where artists selling at Atika answered questions. They also taught customers how to recreate their styles themselves. Other events saw them reworking clothing on-site that vintage fans brought with them. Every now and then, stylists popped in to get customers ready for their nights out.
The management hopes to be able to restart the events in the coming months: «Community events are what really sets us apart from most mainstream shops», says Jess. «They are an integral part of Atika’s business, and we are very much looking forward to restarting them». Unlike other high street sellers, Jess isn’t worried about the long-term consequences of coronavirus and the rise of online shops during the pandemic. «Everyone says the high street is dying, but our area is thriving. We see our customers returning to the shop. We also expect more tourists to arrive over the summer months when travel restrictions lift». While she doesn’t rule out that Atika might expand to a second location at some point in the future, it’s currently not in the cards. «If we do decide to open a second store in a year or two, it would probably be outside of London».
55-59 Hanbury St, E1 5JP, London, UK
Atika London is an east London six-thousand sqft Vintage Department Store based on Hanbury Street, Shoreditch.