If you live in the UK, chances are you’ve heard of Wavey Garms. But, for everyone else in the world, how is it that a Facebook re-sellers group went on to become one of the most sought-after trend scouting resources in the country? Read on to find out…
The last decade or so of the pop cultural zeitgeist has been defined by two key trends: recycling and intimacy. From the hipster-led regeneration (and later, gentrification) of deprived inner-city neighbourhoods, to thrift store chic and cocktails served in jam jars, the old and the unwanted have repeatedly found themselves re-discovered, recycled and given a new lease of life.
Throughout this period the way we consume has become more intimate, with young people in the UK increasingly likely to eschew gargantuan mega-retailers in favour of smaller businesses to which they feel more personally connected. This has given rise to a new kind of start-up retail culture, where grassroots authenticity trumps manufactured hype. Wavey Garms — an online marketplace trading in vintage designer labels and streetwear — sits precisely at the intersection of these two phenomena, nostalgia and localism, which may go some way to explaining its incredible success.
Image via Call It Spring
In case you’re unfamiliar with what Wavey Garms is, the outfit first appeared as a Facebook group in the early months of 2013. Its founder, twenty-something south Londoner Andres Branco, drew his inspiration from another Facebook page, Ninety Fly, that his sister Rhiannon had set up to sell vintage Versace and Moschino gear “before it was cool.” Initially, the group only contained a handful of Andres’ friends, who used it to trade designer clothing (“garms”) amongst themselves. But, rather than the process being about making money (like the sneaker reselling market, for instance), the purpose of the venture was to allow users to freshen up their wardrobes at minimal outlay. The group’s membership grew slowly over time, until it suddenly exploded in popularity about eight months in.
“I don’t know how it got big,” Andres tells me over Skype. “My theory is that a big fashion blogger or someone saw it then tweeted about it, because I remember one day, when I was in Berlin, there was suddenly about a thousand requests that came in overnight. From that point forward there was loads of people trying to join every day because there wasn’t really any other groups that had done this before. I think that was key as to why it got so big. And the name; it’s very catchy.”
Image via Tan Tan Bam
In essence, Wavey Garms functions like a specialist, stripped-down, grassroots take on eBay, minus all the service fees and registration hassle. Once your request to join the group has been approved, you simply post a photo and a description of whatever it is that you’re trying to sell, along with your desired price. Group members will make their offers by commenting or dropping a message to the seller’s inbox, and will close a deal either via a combination of Paypal and Royal Mail, or by simply meeting up to exchange goods and cash in person. Because there’s no feedback system, the group operates largely on trust, although Andres and a number of administrators are on-hand to try settle any disputes.
Wavey Garms’ best sellers usually consist of vintage pieces by cult designer labels like Stone Island, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Versace, Moschino and Gucci — brands that played a major part in both football casual culture and the UK Garage scene of the 1990s — while hyped streetwear brands like Supreme and Palace are eternally sought after as well. There’s a very clear brand image, and if listings don’t conform to the group’s standards they’ll usually be removed. Garms generally go for less than £100, but particularly rare items can potentially spark a bidding war that rises much higher. Conversely, if someone ever makes a sartorial faux pas by posting something embarrassingly passé, members of the group are notorious for letting them know in not-too-gentle terms.
“Wavey Garms does have a bit of a reputation that you have to be careful what you post, otherwise you could end up ruining your life” Andres jokes. “But everyone has calmed down a bit. It’s not how it used to be. If a comment is funny we’ll leave it, but if someone is just plain rude they’ll be removed”
Image via Found
Since that initial surge in popularity two years ago, Wavey Garms’ membership has swelled to 33,000 users and spawned another two sub-groups: Wavey Garms Ladies (specialising in women’s wear) and Wavey Kicks (operating exclusively in trainers), each with 15,000 and 27,500 members respectively. Another 10,000, meanwhile, are on the waiting list, according to Andres.
“We try to keep it a bit exclusive,” he explains. “I know that some people have been waiting a year to get in, but it builds more hype around the brand. If someone sends us a personal message, like a really nice one, we will let them in, but at the moment we’re still trying to decide what to do with those other 10,000 people.”
Despite its relentless success, monetising Wavey Garms has proved problematic. Andres admits that he never expected to reach these peaks of popularity when the group first launched, and it’s a bit difficult to put a business plan into place once the group has taken on a life of its own. Although he doesn’t see any proceeds from individual transactions, he makes some advertising revenue from people keen to push their own brands via the group, as well as through Wavey Garms merchandise and parties. A specialised, own-brand site that moved the group away from Facebook was in the works, but has currently been put on hold. Instead, Andres and his sister Rhiannon decided to turn their attention offline by opening up a brick-and-mortar Wavey Garms boutique in the cultural mixing grounds of Rye Lane in Peckham (South London), which opened its doors in August 2015.
Image via Better Never Than Late
As you’d expect, the store stocks the sorts of brands and pieces that are so popular in the Facebook group, minus the unwanted snark. Rhiannon is in charge of sourcing and buying, scouring charity shops (thrift stores), boot sales and Depop for stock, but they also do consignments. So, if you want to circumvent the web waiting list and start selling your gear without critical appraisal, Andres and Rhiannon will do so for a cut of the final sale. Items generally start at around £10 for a t-shirt, but stretch up to £250 for something like a Versace two-piece that Rhiannon once hired out to M.I.A for a recent music video.
But the Wavey Garms IRL locale isn’t simply a business enterprise; much like Supreme’s famed Lafayette flagship store, it serves as a meet-up point for the group’s social following — a tribe who see clothes as far more than just decorative protection from indecent exposure, and unite around a style of dress that is fundamentally British in both its look and attitude.
“Wavey Garms has a real community sort of vibe. Plenty of people just come down here and chill for a couple of hours and have a chat, get to know us a bit more and talk about clothes and fashion,” Andres muses. “It makes it a lot more personal; we don’t want Wavey Garms to be like ASOS, where you’re just dealing with a machine.”
Image via Better Never Than Late
If you live outside the UK it can be difficult to grasp how big Wavey Garms really is. Their particular combination of streetwear and vintage labels has very much become a clearly-defined “look,” a distinctly English alternative to the health goths and fuccbois that have populated style blogs elsewhere in the world in recent years. British trend forecasters now use the group as a yardstick to measure what’s cool and what isn’t, while Andres and Rhiannon have become bona fide trend influencers able to offer their services as brand consultants for cold hard cash. All of which begs the question: what is cool at the moment?
“Moschino’s fading out and what’s really big right now is scally wear – like full tracksuits, Nike TN’s, the old school gypsy sort of look in England, or French rudeboys. I think that’s what’s proper coming in,” Andres reveals. “A full Lacoste tracksuit, that’s proper in right now. Anything with the [Nike] TN logo is shit hot right now, but it’s really hard to get because they stopped doing TN clothes in 2006 or something. Stone Island. It’s been around for a while but whenever we get something in the shop it’s gone on the same day. Cottweiler. It’s quite fashionista but Skepta basically made it cool – all the Wavey Garms kids copy whatever Skepta does. More expensive brands like Cav Empt or Gosha Rubchinskiy are coming in, too.”
Image via Better Never Than Late
But while menswear is in a state of flux, Wavey Garms Ladies, on the other hand, is a lot more static.
“I’d say the women’s side hasn’t really moved on that much,” Rhiannon explains. “Moschino and Versace sell really well. I look at the younger girls who are like 16, 17, 18… they’re really into Christian Dior, Evisu, Ed Hardy… remember the French connection tops with FCUK? Girls were going mad for that. But I think men are more forward with brands and fashion on Wavey Garms than women. They’re a lot more into it.”
But how about some things you shouldn’t be caught dead wearing anymore?
“Tommy Hilfiger was a natural trend on Wavey Garms – I never pushed that myself,” Andres muses. “It literally just happened on its own and it went really massive for about four months. Coats were going for like £200 and now they’re back to £40 again. I don’t understand how that happened, it was just a really quick trend”
“I think it was just with the whole ’90s thing really blowing up,” Rhiannon interjects. “But the ’90s are on their way out and what’s popular now is what we wore back in the early noughties, when we were still in school.”
Image via Tan Tan Bam
In many respects, Wavey Garms is a continuation of the traits that once characterised the hipster movement of the late-’00s: a group of modern youths harking back to the styles and fashions of a bygone era, only this time they favour a brandy and coke over artisanal craft lager. While some might see it as an indictment of 21st Century youth culture that kids feel more affinity with the fashions of the past than the brands of the present, the fact is that British street style has always borrowed elements from across many different divides — be they class, culture or historical era — and preserving a root connection to the nation’s cultural heritage has long been seen as more important than snapping up the latest hype product.
It’s not always easy to chart where UK street fashion will turn next, but one thing’s for sure: a quick check on Wavey Garms is a pretty good indication. Just don’t go throwing out your old clothes any time soon…
Words by Aleks Eror for Highsnobiety.com
- Photography: Tan Tan Bam