Bag to the Future

Richard Gill is the foremost retailer of vintage clothing in Manchester. Having occupied various retail spaces around the Northern Quarter of the city over a ten year period, he has recently settled into a new shop on Tib Street. His shop is an Aladdin’s Cave of cool clothing from the last 30 years, all of which is hand picked and in some cases lovingly restored.

It is that ability to recycle old items that makes up the other important part of his shop. When Richard first began selling vintage items in Manchester’s Afflecks Palace, he married interesting jackets and tracksuit tops with recycled, custom made bags.

The bags were particularly well received and gained a cult following. Each bag is unique in it’s design, whether it be made from scratch using the finest tweed fabric or rebuilt from the remnants of an old piece of clothing.

In fact it’s fair to say Richard has rejuvenated more old bags than a Hollywood surgeon. We had a long chat with him shortly after he moved into his new shop in January.

So Rich, a lot of people might know you from your time selling vintage clothing in Wood on Oldham Street. How come you have moved?

The shop on Oldham Street was good for me because you get a lot of passing trade and people looking in the window, but it was time to move on. It was mostly about getting my identity back. Sharing a shop is okay, but when that shop has a different identity to you, you’re stuck with that identity. I wanted to have a place that was more like my original shop.

Your new place is on Tib Street which isn’t traditionally as busy as Oldham Street.

It’s not as prominent a location as Wood was, but this area is finally being regenerated after ten years of waiting. It’s getting there now with stuff going on in and around Thomas Street and Tib Street. It’s shifting more this way. We get as many people coming in as we did on Oldham Street and I’ve done just as well here as I was doing over there really.

Other than being able to strike out on your own again, what was it about this space in particular that attracted you to it?

It’s a corner unit so it has big windows which is a big plus. It’s a quieter road but I’ve always had a soft spot for Tib Street. It’s a bit of old Manchester. Everywhere else has changed but the older style of buildings around the area have been reinvented to be used for different purposes, so they’ll remain. Market Street used to be amazing. I used to go to the underground market, to a shop called Oasis. You’d see stuff like adidas Torino and they’d be wrapped in clingfilm because they didn’t want people to dirty them. But now you go down Market Street and there’s like eight mobile phone shops, boring.

Yeah, the general perception is that Manchester changed for the better after the bomb, but the regeneration wasn’t all good was it?

All the great shops like the ones in the old Royal Exchange and Corn Exchange second hand market in Manchester are gone now, replaced by lots of flats which in turn brings in plenty of council tax!

There’s still that sense of independence in the Northern Quarter though, especially where you are on Tib Street.

Yeah from my point of view, Oi Polloi drags a lot of people down this way. It’s been good for me that a lot of people have seen that I’m here through that really. I’ll have had a few months here before they move but they will always have an interest in the old shop and I know the lads in there really well through working in retail. They don’t mind sending people my way and it’s always going to cross over a bit.A lot of what you sell is definitely of interest to their customers. It’s possible to trace the roots of some of their gear in your shop.

Being where we are, there’s an element of new against old, but now new is inspired by old. If you’re into that kind of clothing it makes sense that you’ll appreciate older versions. A lot of it is based on heritage ranges. Certain brands are heavily influenced by the past. It’s a good thing because I don’t see anybody making ‘future clothes’ for want of a better word and anything approaching that kind of look would be tough to pull off in Manchester.

Going back to the Northern Quarter, the central part of that whole area has long been Afflecks, and of course you started out in there way back.

Yep, that’s right. Afflecks was good for me. I was tucked away on the third floor and I really liked it because there seemed to be more creative types and people into craft around at that point. The other floors were okay but it seems to be less about making stuff and more about buying stuff in, from anywhere. It was a good little shop because it built a reputation as a bit of a hidden gem and once people had found it I had a good collection of regulars. Well apart from a few who kept it a secret as they wanted the clothes for themselves! Some of them still come in the new shop to this day.

There seems to be a new vintage shop popping up every week around here. Is that positive or negative for you?

The presence of other shops round here is a good thing and a bad thing. From a shopping point of view it’s a good magnet and there’s enough to go around. Pop boutique in particular is great for the area.

The thing that makes your place stand out from your competitors is the custom bags you sell. Can you tell us the story behind them?

When I’m looking at potential stock, I’ll often see things as a bag first. Sometimes I can look at something and think, that’s a horrible jacket but it’d make a very interesting bag. I’ve trained my mind to look at things a bit differently. It’s just being creative really and I think it’s testament to my Dad making stuff and me being surrounded by people that make stuff. Even my Grandma was amazing at making stuff. It was always there but I never really appreciated it, so for me it’s nice to carry that tradition on.

How did you come to convert that interest into what you’ve got on sale today though?

My Dad made a little tweed bag for a little ’80s JVC radio with a TV in the top. I’d seen this bag and as I was DJing at the time and wanted something to put my records in, and everything at the time was those horrible black vinyl ones, I made myself a bag. So I had this bag and other people I knew from going into Fat City like Mr Scruff saw it and started asking about it and asking for me to make them one. So I started supplying local DJs with bags and that’s where it started really, about ’91, ’92.

And did word of mouth then play a part?

Yeah, I’ve had people travel up from Brighton to buy a bag. They’d seen a bag at a festival and asked where it was from. The customers were kind enough to tell them ‘Yeah it’s from Bags of Flavor in Manchester”. People will travel across the country just to buy a bag. It’s the same with coats. People ask “Where did you get your coat from?” and the reply will be “Oh, this shop in Manchester”. I made Jerry Dammers out of the Specials a bag. Qool DJ Marv. Unabombers, Fat City. Local people into DJing. They were made to order to start off with. Then on top of that I used to have my bags in independent boutiques. Eventually that indirectly led here. I just thought “Why don’t I open a shop in Afflecks and sell the bags?” I’d always been into clothing so I put the two together and set things off from there.

Well that takes us nicely onto the clothes you stock. It seems a lot more hand picked than most of the other places round here.

I’ve definitely got an eye for things that are interesting. It helps that I was into all this gear early on, ’82, ’83, ’84. onwards, so I’ve kind of seen it all as it happened. There’s loads of bits in the last ten years of buying and selling that I’d never ever seen though, and that’s amazing for me. It keeps digging fresh! There was so much stuff I thought I knew about but there’s actually so much more. I’m very lucky at finding stuff. People can ask for something and eventually I’ll find it. I have found a lot of stuff that people have asked me to find. Once in a while people bring me amazing stuff and because they know I sell stuff they know I’ll buy it aswell.

Whenever the subject of vintage comes up you’re always going to get detractors who don’t quite get it and say it’s just glorified second hand. What’s your response to that?

People think you have to spend money to look good, but you don’t A lot of countries have a phobia about second hand goods and for someone like myself, that’s why I’m able to find stuff. I know someone who found 2 Fila Terrindas in Spain for 20 euros and thought the price must be wrong! My Dad always asks am I a dealer or a collector but I guess I’m kind of both. If something comes my way and it fits me perfectly then I’ll probably keep it, but I’ve let stuff go that I shouldn’t have then found stuff to replace it. It’s the nature of old clothing, there’s always a value to stuff that was expensive in it’s day as quality always lasts.

Can you see a time when good quality vintage gear will run dry?

It’s never going to have it’s day because if you think of the amount of brands that came out of America in the 1970’s, all these little cottage industries around Colorado and all the mountaineering shops selling outdoor clothing. It’s amazing. They weren’t having their stuff made in China; it was made locally. Vintage is just good stuff from the past. There’s certain brands I’m really into and loads I don’t even know about. I’ll find one and it opens a door. I’ll always have some nice jackets in as most northerners love jackets. I think that’s what I seem to specialise in because that’s what I’m into myself. I love jackets. I like tracksuit tops, they’re okay, but if I had to choose any one thing it’d be my outdoor jacket collection. For me it’s the love and thought that went into them to make a functional product that is built to last.

To read the remainder of this top insight into Bags of Flavor, get hold of issue 9.
Mark Smith



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