When she began collecting and customising vintage clothes that weren’t destined for personal use, Erin Rose Arthurs knew that something was brewing; she just hadn’t discovered what exactly that ‘something’ would look like. But the creator and owner of supremely stylish vintage clothing boutique Alf and Roe, made many sideways moves before making her way back to that gathered pile.
Her original career path rooted in marketing, she had been feeling creatively unfulfilled for a while. “I was getting to a point where I knew I had more so much more to give to a job, but the opportunity to give it just wasn’t there.” Having studied PR at university in Leeds, Erin Rose was always inspired by the avant-garde approach to style that she’d seen there. “I always admired people who did fashion differently. I loved Edie Sedgewick for her daring style choices and the fact that she was never too far away from a bit of leopard print, as well as Fearne Cotton for her imaginative approach to style and how she almost creates a character through her clothing choices, whilst always supporting vintage. Then there’s Maria Bernard, a Spanish creative with an impeccable style and vision (her Instagram is a complete aesthetic dream). And of course, there’s my mama, an out-and-out style goddess, who can rock anything from vintage Fred Perry to full-on white-on-white outfit perfection, or some second hand Nike high-tops with a trouser suit, all the while looking like a 30 year-old - she is without doubt my number one style icon.”
In her quest to seek out the fulfilment she craved, Erin headed off to Australia for two years, taking up a series of posts within different marketing and fashion agencies in both Perth and Brisbane. But with job security a struggle alongside visa constraints, two years later she made her way back to our shores to try things here again, the cogs already beginning to turn.
“Having often talked about starting my own vintage clothing business, it felt like the time had finally come to bite the bullet. So many people around me were understandably worried about the risk I was taking, except my mum, who did nothing but encourage me. I’m so grateful for that. And my partner, Mickey, was also worried about the potential pitfalls. I’d talked about it for so long though, that he knew I needed to try. So while he was fearful that the timing wasn’t ideal, he told me he would support me. I had what I needed to make a go of it.”
The quest to find the right spot began, and the right spot it definitely is. Unlike many vintage stores, Alf and Roe has a fresh feel - with an enviable collection of pieces from several iconic eras in fashion, this gal truly has an eye for a statement piece. And with jewellery and headwear to boot, it really is a fashionista’s Mecca.
So where does she find all this amazing apparel? “When it comes to sourcing stock, London is my go-to destination, but anytime I travel I’m always on the lookout and gathering gems for the store. In truth, as a trader in the vintage world, no-one wants to share their secrets, so you’ve gotta work hard to find the pots of gold. But I’ve made some strong connections in my almost two years of operating; maybe someday I’ll be the one with all the vintage clothing secrets and I’ll keep them in a big book, like the Hocus Pocus gals with their spells ‘BOOOOOOOKKKKK!’ ”
Setting up premises just over two years ago, outside her hometown of Dungannon, Erin Rose hasn’t looked back. “As soon as I’d done it, I knew I’d made the right move. Naturally, just like everyone starting their own business, I still experience moments of doubt - it’s a huge responsibility. But for those moments, there are so many other joyous days, filled with fabulous customers, amazing clothing finds, styling shoots and merchandising, when I think there’s nothing else I’d want to be doing right now.”
And sacrifices? Yes, there have been those. We both agreed that when it’s your ‘baby’ it’s hard to switch off the business-mode function in your brain, the constant thinking about moving things forward and pursuing new avenues. Also agreed on was how entrepreneurship can be a tough gig when so many questions can only be asked to and of yourself, especially when it’s your own personal vision that you’re striving towards - yours and yours alone.
We chatted highs and lows too; those borne out of social media - a godsend in many ways for us small indie businesses, but which can also take up an inordinate amount of time, often with no defined outcome to justify that time. Indeed, it’s a quandary that many start-ups and established businesses alike are encountering.
But back to the business at hand... like, what’s your favourite era in fashion? “That is tough! I love them all for their own reasons, but I’ll toss it up between the 60s and 70s. I love the whole Woodstock cult and the Twiggy check and turtle neck trends. I love those eras too, because of the huge amount of versatility and quality in clothing that they brought with them - I mean, I still get pieces from the 60s that have completely stood the test of time and are in perfect condition.”
Fast and slow fashion, buzzwords of our time, were also discussed. Not necessarily wanting to push an all-out vintage aesthetic, Erin Rose still sees the value in encouraging people to mix it up. “Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips, from food to fashion. And it needs to be. We need to be thinking about our purchases much more sensibly; can I wear this dress next season too, with tights for autumn? Will I wash these jeans one hundred times over and love them more every time? And can I give a new lease of life to this amazing 1970s dress and create an entirely unique outfit while I’m at it? Yes, I can. These are the kind of items we should be striving for in our wardrobes.”
And there you have it, folks. So next time you’re looking for something that little bit different, take a detour down Dungannon way. I have no doubt you’ll be spoilt for choice - and you’ll be doing your bit for our wee world too. It’s a win-win.
All clothing and accessories by Alf and Roe.
Styling by Erin Rose Arthurs.
Photography by Filly Campbell.