Located in Holt, a picturesque Georgian market town in Norfolk, Old Town is a clothing retailer with its own workshop on the first floor, where they design, measure, cut and sew their unique collection. Having opened in 1992, partners Will Brown and Marie Willey admit they naively thought they could make a living by selling balls of string, candles and old enamelware etc. “We made a ‘work shirt in a box’, and it went quite well.” The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Old Town is renowned worldwide for their menu system of design styles and fabrics, and their collection of men’s, and women’s, utilitarian, wearable and practical clothing. “Our ‘High Rise’ trousers have always been popular, but lately it has been our ‘Unity Suits’ that are in big demand.” With a customer base ranging from Japan and Scandinavia, to USA and Australia, this traditional style outfitters continues to go from strength to strength. We are delighted to share their story on The Shopkeepers.
Who or what inspires you? Different things at different times. Early Modernism always provides a lot of inspiration.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I was…A 35 year old who thought that his clothes designing career was over.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? Not to overestimate public taste.
What tasks do you like to delegate? My partner Marie runs the retail side of the business and the office, for which I am immensely grateful.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? To have a sign on the door which says ‘Working upstairs, please ring doorbell for assistance’.
What would be your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Have a proper plan or you’ll need to be very lucky! Also, work hard at making it not just another generic such-and-such store.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? Iggy Pop – the man looks like he needs a shirt!
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be? I think I would make a very good janitor.
What is your perfect day off? Thinking that I’d like to do something, but ending up going into work!
Can you share your five favourite shops? William Gee – a trimming shop in Dalston, London; Crowes – an old fashioned grocers in Holt, Norfolk; Lina Stores – an authentic Italian food shop and deli in Soho, London; Santa Maria Novella – one of the oldest Italian pharmacies selling fragrances, beauty and body products; Labour And Wait – a shop selling functional products for the home and garden in East London.
What is your favorite neighborhood coffee shop? The Black Apollo coffee shop in Holt, Norfolk.
I wish I could…At the minute I wish I could find a good supplier of denim.
On the Future of Retail
“It could be good for retailers who give a value added experience or service. I’m fairly sure that there will be stores as we’ve known them, but there is so much scope for flexible retail in premises not previously thought suitable. We have a store in an unlikely location only made possible because of the internet, and I feel that upper floors of mixed usage in buildings could be used for retail…create your own world up there, because the internet’s your shop window.”
Photography by Matt Hind & Words by Stephanie Bateman Sweet The Lifestyle Editor
49 Bull Street, Holt, Norfolk