How to turn your passion into a business

“I wasn’t entrepreneurial at all in my twenties,” says vintage jewelry curator Susan Caplan, who runs a successful eponymous brand. “I just knew that I loved buying things.”

Caplan grew up in a family with a passion for collecting antiques: his aunt ran a shop in Camden Passage in Islington; his grandmother was in the Silver Vaults; and his cousin was recognized as a world expert in Meissen porcelain.

“My earliest memory of shopping for antiques was in the 1960s – I must have been around 10,” Caplan recalls. “I would go with my mother to Bermondsey Market, one of London’s historic institutions, and watch her buy a coin at one stall and then sell it at the other! She had this gift for finding beautiful things.

Caplan clearly inherited this talent: while traveling around the world as a beautician for the cruise line Steiner, she spent her free time exploring local markets in the various ports where the ship was docked, and at every opportunity she collected some interesting pieces. jewelry and antiques. “I just kept buying and buying,” she laughs. “I went to all the auctions and soon every wall in my house was covered with pictures and plates. I decided to start a business so other people could enjoy the things I collected.

After selling jewelry first at antique shows and then through John Lewis’ “used cabinet,” Caplan finally established her own brand in 2008, unveiling it as part of the opening of House of Fraser in Westfield London. Today, she is recognized as a global authority on vintage jewelry and her brand has seen impressive growth year on year, with a new collection of one-of-a-kind luxury pieces set to launch at John Lewis. Here, she shares the lessons she’s learned from her stellar career so far…

1/ Have the courage of your convictions

Back in the 1990s when my pieces were first stocked at John Lewis, the store still used the term ‘second hand’ which had the wrong connotation. It took me a while to convince them to call the range “vintage” instead, but it was worth it. I had seen that there was an opportunity and I wanted to be at the forefront.

2/ Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty

Prior to 2008 I did everything by myself from home in Glasgow – all buying and selling, invoicing, merchandising, repairs and so on. Even after the brand was launched, I would invite buyers back to my flat in London to view the products. I have so much fun finding a piece, showing it to potential buyers, and then seeing someone else wear it.

3/ Follow your instincts

When I select jewelry for television, whether for Downton Abbey Where for Meryl Streep to wear The iron womanI will do a lot of research on the historical period and what people wore, but eventually I will have an idea of ​​what is right.

A selection of vintage Edwardian renaissance themed jewellery, curated for Downton Abbey


4/ Go the distance

I’ve traveled all over the world in search of jewelry, from Italy to Hong Kong, but one of the places that amazes me the most is a dusty old warehouse in the deepest, darkest Canada. You climb a ladder to reach those suitcases full of jewelry that have been untouched for years – on one visit I bought a complete set from a designer who had been completely forgotten until I resurrected those pieces .

5/ Stay true to your values

I’ve always loved old things, so I’m thrilled that pre-loved and vintage pieces are seeing such demand now, as the market may soon overtake fast fashion. I want to partner with more retailers where sustainability is a key goal, because I love being able to upcycle items for a new audience.

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