A lifelong love and “unhealthy obsession” with flea markets, vintage children’s book illustrations, and the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, inspired Vanessa Hale to set up RunaroundRetro in 2015. She started small by making dresses for her daughter, and has recently seen her business expand into Europe.
Vanessa: “When we moved to Somerset 10 years ago, I started working in local boutiques. I finally set up my own vintage shop and tearoom, and very slowly started to make things for my shop. When the shop lease came up, I handed back the keys and realised that it was now or never to start to really sew and to develop RunaroundRetro. Having built up a lovely handful of local dealers who I regularly met at vintage fairs, I knew I had the stock so I enrolled on sewing/dressmaking course at Bridgwater College and took my place as oldest in the class!”
So with fabric, contacts, and some training under her belt, Vanessa set up RunaroundRetro. But where did the name come from?
Vanessa: “The name RunaroundRetro is a two-fold idea – it illustrates me running around hunting down fabrics , and also touches on the children who wear my clothes. I want them to be comfy, happy and free, and be able to run around as much as they please. I am based on the outskirts of Wells and sew in a tiny studio in my little cottage in the fields. [I am inspired] by the 1950s and 1960s retro era which influences my designs and the retro fabric that I choose to use.”
Vanessa sources all of her fabrics from flea markets, vintage fairs and independent haberdashery stores, in order to find “just the right piece”. She prides herself on using the best quality materials – all of the linings she uses in her pieces are either made from Liberty London fabric, or are true vintage fabric linings.
Vanessa: “I have piles of fabric in different baskets labelled bonnets, dresses, bloomers, blouses and pockets. I always know what I will create with the fabric I have managed to purchase. When I start sewing something, it’s magical. When I have been in my studio for a long time the Elves and the Shoe Maker comes to mind, but at the moment it is just me. The magic time that I have on my machine, and with my hand-stitching needles, make it all happen. It is my happy place.”
Vanessa said her main love is making bonnets, and the storybook-style ears she adds to them create a little bit of “magic”. They are based on The Little Grey Rabbit books, which to this day remain some of her favourite stories, both for their words and for their “enchanting illustrations”.
Vanessa: “When I was little my favourite books were the Milly-Molly-Mandy series, Mrs Pepperpot, and Pippi Longstocking. I love all of the Little Grey Rabbit series. The characters of the childrens’ books had such amazing but simple lives, and their clothing and the way they lived always fascinated me. I just loved them. When I had my own family I made little dresses for my daughter, but never had enough time to spend properly making let alone thinking I could do it for a living. The next couple of months I am making bob-tail bloomers, summer linen bonnets, short sleeve tunic dresses and shirts, and I have been asked to stock a capsule collection for a shop in Switzerland and Italy!”
So why Somerset for Vanessa and her business?
Vanessa: “I love Somerset because it is truly rural, open, free and green. I live in a cottage out on proper farmland and fall asleep to the sound of very noisy bleating lambs and their indignant mama sheep, and some demanding owls. I never want to leave!”