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career girl: chatting with ruby barnett, owner of frith st

Ruby Barnett

A little while ago, I wrote about my secret ambition to one day own and run a small business. Although for me that’s still a pipedream, I’m lucky to know an inspiring young woman who has realised that ambition for herself. Ruby Barnett is now the proud owner/manager of a boutique vintage store, Frith St, which was opened last year as part of the Lonsdale St Traders project in Braddon, ACT – basically, an old warehouse was turned into a set of amazing pop-up-shops, allowing entrepreneurs and creative businesses to move in at low cost for a temporary period of time.

I caught up with Ruby to chat about the store and gain some advice for when I eventually take the plunge!

Tell us a bit about Frith St – where did the name come from? And when/why did you decide to open a shop?

Both of my parents runs their own businesses (in fashion and architecture) so I have grown up with the sense that I too would eventually run my own business. Over recent years I had started collecting items for a shop in which I could teach classes in jewellery, crochet, embroidery, etc. The kind of place that would encourage creative people to share their skills and then potentially sell their handmade items. I also always intended to have vintage clothing and furniture for sale. Last year (a few weeks before I was going overseas) I was given the opportunity to be part of the Lonsdale St Traders. It was a rush and a lot of my work had to be done from overseas, but it was worth it!!!! The name itself has three reasons behind it ­– 1) it’s one of my middle names. 2) the family name is traced back to England and means ‘care and community’ and lastly it is a also the name of a street in Soho, London, full of eclectic and artistic people and items (galleries, cafe’s, tattoo parlours, etc.).

What drove you to stocking vintage fashion and accessories? What do you love about vintage?

Because my mum, Nola, is a seamstress I have grown up with an appreciation for texture, colour and fine needlework in clothing and various accessories. Unfortunately her incredible skills are not genetic and I don’t have the patience or passion for making clothing (instead I have always made jewellery and crochet items!) I find these days that a lot of the new clothing available is poorly made. Clothing is an expression of who you are as a person and I really think that unless you can afford to have entire wardrobes of clothing handmade by a seamstress, vintage clothing is a wonderful alternative. I have dresses that are 60 years old, they have been worn but are in absolutely perfect condition because they were well crafted. There’s also the wonderful story behind the garments, the places they’ve come from, the events they were worn to…

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with the shop?

I’ve got to say that my attitude in life doesn’t really allow for challenges! I don’t ever see things as impossible and everything always sorts itself out. Having said that, I’m a very organised and driven person, so that has a lot to do with it! So far having a shop itself hasn’t been a challenge, if you do your research and build on your own experience, it can be relatively straight forward and enjoyable. Having a shop as part of 16 tenants in the one building is interesting, as you’re working with very different personalities, but I think on the whole we’re all supportive of each other.

What have been your favourite or most exciting moments with the store so far?

My first favourite moment was my first return customer. There is something incredibly special about developing a client base that actually loves being in the shop for the experience and not just to buy things. That may sound strange coming from a shop owner…..but the most important thing to me is that people feel inspired by what I have in the store and feel confident to wear items that will put them in the spotlight, or just put a smile on someone’s face. Most recently, I was asked to participate in a photoshoot about fashion in Canberra. One of my ballgowns was chosen for the 1950’s photo, so I spent an afternoon on set with the models, hair, make-up, etc. and Handsome Bob (my pug puppy) was also in the photo, so it was a very exciting and surreal day! Also the little things have been special, registering the Business Name, getting an ABN and even my own eftpos machine….they’re essential, but very exciting!

Is there anything you wish you could have done differently?

Looking back, there’s nothing I would have changed or done differently. I had a vision for the shop and set it up in an afternoon. I move things round, decorate, etc. on a daily basis and think of the shop as an evolving space! When the premises we’re in are demolished, I would look for a space with a better configuration and room for me to have a work bench or table.

What are the upcoming plans for Frith St?

Upcoming plans are to really get people involved with creative pursuits. That was a big part of starting this shop, having a space where people can come and sit down for a chat with friends and share their various skills in jewellery, knitting, crochet, embroidery, book binding, etc. I know so many people who have these skills or who want to learn them, and are in need of a venue at no cost. So Crochet Club starts Thursday nights at 6pm as part of the Lonsdale Street Traders late night shopping. I have also finally gotten vintage menswear in, western shirts, leather shoes, tweed coats, leather jackets. Then at some point it will involve interior design services, but working 7 days a week, I’m just pacing myself so that I do the store justice!

If you could give one piece of advice about starting a small business, what would it be?

Just do it!!!! Do the research, be passionate and consistent about your concept. And don’t for a second underestimate the support (time, effort, etc.) that you will receive from friends and family. It is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things I have ever done, I still get a giddy feeling when I turn off my alarm and unlock my front door.

You can check out Frith St in person at Lonsdale St Traders (27 Lonsdale St, Braddon, ACT) or on Facebook here.

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