Glass Onion: Bringing vintage manufacturing home to Yorkshire

A Barnsley-based clothing manufacturer is exporting around the globe and is looking to build on its existing team of 14. Glass Onion founder John Hickling told BQ how he got started up in business.

Glass Onion processes vintage clothing in bulk for high street chains and vintage clothing stores around the UK, Europe and Japan.

John started selling his charity shop finds on eBay 12 years ago, and now runs a company which employs 14 people and operates a 23,000 sq ft warehouse supplying more than 200 wholesale customers with recycled, upcycled and remade clothes.

Speaking to BQ about why he launched Glass Onion, he told us: “I have a love for vintage fashion and sub culture trends.

“It began as a hobby and a way of earning a bit of extra disposable income at the start.  Vintage clothing is a really easy industry to get into and start up.

“I started the business with just a few hundred pounds. I loved the idea of being responsible for my own environment and that still motivates me today.”

After thinking of the idea in 2007, John was determined to make the dream a reality and sought advice from a number of different avenues.

He said: “Since 2007 I have read or listened to as many business books/podcasts/articles as possible. This really helped Glass Onion as I would implement things I had read each week. The results started speaking for themselves.

“In the last couple of years we have received help from Enterprising Barnsley and Growth Accelerator.

“They helped us bring in a good consultant who really helped Glass Onion. I would highly recommend seeking help sooner rather than later, it has really helped us save a lot of time.

“If you find a good consultant with good experience it can really pay dividends when trying to grow the business.”

He added: “I tested the market with a few hundred pounds. We listed on eBay and did market stalls. It was here that I learnt how to deal with customers and see the potential in the business.

“The business was self-funded at the start. I then made solid business relationships and we negotiated “win/win” credit terms as the banks turned down my loan request for £30,000 back in 2007.”

One of his biggest challenges when starting-up was a problem most entrepreneurs hope to encounter as the company’s growth exceeded his initial projections.

John said: “The biggest challenge for Glass Onion, apart from being a start-up with no cash, has been dealing with a rapid growth burst.

“Our turnover went up tenfold in just a couple of years; we went from a team of 3 to a team of 14. I didn’t know how to manage people very well so spent all my time in the business rather than “on the business”. This is why I got help and it has worked.”

The next step for John is making the firm’s next step on the ladder, as he anticipates further growth and looks to continue the firm’s upward trend.

He said: “Our next big target is growing the wholesale side of our business by expanding our manufacturing capabilities.

“This will increase sales to current customers as well as opening up new opportunities for Glass Onion. Our planned growth will see further employment being created in South Yorkshire.”

“The best thing about being a start-up is the excitement of the “highs and lows”. Everything is new, things move really fast so it’s a very exciting time.

“The worst thing about being a “cash strapped” start-up is the money you have personally and the cash flow of the business. For Glass Onion, a £200 rates bill would sometimes be the difference between being able to pay my wage or not.”

John is an advocate of British manufacturing and hopes to continue manufacturing his produce in Yorkshire whilst still competing against cheaper products made overseas.

He said: “UK manufacturing is virtually non-existent as it moved out to the Far East. By manufacturing recycled materials in the UK you can turn an idea into a product within a few weeks.

“It will also create employment in South Yorkshire. It’s different because it will be fast fashion that has an environmental edge. We care about both fast fashion and the environment.”

As John looks to continue his growth strategy for Glass Onion, he has outlined a few targets to set him on his way.

He told us: “I see Glass Onion developing our recycled manufactured products and growing our current customer base.

“We look to be employing another 4-5 people this year and growing both our turnover and profitability.”

In partnership with: Startup Britain