There’s a virus going around – maybe you haven’t heard. Seriously, it’s been crazy: we all had to stay indoors for four months, and at one point it was illegal to sit down in parks.
Because of that virus, loads of companies lost a lot of business and, subsequently, loads of people are now unemployed. If you’ve lost your job, or you’re on one of those tortuous extended furlough schemes where you feel like you’re about to lose your job at all times, there’s a chance you’re feeling pretty jaded about the world of employment right now.
So I thought it might be inspiring to hear from someone who’s taken his hobby and turned it into an excuse to travel the world and make money doing what he loves forever. (To be clear, I’m not pitching you a multi-level marketing scheme - those are bad; this is about a guy who kills it selling vintage clothing.)
Ladi Kazeem – who runs The Vault MCR and, if posters are your thing, Surrealism Habituary – has gone from flipping Livestrong bands on eBay to having Japanese collectors fly in to check out his showroom. Recently, I went to his Hackney Wick studio, to hear from a guy who’s now able to buy a house because of how much he fucking loves Oasis T-shirts.
VICE: Hi, Ladi. How did you get into collecting and selling vintage?
Ladi Kazeem: The bands and the music got me in. I’m from the north, so everyone’s dad was a Liam Gallagher follower. You look around and everyone had a mod haircut, Ben Sherman and all that. I have a Vespa outside here, actually. That’s the north.
The appeal with vintage was that it was affordable. I grew up going to charity shops in Blackpool and Skegness, and buying preowned stuff, styling it out like it was brand new. I left home at 17, so I always had to buy affordable stuff, but then I got good at it.
Talk us through how you got to where you are.
I started buying and selling things on eBay back in 2005 - Livestrong bands, Bape and stuff - but I got into vintage in about 2007, when I was at college in Middlesbrough. There was a vintage shop called Deep. All of us shopped there and wore vintage, but I got to the point where I was getting to the shop first and buying all the best stuff first. I couldn’t afford to keep everything I was buying, so I started to sell to people at college to fund myself.
Then, in 2010, I was living in New Cross with no job, so I went to every charity shop in south London every day, bought anything I thought was worth something, then walked to Notting Hill Clothes Exchange and sold it or exchanged it for something I knew I could sell for more. I walked everywhere because I was so broke.
Around 2012, I started joining all those groups on Facebook, Wavey Garms and all that, and started making a living on there. I started to get an eye for what was valuable around then.
I went thrifting in America for the first time in 2012, and that was obviously the best. I went there with $400, slept in a car and came back with two suitcases of stuff to sell. I went from San Francisco to LA and hit every thrift store in between. That started a longstanding thing where I take British stuff over there and bring US stuff back here.
Then I started The Vault with a store in a basement in the Northern Quarter in Manchester.
You’re way beyond just buying on eBay, right?
For the last six years I’ve been going abroad probably every week to find stuff – lots of deadstock, mainly. Although, during lockdown, I had to start hunting in the [notoriously not very vintage-friendly] UK, so I’ve started to find spots I didn’t know existed.
I’ve been visiting the places I was going as a kid – Skegness, Milton Keynes, places I was buying stuff in the 90s. The thing with the UK is we’ve not got many T-shirts, because it’s not warm enough for T-shirts, but they’re out there.
If you go to Europe, though, you dig deep enough in these small towns and find old souvenir shops, they’ve got loads of old stuff they’ve just pushed to the back over time. I go in and say I’m looking for T-shirts, and they’ll have stuff from years ago.
What’s the deal with the posters?
I decided to diversify at the end of last year. I was fortunate enough to come across a guy with a pretty extensive collection of band and movie posters – all originals from 90s publishers, like Splash and GB.
During lockdown I tested the waters with mystery boxes, and everything was selling out within minutes, so I made the decision to build a whole new brand, Surrealism Habituary, just for posters and art prints. There’s a huge market for posters, especially in countries like South Korea and Australia, so I’ve spent most of 2020 self-isolating and working on building a completely new organic following away from T-shirts.
And this stuff is non-stop for you?
I’ve got a big client base – people are waiting for drops and stuff. So once I’ve sold ten T shirts, I’ll go buy 20 T-shirts.
I’ve lived for years and years and years with no money. If I spend all my money on T-shirts and posters, I’ll still survive. I go places, just think, ‘Fuck it I’ll buy the lot,’ and then not pay rent for two weeks, then sell it all.
Where are the places in the world to buy vintage?
Someone was saying the other day that I’ve got to go to Ukraine, because it’s untouched. Africa is known for having unbelievable stuff, partly because we sent a load of clothes there for charity back in the day. My old landlord built a school in Kenya – she called me from there, saying there was a five-mile strip of vintage clothing. I got on Facetime and had her buy all the stuff I wanted.
Southeast Asia has been doing it for years. Western charities used to send stuff there, then all the vintage dealers would grab all the best bits. For better or worse, it’s no coincidence Chatuchak Weekend Market [in Bangkok] has the best vintage in the world.
What’s the best thing you’ve got right now?
My Oasis Shakermaker long-sleeve. It’s one of the rarest Oasis shirts out there at the moment. Oasis T-shirts – I’ve had all the originals, lots of the bootlegs, and there’s loads more to find. Also, the Lost Boys tee – that’s pretty great.
What’s the shirt you wish you hadn’t sold?
I had a period around 2015 where I found a guy in Manchester that had loads of tie-dyes. I was buying stuff off him for months. He had a few original Fugees The Score tie-dye long-sleeves - The Score down the sleeves, artwork on the front. I had six of them, and they were beautiful. I sold them all for not too much, and last time I saw one it was for two grand on eBay.
I wish I’d kept one. They were made in Manchester, too – he was there outside the gig selling them in ‘97.
What’s your favourite piece of all time?
I’m known for all my Britpop and shoegaze tees, and my Knebworth Oasis bomber staff jacket was the one. I found it in a charity shop in Salford. I wore it an entire winter before I sold it. Now that I buy loads of Oasis stuff, that’s the thing I need, but I won’t see it again. Recently, I saw another one come around again on eBay for £300. I fell asleep and missed it. I hate paying stupid money for things, but that I would’ve paid for.
The other thing I really wanted was a Public Enemy jacket from a Reading Festival performance – Flavor Flav’s artist pass was stuck inside. The guy wouldn’t sell me it. That would’ve been it for me.
Which is the best T-shirt from the worst band?
[90s ska also-rans] Skankin Pickle. Jamie Hewlett, who did Gorillaz and Tank Girl, did some shirts for them. But they’ll never be cool. Unbelievable merch, terrible band.
What keeps you passionate about this?
I didn’t go to uni, I worked shit jobs, I had no money, and was practically homeless for a few years. For years and years I was the guy selling dead people’s clothes. Now, I’ve traveled the world, I can buy a house and do all this shit I couldn’t have done unless I’d got into this stuff.
I know I’ve changed people’s lives, too. I’ve had people message me, like, “I was there, this shirt was huge for me!” It’s fun, because they get you on their level and they’re buzzing.