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People are paying it forward to save this amazing, LGBT+ owned boutique

People are paying it forward to save this amazing, LGBT+ owned boutique

  • LGBT+ small business owner Rowena Howie’s shop has brought old Hollywood glamor to her customers. Now they are helping Revival Retro survive coronavirus.
Rowena Howie in her Revival Retro London store.

Everyone is feeling the impact of coronavirus. In my tiny part of the universe it’s my business that I’m worried about. That might sound cold or calculating but it’s not meant to be. In a small business like mine it’s people who matter, not profit.

The business started in 2009 out of a hobby. I purchased £500 of stock on a credit card and sold specialist dance shoes to friends and acquaintances at class.

Back then I was really into swing dancing, not just because I love the music, the fashions and the films from beautiful bygone eras but because moving to a big city can be tough for a small town girl. I wanted a sense of community and I definitely wasn’t finding that in the gay scene.

Dance is a conversation. There’s a ‘lead’ and a ‘follow’ and both people in the partnership get to express themselves.

Walking into a class full of people, learning the same language and smiling making the same mis-steps is a far easier ice breaker than walking into a club full of women on a Friday night.

I found camaraderie in the swing scene. I even found some hook ups! But what I was most grateful to discover was that I was able to create a safe and welcoming space full of joy and wonder. 

Helping people feel good about themselves

Woman in Revival Retro outfit.
Customers have stepped forward to save the boutique shop. Tory Smith Photography

In 2011, I opened my first shop. The timeless glamour of old Hollywood inspired me. Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rodgers…

I thought ‘if I can channel just a fraction of their style, their glamour, the way they forged their way through this world then that would be something’.

The most important thing for me, however, was to make sure this space was accessible, friendly and welcoming.

Anyone who has faced the prospect of coming out knows the horrible uncertainty of rejection and exclusion. And I was determined to ensure Revival Retro became known as a place that helps you feel good about yourself.

Woman in Revival Retro outfit.
The glamor of old Hollywood influences Revival Retro’s outfits. Tory Smith Photography

As the business grew and I took on my first members of staff, this extended to my employees not just my customers. Revival Retro is a place where we recognize, appreciate and support people. 

When the whole team really cares about listening, then that’s when the magic happens. We work together to find the right thing and even encourage some fun, perhaps getting you out of your comfort zone, trying something new or giving you genuine personal recommendations.

It’s not just a shop. It’s a place where you can converse, connect and purchase products that help you feel amazing.

Woman in Revival Retro outfit.
Revival Retro staff help customers feel good about themselves. Tory Smith Photography

We’ve created something wonderful, now you are saving it

That’s been the hardest thing about lockdown for me, not seeing the smiles on people’s faces.

The shop is empty, my staff are on furlough or working from home, my customers are still following and messaging us on social media but I crave that face to face interaction. There’s nothing like it in my opinion.

My small business is not alone in this. There are many others out there who light up lives in ways people might not even realise. I’m a big believer in ‘shop independent, shop small and support communities’.

Woman in Revival Retro outfit.
Rowena Howie’s passion for swing music inspired Revival Retro. Tory Smith Photography

I’m determined Revival Retro will survive coronavirus. But I’ll be gutted if we lose our London shop in the process.

One of the things that is getting me through these tough times, however, is the amazing comments from supporters of our crowdfund.

We are not eligible for a cash grant. And I’m dubious the big banks will ever do much to help small businesses like mine. So in desperation I started a #PayItForward Crowdfunder.

Whilst it’s true that every cash pledge will help, no matter how small, the messages have been just as important to me as the money.

Customers old and new, friends and fans, even complete strangers have let me know that I really did create something wonderful over the past decade. Something of value and something that a lot of people will really, really miss if the shop has to close.

Woman in Revival Retro outfit.
Revival Retro offers one-of-a-kind classic outfits. Tory Smith Photography