Known Source Is Spearheading the Next Generation of Vintage Archivists

Co-founders Theo El-Kattan and Henry McNeill speak about the future of archival fashion, the top trends of 2023, and how they’re combatting traditional high-street retailers across the UK.

Fashion 
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Picture this: you’re walking around London’s major avenues and stumble across a perfectly curated designer pop-up shop with vintage grails and brand curation you could only imagine. Now open your eyes and snap back into reality because Known Source is making your vintage shopping dreams come true.

Known Source has grown into the UK’s largest collective of second-hand fashion resellers, implementing a detailed step-by-step process to build a safe market for buyers nationwide.

Co-founders Theo El-Kattan and Henry McNeill are constructing a fully-fledged dynasty of vintage designer clothing, joining purpose-led creatives to sell on its platform while hosting interactive activations to grow their community.

Their independent business model has shaped a circular seller-to-buyer ecosystem, allowing top-tier “Dealers” to interact with their customers seamlessly. Known Source keeps the environment in mind by promoting second-hand clothing meant to last a lifetime, eliminating wasteful consumption with a niche, in-the-know mindset.

Known Source’s extensive “Dealer” list is carefully evaluated to form a discerning group of curation experts, looking to the future while honoring previous designers who uphold world-class craftsmanship.

El-Kattan and McNeill have strong ties to London’s fashion-based communities, growing their love for hunting rare gems from well-dressed childhood experiences. They connected on a shared appreciation for artistic archival garments, wishing to make the world a better place while championing a new generation of high-value vintage collectors.

Known Source is currently hosting an immersive pop-up in East London, welcoming its community to experience the magic and encounter highly sought-after 1990s Jean Paul Gaultier, first-year Prada, and Vivienne Westwood’s trademark tartan garments – which you can visit at Ace Corner, 149 Shoreditch High Street.

While the event continues to greet hundreds of guests daily, Hypebeast sits down with Theo El-Kattan and Henry McNeill to speak about the future of archival fashion, the top trends of 2023, and how they’re combatting traditional high-street retailers.

Hypebeast: When did you first find an interest in archival fashion?

Henry McNeill: Hunting for rarities has always been a big part of me. As a kid, my dad used to take me to car boot sales and charity shops, giving me a couple of quid to see what I could find. There was no better day out. Whilst what I’m hunting for has changed (more archive Comme des Garçons and fewer Pokémon cards), what’s beautiful is that my passion for unique items has never changed. I still visit my local markets on a regular basis to see my favorite sellers. Just give me a pile of clothes to dig through, and I am a happy man.

Theo El-Kattan: I had a lucky upbringing with a mother who would deck me out in old-school Maharishi. So, I grew up appreciating embroidered dragons, thumb holes, and trousers with a thousand hidden pockets.

As I became more directly exposed to archive fashion during my teens, my obsession with the technicalities of the pieces and my appreciation for high-quality construction were already there. My mother, a textile designer, also has a wide collection of archive Jean Paul Gaultier — some pieces as old as the eighties and most of them in pristine condition. Even since I was a teen, she’s always appreciated my styling help (not that she needs it), so my interest in archival fashion really just came naturally.

Walk me through how you founded Known Source and how it came to life.

El-Kattan: My personal inspiration for founding Known Source came from my frustration with the industry’s overcrowded product feeds and lack of real sustainable action. I was bored of scrolling through trash on my computer and tired of the clearly fake promises by companies to make the world a better place.

I wanted to create a platform that was made by people who really cared about what they sell and what they do. Henry and I played on the same football team, and given his experience in the second-hand fashion industry, after a match one day, I asked him for his thoughts on this high-level idea. Fair to say he immediately jumped on board.

McNeill: Prior to Known Source, I was the owner of a second-hand clothing store called HMS Vintage. I was one of the early top sellers on the likes of Depop, making nearly 5,000 sales over the years. I, like many other established sellers, became frustrated by the lack of appreciation and support these big corporations gave us.

The second-hand industry needed a platform that finally put the needs of the community first. A platform that gives voice to the incredible entrepreneurs who drive the industry and changes how the wider fashion industry views second-hand. I immediately jumped on the KS journey because of these years of personal experience and frustration. We formed an initial Dealer community from our connections, which has continued to grow over this past year organically. We decided to title the members of our community as Dealers, not sellers, because they do far more than just sell. They elevate their pieces to the level of art. They are stylists, curators, entrepreneurs, and influencers who “deal” with quality.

How do you source and curate second-hand products for Known Source?

McNeill: The curation comes from our Dealers, who each bring their niche to Known Source. We’ve been following hundreds of second-hand sellers for the previous three years, which was when first ideated the Known Source journey. Our Dealers are simply the best of the best in the industry.

Our vetting is a long but very fun process. Individually, each Dealer must be professional, deliver impeccable customer service, and show unbeatable knowledge of their stock and style. We look at every possible data point, from their previous reviews to how they consistently shoot their product and their professional goals.

This not only ensures quality products on our website but also enables each Dealer’s individuality, personality, and creativity to come across with every item they stock. Our end goal is that any user coming on Known Source can find not only a dealer who stocks their style but also a person who represents them as an individual.

El-Kattan: It is due to the quality of our Dealer collection and that Known Source has a guaranteed buy-back feature, called Renew, on every product. We were fed up with the industry’s false and misleading promises, and we know we’re the only platform that can offer this guarantee because of our superior curation. We want to help create a world in which every piece of clothing lives multiple lives.

“Our Dealers are simply the best of the best in the industry.”

How is Known Source looking to change stereotypes around second-hand fashion?

El-Kattan: Through elevation. Our mission is to elevate second-hand fashion to the forefront of culture. Everything from our content to our user interface, our collective curation of products, and even the way they arrive at your doorstep is carefully thought through. Known Source is an ecosystem that’s curated with love and expertise, and we want that love to come across in every touchpoint someone has with Known Source. Whilst we primarily sell online, physical experiences are crucial in us achieving this goal. When you come and visit a Known Source pop-up, it doesn’t feel like just another jumble sale. We display the pieces like works of art so you can learn about the lineage and history of the items. Every rail tells its own story and showcases why the clothing is better than anything else you’d find on the high street.

What has been 2023’s biggest trend and what will we see in 2024?

El-Kattan: 2023 has been a big year for throwbacks, from Y2K-inspired maxi skirts to Avirex making its comeback. Logomania has thankfully been virtually non-existent. People have been more interested in the patterns, shapes and intricacies of their clothing.

People’s obsession with the technicalities of their clothing is evident in how brands have sought to market their products this year on social media using ASMR, making the most of people’s want to view five-second videos of how an item zips up. What we find funny is that this year’s mainstream has been booming in the second-hand subculture for a number of years, with archivists like Constant Practice and Louis Hols, and our very own Dealer Warm Waves leading the way.

Another example is the dramatic silhouettes that have been ever-present in the collections of major fashion labels this year, from Chanel to Vivienne Westwood.

We’ve even seen this play out in probably the biggest summer trend, football-core. Whilst we are firmly against football clubs releasing a new kit every season, the beauty of football shirts is that each one has its own uniqueness. People haven’t jumped on this trend to don the badge, instead because they’ve wanted to identify themselves with the seemingly unique pattern of the shirt. And it’s no surprise then that most of the shirts people rocked were second-hand. As massive football heads ourselves, it was fun seeing random football shirts make it to the mainstream, and all for good reason.

McNeill: In 2024, we expect consumers to hold an increased consciousness over how they buy. We predict people will look deeper into an item’s cultural significance and sustainability. People will care more about the story behind the piece than its hype value and more about the price-per-wear than its upfront cost. As a result, we’d expect a surge in popularity amongst some heritage brands, thanks to their consistently high-quality construction. We’re already seeing this play out in the second-hand scene, with an increased appreciation of the flawless finer detail behind ‘80s and ‘90s Armani pieces.

We’re expecting the mainstream to follow suit, with consumers trusting heritage labels to represent beautiful silhouettes and quality. As consumers begin to take notice of every little detail of the clothing they wear, we may also see an appreciation of long-lasting and sustainable materials taking more of a forefront. We could see woolen knitwear taking hold — the more texture, the more innovative and intricate the knitting technique, the better. And last, we can’t ignore reworking. The mainstream is definitely catching on, but we see 2024 as the year for it. As we have just seen adidas do with our Dealer Vintage Threads, we expect more labels to look at how they creatively collaborate with up-cyclers to tackle their excess stock.

Why should shoppers consider purchasing archival clothing instead of fast fashion?

El-Kattan: There are so many reasons, so we’ll narrow it down to three. First, the price-per-wear. You will be buying quality clothing that is made to last rather than cheap fashion that will not stand the chance to live multiple lives. So, if you look at how much it will cost to wear that item a hundred times, archival clothing will be a much more economical investment.

Second, the technicalities of the clothing. The construction behind the pieces is not only of higher quality, but it also lends itself to really cool, innovative, and unique details.

Third, the stories behind the products. Archival pieces preserve a bit of history. Each piece has its own story and cultural value. Whether it was worn or sourced by an icon or had technicalities that were there for a real niche reason, you are wearing a bit of history. We love to tell the stories that make up our community and their products because we know they can add so much value to how people interact with our clothing.

Tell me the story behind the best archival garment that you’ve ever come across.

McNeill: We showcased our favorite ever archival garment at our launch party, “The Opening Showcase,” last year. It’s this Giorgio Armani Modular Commander’s Jacket from Disarm Store. It’s just a piece of art. It’s from 1981 and made from a material called nylon metal. Nylon metal was, of course, then made big by Stone Island in the late eighties/early nineties, and it’s crazy that Giorgio Armani made this piece in ‘81. Nylon metal is constructed from a special 3-sided nylon thread, meaning that it reflects light in a very unique way. The jacket is iridescent, so if you look at it from one direction, it looks pink, and if you look at it from another, it looks green. That’s the sort of intricacy we love.

What can we expect from Known Source in the new year?

El-Kattan: Our north star for Known Source is to make it easy for people to find the right second-hand fashion item for them. Early next year, we will be launching a personal shopping service where people can receive product suggestions that actually match their style and shopping behaviors. We’ve put together a waiting list here to give Hypebeast readers first access to this feature.

McNeill: We will have a greater focus on physical retail. Having been crowned winners of the Westfield Grand Prix this year, Westfield has awarded us with a free year-long tenancy and £250,000 investment into the store. Their trust in our second-hand offering really shows that this is what people want.

Our flagship store will showcase the future of retail, an experience-focused, community-led space that week-by-week has fresh rails of one-of-one products. What’s not to love? We’ll be opening the store in the first half of 2024, so keep your eye out! Prior to that, we will be running a series of physical activations to bring the community together. We can’t wait for next year. It’s time to make our mark as a collective and firmly elevate second-hand fashion to the forefront of culture.

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