You’re completing your undergraduate degree in Management Studies? What brought you to Swansea?

I have a long Welsh heritage and was keen to stay within Wales to study, as I am proud of my nationality and I am very familiar with our culture, which assists me greatly when communicating with customers and local suppliers. Swansea was my first choice University. I first visited the University’s Bay Campus on a well-structured open day and found the layout, facilities and location of the campus tremendously appealing. The Business Management course also offered opportunities in entrepreneurism that I did not find elsewhere. Swansea, as a city, has real character.

Sion Williams at a Swansea University Alumni Network event in November 2019.

Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? And what inspired you to start this business?

I have always had the desire to be self-employed, to give myself the freedom to innovate without limitations. I also find that I can provide a friendly, casual and effective work environment that I have not had the benefit of experiencing in past employment. I started a small business in sixth-form college manufacturing and retailing retro vinyl record clocks, earning me the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year Award’ from Cardiff High School. I soon realised my appetite and ability for business and entrepreneurship. The inspiration behind RAVS was realised by the high demand for this style of clothing in a city with such an abundant student population and that it fitted in perfectly with my requirement for a focus around sustainability. This aspect of sustainability would be achieved through encouraging the re-use of items and by removing the stigma surrounding ‘second-hand’ shopping, by marketing it as cool, modern and individualistic, something that I believe we continue to achieve.

Would I be right in assuming there was a particularly high demand for a store like RAVS in Swansea, where there weren’t many places to shop for vintage clothing before?

The vintage clothing scene in Cardiff has been a vast inspiration for me, by observing styles, location and customer base. Similar stores in Cardiff spurred me to locate RAVS in a shopping arcade, to incite the feeling of nostalgia and to encourage the ‘hidden gem’ vibe, aiming to increase the degree of popularity and aesthetic of the Swansea arcades to match those of Cardiff. Depop is a well-known platform for buying and selling vintage clothing; I often like to describe RAVS as a ‘physical Depop’ store, without the added financial and environmental cost of commission fees and postage, meaning we can pass these cost-savings onto the customer in the form of lower, fairer prices. I feel that the community of students and locals built around RAVS in the last year has proved the underlying demand for vintage clothing and has become a regular shopping location for many. We also offer a service of valuating and purchasing stock from our customers – this allows people to trade in old clothing for store credit or cash which many find useful in hard times and which contributes to a decrease in clothing waste.

"I see RAVS as a real steppingstone for me, to gain experience in leadership, customer/supplier relations and capital build-up, to take forward as vital skills to succeed in the future."

Do you hope to grow your business and set up stores in other cities?

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has currently stagnated physical growth of the business, it has also given me the time to put many creative plans in place for the coming year and I am looking forward to seeing them come to fruition. Swansea is unique in the prospects it has to offer: the ease of gaining a foothold in the market and low rental rates. I hope to keep RAVS open and thriving for as long as possible, always involving the University and employing students as staff. However, upon graduating I hope to progress to start a new venture in South Wales, focussed wholly around sustainability and recycling, on a scale large enough that it will make a noticeable impact to certain industries such as construction. I see RAVS as a real steppingstone for me, to gain experience in leadership, customer/supplier relations and capital build-up, to take forward as vital skills to succeed in the future.

Would you say your business plays a role in a bigger picture, in changing the way people buy clothing? With particular focus on reducing waste from ‘fast fashion’?

Our main aim at RAVS is to combat fast fashion. It is our mission to change people’s perceptions on second-hand goods and to highlight the increased quality and decreased prices of pre-2000’s clothing, for example the weight and thickness of older denims. The store consists of two retail floors, the lower level offers high-quality, affordable clothing whilst the upper level retails high-end and designer vintage clothing. This allows us to appeal to a wide range of consumers; those who seek more exclusive stock and those who are seeking a bargain.

Many consumers tend to desire the newest releases from established brands, but why? Because, for a short amount of time, they will be one of the only people to own that item, appealing to their individualistic nature. However, I challenge you to find two of the same garments within RAVS, or in any second-hand store for that matter. Our aim is to demonstrate to consumers that individuality is generated from collating your own individual style, not by following what fast-fashion brands tell you is ‘cool’ for five minutes. Upon realising this fact people will begin to feel more comfortable with their own style whist saving a lot of money (and the planet) along the way.

What are your ambitions for the future, for you and your business?

As aforementioned, my ambitions for the future are to make a real positive impact on the world by encouraging upcycling and re-use of old materials, to reduce waste and carbon emissions. I hope to use my final year in University to build ideas on how to make this possible and use the abundance of resources and advice available within the School of Management, to construct an effective future business plan. Upon graduating, I plan to travel for sixth months to a year to gather ideas and information on products and services that may be on offer in other countries that are not currently available here. Learning from alternative work practises and different cultures will also hopefully contribute to creating the most effective and productive work environment possible for future ventures.

"I believe Swansea to be the ideal location for starting most businesses."

What would you say about Swansea, as a University and as a city with regards to starting a new business here?

I believe Swansea to be the ideal location for starting most businesses. The high population of students within the city allows for easy and accurate market research, as students in their nature are often willing to partake in questionnaires and need very little incentive. Many large companies such as BT also pioneer technology and infrastructure here, making it an innovative city with bounds of potential. The local council is also easy to contact, and many grants, subsidies and funding are available for businesses of all sizes, as the city welcomes and encourages new business. A scheme I have found to be highly useful is Swansea’s ‘Business in Development’ (BiD), who, for a very small annual fee, work to advertise, promote and increase the security of small, local businesses in and around the city.

Do you have any stand out memories from your time in Swansea so far?

Although it may be cliché for a Swansea University student to say, the close proximity to the beach is a standout advantage to the University and to the city; nowhere else is like it. I have made many memories on Swansea bay with my friends and have travelled along it to the Mumbles and beyond, to some of the best beaches in the world.

University life, employment and various residencies, have enabled me to meet a collection of life-long friends and acquaintances that have aided and encouraged me along the way to realise my passion for entrepreneurship and sustainability.

In terms of an individual memory, I would say the opening of the second retail level of RAVS in January 2020 would have to be on top. After six months of hard work and labouring we were able to hold a grand opening with live DJ’s and refreshments. A queue of people was also lined up out the door due to the popularity of the event and upon seeing this, it was a moment of true relief that all the hard work had paid off. Seeing a variety of people from all walks of life coming together to check out the opening also emphasised the community that had built around the shop and how its popularity had developed in the city.