Skip to main content

Beyond Retro’s Steven Bethell Talks Vintage Denim and Finding a WWII-era Gem

Flare fits, aggressive washes and high waists are highly coveted denim styles. But they all trace back to different moments throughout fashion’s timeline. Now more than ever, vintage denim is in.

And it’s not just because of the authentic craftsmanship of older styles. With more education surrounding sustainability, a growing number of people are turning to fashion’s circular economy to fill their wardrobes—and it’s generating serious profits. 

But U.K.-based vintage retailer Beyond Retro already knew vintage denim was a gold mine.

Founded in 2002 by Steven Bethell, the retailer now has 16 stores across the U.K., Sweden and Finland and an online business that’s constantly updating its inventory with vintage denim from the likes of Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger. With his team of buyers endlessly scouring sourcing facilities for vintage treasures, Bethell is able to provide a consistent flow of highly coveted clothing—and much of that consists of denim.

Rivet talked to Steven Bethell of U.K.-based vintage retailer Beyond Retro about the status of the vintage denim market in 2020.
Vintage Levi’s jackets Courtesy

“The vintage denim world has a growing appeal because of its rarity and the quality of how heritage products were made,” Bethell told Rivet.

With more than 25 years of buying and sourcing experience, he transformed the resale process into a technologically savvy business. His team uses an information management system to stay on top of trends, and their proprietary cloud-based technology equips them with real-time intelligence on selected pieces, so they always know what’s in the pipeline. From there, they use even more technology to track stats—trend, decade, size, style, source—on each item selected by their buyers.

Related Story

Rivet caught up with Bethell to learn more about the business and the status of the vintage denim industry.

What first interested you in vintage denim?

The challenge! Trying to find my first Levi’s redline in a pile of jeans, I can still remember to this day.

What are some qualities that make a vintage denim piece most valuable?

Condition, age and size. We find a lot of vintage denim in great condition, but they wouldn’t have to have all of the above. So, what we are trying to find are those rare pieces that tick all three.

Tell me about your restoration process. Just how damaged can a vintage denim piece be before you turn it away?

An item is never turned away if it’s a gem! Our first goal is to resell the item as it is, but if needed the item will be repaired. Our next step, we save the damaged items from heading to landfill by asking what can it be turned into? This is where our upcycled “Label” collection comes in, where we rework and repair denim products to create something fresh and innovative.

Why do you think more people are opting for vintage denim as opposed to buying new?

Beyond the appearance and character vintage holds, there is a growing understanding that buying vintage denim can have a hugely positive impact on the environment and in a lot of cases it’s also better value.

You sell all kinds of vintage items, but why is vintage denim in particular so popular?

Vintage denim lasts. There is a jeans label from the 1930s which had the tag line “wears like a pig’s nose.” I think that’s why in the vintage world, denim is such a good staple.

What were some of the most interesting vintage denim pieces you’ve seen throughout your career?

We found a pair of Levi 501 xx, from just after the second World War. It was like someone had bought them and put them in a box for 70 years. They were in mint condition: The leather tag, which normally breaks apart, was perfectly preserved.

Secondly, we once found a pair of very early jeans with a crotch rivet. When they first started making jeans, there was a rivet on the crotch of the jean at the junction point of the fabric. The story goes that they stopped putting those in because when the cowboys would sit in front of the fire they would burn their private parts! Soon after, they stopped putting in the rivet, hence why these were such a rare find.