Melanie Milham is the founder and force behind Curate & Rotate. Her online resale business started as a passion project and has grown to become a cult name in the fashion world. With her eye for simple, timeless design and friendly personality, she is reframing the way we view secondhand fashion, proving it can be a luxurious experience. We are so pleased to be an exclusive stockist of Curate & Rotate.
We asked Lydia Tsiouva to speak to Melanie about her journey - she reveals her thoughts about being self-employed, imposter syndrome and what the future holds for her business. It's a really relatable one, definitely worth a read!
Hello Melanie! Lovely to meet you… how are things and what have you been up to recently? I heard you did a pop-up!
Likewise 😊 Things are great, I have been very busy. Curate & Rotate is a start-up so there is always something that needs to be worked on, and I am learning on the job. I have been working solo on Curate & Rotate since Christmas (as Eve who worked for us part-time has left to explore a new path) but I have recently had help from a new lovely person one day a week, which has been great! A few months ago in December we held our first open studio, which was so fun. I absolutely loved welcoming people into the home of Curate & Rotate, we opened the doors and set it up so it felt like a shop. People could come and try pieces on, and I could meet them and have a little chat. It’s a little bit outside of Brighton so I was really grateful that people made an effort to visit. Next year we will definitely hold more open studio events, but maybe I'll look to do some external ones in Brighton or London. We have also been busy working on brand partnerships, taking in lots of incredible pre-loved pieces, organising sample sales, and I have some ideas I am currently working on that are also keeping me very busy. There is never a quiet moment – which I love!
What’s the story behind Curate & Rotate and how did you make the transition from being a PA? I know lockdown played a part in this!
I was a PA for a private equity company in London for ten years before taking a year out in 2019 to have my daughter Margo. Curate & Rotate started as a hobby 3/4 months into my maternity leave, I set up an Instagram account and began selling unworn pieces from my wardrobe. I used Margo’s nap times to work on my new hobby. As I had no following it was very very slow at first, and back then there were not many people selling that way on Instagram so it felt like a bit of an uphill climb trying to figure out how to make it work. After a year of hard work and building a bit of a following I decided to create a website to make shopping for our pieces easier. This was around the same time I went back to my PA job full time. It was a crazy period, I was working full time Monday-Friday and then working on Curate & Rotate in the evenings and working at the weekends - so I'd say for 6 months I worked 7 days/nights a week. I then got to a point where I felt I had to decide whether to quit my job and believe in what I was building, so I did. 6 months back into my full time job I decided to say goodbye to follow my dreams for C&R and I haven’t looked back. When I think about covid and lockdown, I remember how incredibly hard it was for us all. However, the positive that came from it is that I had more time to work on Curate & Rotate and I am grateful for that.
How did you build an expertise in fashion curation and what were the fundamental lessons you learnt along the way?
I wouldn’t even say I have an expertise. I just choose pieces that I feel work well for Curate & Rotate and match the ethos and aesthetic of the brand I am building. I guess the lessons I have learnt are to be true to your style and the brand that is being created.
What would be your most valuable piece of advice to an up-and-coming curator?
I would say, go with your heart and what you think will work for your brand/business. Select what you naturally gravitate towards and if you think no, there's a reason you're thinking no. Curate within your style and stay true to it.
What basic criteria needs to be ticked before a piece is Curate & Rotate approved?
No fast fashion! We don’t believe these clothes last and we like our pieces to stay in rotation and to stand the test of time.
We like our pieces to have longevity and to be well made. We quality check all pieces that come in, and those that need repair are taken to our seamstress for TLC. Even though our pieces are pre-loved, we work hard to make sure they’re in the best possible condition they can be.
What are your thoughts on stocking a 'vintage' fast fashion piece?
It totally depends on the piece. What is the material, does the piece have longevity etc. Last year we had a vintage Miss Selfridge jumpsuit on rotation and it was so stunning, it was an incredible shape and it was 100% silk, we chose to accept this for rotation and we would again if we felt it worked for us.
How has your taste evolved over the years and did you experience any fashion phases that mark a memorable time in your life? (good or bad haha!)
I guess the thing I did wrong up until I was around 30ish was dressing in a way which didn't suit me and following fashion trends. Since having Curate & Rotate, I have truly found my own style and have had the chance to play around with pieces I wouldn’t normally reach for. It has definitely given me the opportunity to push the boundaries. I can’t even talk about the fashion I wore in my teenage years, haha!
How do your partnerships with other brands work and were these envisioned in the blueprint of C&R or did they naturally occur with organic growth of the business?
We have partnered with some incredible brands to be their resale partner. This means that when people wish to re-sell their items previously purchased from these brands, we manage the resale on our platform and do all the work to find these unloved pieces a new home. It helps keep these beautiful items in rotation. I always thought about how C&R could work with the brands from the start of C&R, and these partnerships were just a natural step for us. We also partner with a few brands to run their sample sales. We would love to do more of this!
How often do you receive items that you end up keeping for yourself? Is it super hard to maintain the will power?
It can be hard to maintain the willpower but I don’t like to own too many pieces. I have a one in, one out rule. For example, if a jumper comes in that I absolutely love, I will then think what can I rotate from my own wardrobe that's similar to this piece that I don’t love as much as the other one I want to buy. Shopping this way makes it a guilt-free purchase.
What are some of your favourite pieces that have come in?
There are too many to mention, I am fortunate to rotate the most incredible brands and preloved pieces. Every single week I fall in love with so many items. I am currently lusting over some Lauren Manoogian knitted trousers we have coming into rotation. I will say that Louisa Charlotte Oates’ pieces are always a favourite - they’re perfection and so unique. (Louisa is a small independent designer and maker based in Brighton. She works with the most amazing fabrics in the dreamiest silhouettes.)
Other than the flavour of your pieces, what would you say makes Curate & Rotate different to other buy ‘n’ sell platforms? Was there a particular element you wanted to hone in on?
One of the main differences is the curation of our pieces, unlike many others we focus on the resale of independent and contemporary brands, emerging designers and minimalist vintage pieces. We really care about the clothes and the brands we work with. We take the time to learn about the brands we choose to rotate and the value of their pieces. We are resale with a difference. The difference is our love and passion for the items we rotate and the respect and admiration we have for the brands.
I’ve noticed you have a chat section on your website that exposes creative individuals. How did you grow this network of like-minded people and have you collaborated with any of them?
Most of the amazing ladies we have spotlighted for our curated chats I met through Instagram (such a powerful tool) Through the platform I have met some incredible people and for that I am grateful. They inspire me in many ways. I haven’t collaborated with them yet but am always open too. I love collaborating – it’s so much fun to do.
What upcoming plans do you have for Curate & Rotate and is there any exciting news you’d like to share?
Ah I have so many dreams, so many plans. The main goal I’m working on will be the hardest challenge I have had so far, it will take a lot of dedication and hard work. But I know that I work hard and am super passionate about what I do, so I'm going to try my best to make what I want to happen happen.
Finally, I need to know – where are your signature gold hoops from?
I’m obsessed! They're from Wolf and Gypsy. It’s a vintage store in Brighton. I don't think there's been a time, in the entirety of Curate, where I've not worn gold hoops for a photo. It’s because it’s part of the uniform. Gold hoops in, away I go. I have backups for that reason, because if I didn't have any to take the photos with, the shoot cannot continue haha. They're my thing. Gold hoops and black strappy sandals.
If you could only wear one scent for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I always wear Jo Malone. I wore it on my wedding day and always pick it up at the airport to save a few pounds - I believe it's Pomegranate Noir. So dreamy.
What’s your favourite feature? (on yourself)
My eyes – because my eyes allow me to see fashion and curate pieces I love for Curate & Rotate.
If I gave you £5 for a corner shop, what would you buy?
This was easy for me - Grazia and some pick 'n' mix
What’s your most irrational fear?
I don't know if this is an irrational fear, but I guess I'm scared of losing Curate. That it won't be mine one day and that it will fail. It seems too good to be true sometimes, I'm just so pleased with where it’s at and where it’s going, that I don't want anything to go wrong!