Business ideas for 2014: Victorian-themed business

Victoriana is experiencing a revival and the opportunities to turn this into a successful start-up are vast…

Helped by the runaway popularity of shows such as Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge alongside multiple remakes of Sherlock Holmes, the style and fashion of the late Victorian period is making a surprising resurgence across all sectors.

Corsets, frills and muted colours are making big waves in the fashion world as London Fashion Week features Victoriana as a key upcoming trend for Spring/Summer 2014, whilst art, architecture, catering and furniture trends are seeing a similar romanticism of all things Victorian.

The craze was recently picked up in a wide-ranging art and film exhibition by the Guildhall gallery, which specifically examined how Victorian culture and trends are being re-interpreted by modern designers and artists.

Starting a Victorian-themed business: Why it’s a good business idea

Perhaps it is driven by a desire for relief from our hyper-modern, always-on world of screens, gadgets and speakers, or perhaps it is simply mirroring a trend in movies and television: whatever the reason, the increased interest in the era of Empire means that smart entrepreneurs can capitalise on a wide range of opportunities across 2014.

With its strong emphasis on tradition and propriety, accompanied by a hefty dose of the quaint, bizarre and supernatural, the potential to turn this Victoriana craze into a successful start-up is vast.

Victorian culture is instantly recognisable, and permeated nearly all walks of life: fashion, food and architecture are just a few of the sectors that would fit a Victorian-themed business. Your own imagination is the limit.

Victorian-themed business opportunities

Fashion is perhaps the most obvious industry in which opportunities exist to capitalise on the Victorian revival. Designer Marc Jacobs’ latest range featured a heavily Victorian influence; dark colours, frills and high necklines dominate, and there is certainly opportunity for enterprising designers to ride this particular wave, either through selling clothes or accessories.

Try and identify the ‘classier’ elements of Victorian culture when designing apparel and add a modern twist; brooches and necklaces are good, top hats and canes perhaps less so. Avoid devolving into pastiche or dress-up play, unless that is specifically your goal.

Traditional male grooming is also set to continue its resurgence in popularity over the next year, with more and more young men donning an apron for a traditional haircut or wet shave in one of the traditional barbershops popping up in city centres across the country.

Weddings have always had a strong emphasis on tradition, and many of the elements of the modern Western wedding have their roots in the Victorian era.

The classic white dress was first seen at Queen Victoria’s own wedding in the 19th century and there is opportunity to integrate this traditional ethos into other aspects of the ceremony; you could set up a business focused on one particular element such as catering, music or cake design or perhaps start an event-planning business, giving your customers the holistic Victorian wedding experience.

Lighting, furniture and more generally, the interior design sector is another set to undergo a Victorian overhaul; leading interior design site Sofa.com predicted Victoriana as one of its emerging trends for 2014, so this is another sector to consider.

In terms of food, some Victorian favourites are making a surprising resurgence; the Telegraph recently covered the re-emergence of Fenland or ‘dirty’ celery as a flavourful alternative to the bland kind found in supermarkets. As local and home-made produce continues to grow in popularity, traditionally-sourced food with Victorian-style themes and branding is likely to do well in 2014.

Victoriana could not just seethe shake-up of existing sectors but the re-birth of previously dormant ones, too; the previously popular practice of taxidermy has seen the stirrings of a surprising revival.

Ellie Goulding and Laura Marling are examples of high-profile celebrities who have developed an interest in the craft. A recently launched start-up has reported massively over-subscribed classes, with customers paying up to £200 to learn how to stuff various kinds of rodents themselves.

Who else has started a Victorian-themed business?

Although Victoriana continues to be a popular theme in film and literature, there are comparatively few businesses taking direct advantage of the trend; the potential market is ripe for the taking.

Traditional barbershops can be found around London and city centres around the UK such as Ted’s Grooming Room and Flanagan’s – most of which utilise some form of Victorian branding, but are not necessarily exclusively Victorian themed.

Some fashion designers are capitalising on the Victoriana trend by selling accessories on sites such as Etsy. Designer ‘Doctor Gus’ operates a Victorian-themed store in which he repurposes vintage forks and silverware to make brooches, clasps and jewellery whilst Steam Dust Studios sells a range of digital art showcasing the more esoteric elements of Victoriana and neo-Victorian culture, such as steampunk and the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which customers purchase to make jewelry and scrap book items with.

Do-it-yourself taxidermy business A Field Guide operates taxidermy workshops in London and sells manuals and a complete taxidermy kit for £25 (excluding mouse!) – the company told the Evening Standard that they had sold 500 of these in just three weeks, suggesting high demand for the product. It appears they run the only taxidermy workshop in the UK, so opportunity exists to run similar programmes outside London.

Gustav Karlson, creator of ‘Doctor Gus’

“I have definitely seen a revival of interest in Victorian items. I’d say it’s mainly focused on fashion – specifically on the ‘Steampunk’ re-imagining of the Victorian era in my case. It’s a brand new thing for those of my generation to discover and become immersed in.

“Kings, Queens and Emperors alongside revolutions and the common man. Great explorers in uncharted lands, brilliant inventors and scientists changing the world. Tradition and progress, love and war – the Victorians had everything. It’s a creative artist’s dream.

“People want a reason to wear top hats and lace again. They want mechanical contraptions made from brass in this plastic digital age. They want some pleasantry and etiquette instead of fast food.”

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