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Meet the former Big Issue vendor who now owns a multi-million pound company fighting fast fashion

Philip Waltham sold the magazine in London in the late Nineties while battling drug addiction. Now he runs one of Britain’s biggest sustainable fashion wholesalers and even still carries his Big Issue bag around with him everywhere he goes

A former Big Issue vendor who now runs his own multi-million pound sustainable fashion firm has credited his spell selling the magazine with giving him the business knowledge he needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

Philip Waltham sold the magazine in Clerkenwell and Hampstead, London, after running away from his Hull home as a teenager.

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Now he credits his three-year spell selling The Big Issue with developing his business acumen he needed to start his own sustainable fashion business turning over £9 million a year.

“The Big Issue helped me put money in my back pocket and feed myself. They really did help me so much,” said Waltham. “They taught me how to respect myself, they taught me how to budget my money and how important a roof was. I had to have money to buy Big Issues so I could sell Big Issues and that taught me how to budget.

Philip Waltham
Waltham discovered his love of sustainable fashion after selling The Big Issue and used his business skills from selling the mag to turn it into a high-powered career. Image: Philip Waltham

“The thing that has saved my life is selling second-hand clothes and I wouldn’t be here right if it wasn’t for The Big Issue and my discovery of second-hand clothes.”

Waltham, now 44, started selling The Big Issue in 1997 after leaving his native Hull to escape his drug addiction.

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But he found the streets of London weren’t “paved with gold” as he previously thought and he ended up sleeping rough and staying with squatters while his addiction took hold.

He originally sold the magazine to keep up with his £30 a day drug habit but was offered help by Big Issue distributors at the time to battle his addiction.

Waltham then took his business skills from selling the magazine and put it into buying and selling second-hand clothes, and after two years as a Big Issue vendor he opened a market stall in Camden in 1999.

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He returned to Yorkshire in 2001 to open a clothing store before he turned his attention to wholesale clothes selling with the Vintage Wholesale Company in 2007.

Aside from three years spent out of the industry to run a bar, Waltham has worked in sustainable fashion ever since and now runs Bulk Vintage Wholesale, one of the country’s biggest sustainable fashion businesses, with his partner.

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As well as wholesaling, Waltham also operates two high-street stores in Newcastle and York, under the name The Vintage Store. Two more stores in Liverpool and Manchester are set to open later this year, according to Waltham.

“Getting off the drugs was the biggest thing for me and that got me to come off The Big Issue andI started doing second-hand clothes,” said Waltham. “That has just built up from there and then I got a market stall. Now I’ve got a wholesale company. I really am blessed.

Big Issue vendor Philip Waltham
Philip Waltham has also kept his Big Issue bag by his side for the last 25 years, such has been The Big Issue’s influence. Image: Philip Waltham

“We fight fast fashion. We save clothing from landfills, we go to these big factories and take clothing and fill up a container every week and ship it back to the UK.

“Last year we saved around 600 tonnes of clothing and then repurposed them to sell on Depop and our own stores.”

Waltham was not only inspired by the skills he learned while selling The Big Issue, he also continues to use the bag he was given to carry his magazines in 1997 to this day – 25 years later.

The relic has proven to be sustainable fashion in its own right and travels with him everywhere he goes, he admitted.

“That Big Issue bag goes with me everywhere and it has done for all those years since 1997,” added Waltham.

“My girlfriend buys me different bags and different hold-alls but I’ve never used them because I have my Big Issue bag. It’s taught me to be who I am now. It keeps me grounded and humble.

“For what The Big Issue’s done for me, I’d love to see that somebody reads my story and if it helps to give one person a positive vibe that they can do something to get to where they want to be in life. I’d love that.”Do you want to become a Big Issue vendor or find your local seller?

Head here to find out how you can start to sell the magazine, or find your local vendor here.

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Support The Big Issue Winter Appeal

Big Issue vendors can’t work from home and with severe weather warnings on the cards, they face a very tough and uncertain Winter period ahead.

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