When Topshop went into administration three years ago, one of the brand’s former buyers, Anna Woods knew it was time for fashion to be done differently.

Having worked in an industry “built predominantly on the principles of newness and profit”, Anna, 41, who lives in Ramsgate, Kent, was determined to introduce a new way to shop in the high street.

What started life as a pop-up selling pre-loved designer wear in 2020 has now grown into three bricks-and-mortar stores, in Ramsgate, Margate and Deal in Kent, as well as a website.

Positive Retail stocks a carefully curated line of men’s and women’s preloved items, including designers such as Prada, Celine, Burberry, Stella McCartney, Gucci. And Anna teams up with brands to sell deadstock, which otherwise might end up as waste. Her business is set to turn over £250,000 this year - and it counts artist Tracey Emin, Crown actress Emma Corrin, Mary Portas and influencer Kat Farmer as fans.

'It felt unreal when Topshop went into administration in November 2020. The place where I had started my buying career 20 years previously had gone. I was shaken by it but also galvanised too,' Anna said.

Great British Life: Anna WoodsAnna Woods (Image: Rebecca Douglas)

'At the time I was on gardening leave after being made redundant from my role as a buying director from LK Bennett. I had already started questioning the industry, and I knew retail was desperate to incorporate some softer values. It would be this integration that would start the high street’s next chapter, and, however small I was, I felt I needed to play my part.

'Three years later, Positive Retail has grown - and is continuing to grow. We are a team of six now across three stores and HQ as well as online. We partner with brands to create a premium home for their unsold garments and partner with our community of sellers to find new homes for their preloved items.

'Simply put, we’re part alternative to TK Maxx, part alternative to Vestiere or Vinted all under one roof.'

Growing up in Oldham, North Manchester, Anna had always wanted to work in fashion. Her mum Les would buy Vogue and The Sunday Times Style magazine, and Anna knew it was the career for her. Les would take Anna shopping in the Eighties to the Elite Dress Agency - buying secondhand designer clothes for a good price.

Great British Life: Positive Retail in MargatePositive Retail in Margate (Image: Rebecca Douglas)

In 2000, Anna went to Manchester Metropolitan Uni to study a business degree. Just nine months later, she was working at her dream job - as a buyer with Topshop, the brand she loved, where she was a 'rising star' and worked until she was 29 in 2013 when she left for Kurt Geiger before going on to become a senior buyer at Whistles.

It was during this time she trained as a counsellor at night school, then got her masters in leadership and organisational dynamics and completed her executive coaching qualifications. Aged 36, she worked as a buying director for LK Bennett, before being made redundant in 2020.

Months later, she heard the news about Topshop going into administration, and knew it was time for her to launch her own business. After writing a plan and investing an initial £5,000 into the business in 2021, Anna launched a Positive Retail popup in Ramsgate.

She took £12,000 in just six weeks, so she knew the concept would work, and she opened her first store nearby in August 2021, selling the clothes she and her friends in the industry had accumulated during their careers.

'It felt time for buying secondhand to be normalised. It was a way to find treasures, not repetition. I knew I was on to something. I could feel customers breathe a sigh of relief that something sustainable was on their doorstep. I could also feel we’d tapped into something fundamental about community and connection.'

Great British Life: Anna in Positive Retail in Deal High Street Anna in Positive Retail in Deal High Street (Image: Rebecca Douglas)

At the end of 2021, Anna, who married firefighter James in 2017, was approached by Saskia Lamche, creative director and buying director of Diverse clothing, to sell her old stock.

It was something that sat well with Anna’s ethos as it meant fewer items ended up as waste.

After another successful popup store in Liverpool, Anna signed a lease for a store in Margate Old Town in December 2022. The shop took £20,000 in its first month.

Anna said: 'It was incredible. And our community grew as well. The people who sell with us are great, with impeccable taste, and they understand the concept fully. We started to get visitors from across the South East and London who said they wanted a Positive Retail near them so I’m starting to think about franchise options.'

In March 2023, Anna opened her third store - in Deal high street. Within a few weeks, she had been approached by brands she admired - Universal Works, Folk, Baum Und Pferdgarten - to sell their out-of-season stock. No longer a one-woman-job, Anna hired an assistant to help her with processing stock for the shops, which she’d been managing on her own.

Great British Life: Positive Retail in in RamsgatePositive Retail in in Ramsgate (Image: Rebecca Douglas)

Just a few months later, Positive Retail was selected by Mary Portas as one of ‘Portas Picks’, praising Anna’s ‘Shopping local, loving people, staying circular’ mission, as well as being featured in The Sunday Times Style Magazine’s Top 50 Independents list.

Anna said: 'I felt really honoured to be featured. I’m really proud of how we work with our partners, so it was amazing to have that mentioned.

'In terms of brands, they send deadstock to me that I have between three and six months to sell, and I pay them every quarter. I look after that stock. I know the blood, sweat and tears that goes into creating collections - I used to do it. I want to honour that hard work and not see it go to waste.

'Private sellers come into the store or message me via the website. Secondhand designerwear, such as pre-loved Prada, Marni, Gucci, Burberry, Celine, Acne Studios, sell well. But I am ultra-discerning. Garments need to be immaculate. I require photographs.

'Anything that is not sold and not collected after six months goes to our partner charity Oasis Domestic Abuse shop. There it gets one more chance to sell. It’s fully circular! Also, a lot of the people in this space are only offering female clothes - why cut off half the population? I genuinely love selling men’s clothes!'

After turning over £70,000 in its first year, Positive Retail was on course to turn over £250,000 in 2023. Sales were triple what they were in 2022, and Anna has plans to make PR a franchise - with dreams of shops in New York City and Los Angeles.

Anna has also applied to become a certified B Corporation company, as a promise to her customers that the brand will stick to its values. She said: 'I turned 40 in 2022 and I honestly can say Positive Retail wouldn’t be thriving if I’d done this earlier. I’m operating and building from a place of lived experience and I’m servicing the industry rather than bristling against it.

'It’s also from knowing we can no longer afford a business world built on the principles of greed and gain. Knowing that the focus on the bottom line is not enough, we must move differently. I want to play my part in uplifting people, brands, my staff and the planet rather than for greed and gain.'

She added: 'A £250,000 turnover isn’t bad for a business only open four out of seven days! I am thrilled with where we are at and see so much opportunity for the business. It’s been a very tough three years but having my health, sobriety, clarity, my life experience, and ability to use my intuition and leadership skills have meant I’ve navigated storms well. I’m proud of myself and where I have come. I’ve never for one minute thought of giving up.

'I’ve splashed out on nothing! Everything has gone back into the business. It’s not the lifestyle we used to lead when I was a buyer - taking three holidays a year. But it’s been a humbling experience to strip myself and my life back to profit neutral. It calls in to question what you really need to live off and survive with.

'However, I will buy myself a new Stella McCartney bag when I’m ready. That will be a good day!'