When it comes to sneakers, Henry Davies from Pillow Heat is the ultimate brand loyalist. So much so, that he’s worn nothing but vintage Vans for the last two decades. We spoke to the Australian-born, London-based collector about the allure of vintage, his Carnaby Street retail space and buying his first Vans at Hype DC back in the ’90s.

Image credit: @aimi_kishimoto


Hey Henry! Thanks for catching up with us. First up, can you tell us how long you've been collecting Vans?

It's been over 20 years now that I've been legitimately collecting. I’ve been asked that question for a long time now, so I had to think about that!

What is it about Vans that you've always loved?

Initially, it was just the simplicity and flair. I grew up playing basketball and tennis and wearing athletic brands and collecting vintage stuff – I always wanted old stuff. I didn't like the stuff that everyone else was wearing.

I did skate a little bit and ride BMX, but it was never about that for me – I was into the product. I was into fashion, shoes and design. I went away from technical shoes, into the most simple things – it was just an evolution of my taste. And in Vans, I finally found what I was looking for – the perfect vehicle for everything that I wanted.

Do you recall your first pair of Vans?

Yeah, it was a black and white checkerboard Classic Slip-on . And I'm pretty sure I got them at Hype DC. Some new friends that I made when I was still in high school were all wearing Vans, and they were all kind of punk rocker skaters. Checkerboard had a big moment at that time in the late ’90s, so I got a pair of those from Hype DC.

Around the same time, my friend who grew up in the States suggested I try the American-made Vans – the old vintage stuff. I got on eBay that same day, and I found the checkerboard Classic Slip-on I’d bought new, but 20 years old (well at that stage they were ten years old). So I purchased a vintage pair and sold the pair that I’d just bought. From then on, it was vintage only. That pair from Hype DC was the only pair of new Vans I ever bought.


What is it about the Made in USA vintage styles that you love?

Initially, it was the shape... it's a more streamlined shape. It's more ergonomic, has a pointed toe and a more slim fit. So aesthetically, it was more beautiful to me and had a nicer shape. And then after wearing them, you realise how comfortable and durable they are and just an experience to wear. The vintage styles delivered everything that I was into – the look and the greater workmanship. The old-world craft spoke to me.

What is it about the Made in USA vintage styles that you love?

Initially, it was the shape... it's a more streamlined shape. It's more ergonomic, has a pointed toe and a more slim fit. So aesthetically, it was more beautiful to me and had a nicer shape. And then after wearing them, you realise how comfortable and durable they are and just an experience to wear. The vintage styles delivered everything that I was into – the look and the greater workmanship. The old-world craft spoke to me.


How did you start selling the pieces you'd been collecting?

I've always been a collector from when I was a kid – with toys or whatever it might be. At some point, I also started buying any size I could find with the idea to sell. I just saw cool stuff, and I couldn't pass it up.

Then I came to London in 2006 and that opened up a whole new landscape of fashion, design and accessibility – because it's so remote in Australia, the chances of finding that kind of Americana or European stuff is pretty slim.

I went a bit crazy, and I bought a tonne of stuff. And then I had no choice – I had this huge collection that was overflowing in my flat.

And did you set up a shop straight away?

When I came to London, it pretty much fell into place right away. I found the location of my first shop in about 2007, and I hassled the landlord for about two years. He finally relented and let me rent it in 2009. I signed a six-month lease on the space and the business started – and it's now 11 years old.

How about your relationship with Vans? How did that initially start?

It was very organic, and I was very fortunate as well. I can remember clearly when I opened that first space, I was in the basement one day and a girl walked in and she happened to be the assistant manager of the Vans flagship store in London. She was blown away, and she said, "Oh, we're doing a refit in the store next week – maybe we can get some of your product in there." This was within the first few months of me opening. And it worked – they allocated a small cabinet for me in the Carnaby Street store. And I've had a display there since 2010, and now I have a shop upstairs. So it's pretty wild how it happened.

How about your relationship with Vans? How did that initially start?

It was very organic, and I was very fortunate as well. I can remember clearly when I opened that first space, I was in the basement one day and a girl walked in and she happened to be the assistant manager of the Vans flagship store in London. She was blown away, and she said, "Oh, we're doing a refit in the store next week – maybe we can get some of your product in there." This was within the first few months of me opening. And it worked – they allocated a small cabinet for me in the Carnaby Street store. And I've had a display there since 2010, and now I have a shop upstairs. So it's pretty wild how it happened.

How do you decide what's going to make it into the store?

So Carnaby's quite small – the area they gave me, it's dead space. They've tried different things upstairs, and nothing worked, so they gave it to me. It's smaller than my old shop, so I had to be selective. Firstly, I just want a broad selection of sizes, so everyone's covered, and it's just the best of the best. So the most commercial pieces get in there and then I'll rotate them out if something better comes in

I've built this archive as well of stuff that I would never sell. So that's a big part of the attraction of Carnaby Street. I just chose all the big pieces to put on display – so all the banners, the posters, the surf boards and bags. Rather than having a hundred pairs of shoes dotted around, I chose these showpieces. This stuff is more special to me now than any single pair of shoes.

And how about the sourcing process, how does that work?

These days the majority is online. I mean buying trips are certainly fun, but the reality is not so fruitful because these things are so rare and it's so specialist what I do now. It was a bit different when I had the other shop, and I could sell any brand and any piece that I found – now it's exclusively Vans. So justifying a buying trip just to find vintage Vans, it's difficult. Unless I've got a strong lead, like I know about a shop or a collector, everything can be done online. I do daily searches of global resources and social media and – you've just got to be relentlessly digging. It's not so glamorous, but it's still fun for me. I still get that thrill when I find something.

At the same time, I'm getting a lot of help from people around the world now, because it's become a destination for this product. So people will come to me – that's been a huge bonus having put in all the work over the years now to sit back a little bit and have people come to me and say, "I found this... do you want to buy it?" So, that's amazing, but I’m always looking for new avenues and different ways to find stuff.

How many pairs of Vans do you have in your personal collection?

About 66 maybe. Again, it's so difficult to find the right size. I mean some collectors, like in Japan, for example, they'll wear anything between like a three size range, but I'm fussy. It needs to be the right size. I've got enough now to last me a lifetime, so I only really pick up unique pieces, and then I usually trade one in and trade out.

What style do you wear most regularly?

Slip-ons at the moment. I love the style of a slip-on. And it's easy. And what else? Chukkas. I love the Chukka Boot – the old styles are just incredible.

What style do you wear most regularly?

Slip-ons at the moment. I love the style of a slip-on. And it's easy. And what else? Chukkas. I love the Chukka Boot – the old styles are just incredible.


Finally, what’s next for you?

I'm always looking for what's next – because if I'm honest, I don't want to sit in the shop for the rest of my life. I'm stoked to be living my dream, but I'm trying to diversify things because I'm facing a finite supply of these shoes and the rubber is starting to perish on some of these shoes as well. The dream is to get on the road and do buying trips and capture these moments on film. This is the captivating thing for me – it may not necessarily be the product, but the story behind the people behind the product. I’d love to set up a YouTube channel and capture these adventures on the road where I talk to the people in stories and film the digging adventures.

Keen to pick up some new Vans? Shop our curated collection below at HYPE DC.

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