Nestled away on Borough Road is a small shop with a rich history and big ambitions.
Vintage clothing store Lazy Joe’s is owned by Middlesbrough born and bred Joe Thompson, 34.
From a comfy sofa in the corner of his trendy shop floor, Joe spoke to We are Middlesbrough about his journey so far.
Boro born and bred, Joe, 34
At the age of 16 Joe started working full-time in his late father’s restaurant, Chapters, but after grafting for two years non-stop, he felt burnt out and at a dead end.
He moved to Newcastle where he worked in nightclubs for two years, but eventually got tired of finishing at 4am.
“I had no sleeping pattern and no life,” explained Joe. “I was at a crossroads and didn’t know what to do with myself.”
That was when he got an unexpected call from his brother, who owned fish and chip restaurants in the US and was about to have triplets.
“I went over and helped my brother in the restaurants. Seeing him run his own business inspired me to do the same.
“At the time I was spending all my fish and chip tips in the thrift shop next door, basically buying anything that took my fancy.”
When Joe got back to Middlesbrough he had two suitcases full of vintage clothes, and was armed with an idea.
He got in touch with the council and asked if he could set up a ‘pop up shop’ somewhere in Middlesbrough, selling the clothes he bought in the states.
The council loved the idea, offered him a spot in the Cleveland Centre, and the rest is history.
Lazy Joe’s interior provides a relaxed customer experience
“Pop up shops in America at that time were really popular, but back in England they weren’t really a thing. I saw the vision, I saw how it worked and I realised ‘this could be a really big thing’,” Joe explained.
“My family in America were laughing their heads off, they were asking why I was going in the thrift shop all the time – it didn’t make sense. I rang them up and said ‘you know all that stuff I was getting? You need to send more over’.
“After a couple months there was a queue outside the pop up shop, so at that point I thought ‘okay, I need to scale up now’.”
Joe moved the shop into its current location on Borough Road, before relocating to Newport Road. That shop ended up closing, but Joe continued to bring clothes from the US to Middlesbrough, then selling them all over the place – including in Ibiza.
“I had a few friends who were DJs out there. A few people over there heard about what I was doing and they wanted my stock. I went over and we did pop ups on people’s roofs, in bars and all over the place really. I even supplied a barber shop with vintage clothing.
“It was a really good way to connect with people from all over the world.
“Meeting those people and making connections is something that was able to help me and get me into the position that I’m in now.”
After taking Lazy Joe’s international, Joe found his calling back here, in Middlesbrough.
“For me, Middlesbrough is my home,” continued Joe.
“It’s where my friends and family are and I felt like I had something fresh to offer it. It just felt right.”
Joe is now keen for his brand to reflect his original idea – a community where people can come together and relax.
Lazy Joe’s provides affordable, stylish vintage clothing
“I designed Lazy Joe’s from a customer point of view,” said Joe.
“I set it up to provide the experience I like when I’m in a shop.
“I don’t bombard the customers, I don’t have a sales pitch, I just have the products displayed and you can come in and relax.
“If someone comes in and doesn’t like the stock it doesn’t really matter – hopefully they have a good experience and go and tell their friends. Their friends might like the clothes instead!
“Fashion for me is expression, and I love to bring bold vintage clothing to Middlesbrough. People seem to really enjoy it.
“Right now times are difficult for everyone. I’m really passionate about bringing affordable, vintage clothing to the people of Middlesbrough and building up a sense of community.
“I hope Middlesbrough keeps growing and that people can see and support the incredible talent and creative businesses that are here already.”
Learn more about shopping in Middlesbrough on the We are Middlesbrough Shopping page.
We are words and pictures by Alex Backshall