The ‘Bus Stop’ clothes boutique opened in West Croydon in 1968, in the old Railway Bell pub on the corner of North End and Tamworth Road. Started at the height of the swinging sixties scene, it was an instant success amongst young fashionables of the day. This particlular store was the first Bus Stop, and was seen as somewhat of an experiment. As the shop took off, the owner, Lee Bender, expanded and opened a chain of twelve boutiques througout the 1970s. The flagship store was on Kensington’s Church Street, next-door to Biba. Such a prominent location confirmed that Lee’s garments,which she designed herself, were on the cutting edge of fashion in its day. Lee saw Croydon as having the largest teenage population outside of London and the bigger northern cities, which made the location a suitable testing ground for her brand new venture before the aforementioned expansion into central London and beyond. At the time (1969), prices were considered very reasonable. Trouser suits were £5 19s 6d to £7 19s 6d and dresses were approximately just £3 19s 6d with sizes 8 to 14 catered for.
Lee believed in constantly changing her stock to keep the appeal of the local market, it also helped to keep items individual by discontinuing stock once it had sold out. The store’s speciality was the ‘basic’ dress, which could be dressed up or down to suit the occasion, or the wearer’s personality. Another popular item of the time was the ‘see-through’ bra. Made in sizes 32A to 36B, it retailed at 12/11d.
By 1969, a dedicated team of five worked in the store, and were each given a Lee Bender dress every month. Employees were always carefully selected and vacancies seldom occurred. The atmosphere of the shop was described as ‘clean’ and ‘pleasant’, and with pop records of the day being played and joss sticks being burnt, it created a ‘hip’ backdrop to any youngsters’ shopping experience.
Since her Bus Stop days, Lee has worked with the International Trade Centre in Geneva, assisting third world countries in designing textile and fashion ranges for the European market. She has written a book on the store which has been well recieved; she also gave a talk at the V&A to launch it. You can find her book, fashion drawings and photos at the Bus Stop website here: http://www.busstoplondon.co.uk.
Lee ran a tight ship in the 1960s and 70s, with the store and it’s presentation of clothes being always immaculate. The aim was to provide high style and quality with low prices, a concept missing from certain high street stores today.