Digging deep with Britain’s TK Maxx hunters
A group of men are raiding the rails of the discount retailer up and down the country to find sought-after brands to impress each other with on Instagram.
“It was the Stone Island Ice Jacket that set me off,” says 31-year-old Billy Pritchard who works for the Welsh Ambulance Service. “Even back then it was a sought after item so to find one for fifty quid in this store in South Wales was just incredible.” The Newport County fan is recounting the moment in 2006 that he found some heavily reduced Stone Island deadstock in the TK Maxx in Cardiff city centre, leading to a life-long obsession with the high-street discount retailer.
“They were originally released in ’89 or ’90 so God knows how they ended up in there. I bought two of them and two of the Stone Island Ice Jacket vests too. That cemented me basically spending the next 15 years searching through them and driving to all these different TK Maxx’s.”
At his peak, Pritchard was getting to a branch of TK Maxx on a nearly daily basis but has cut back to just two or three times a week. And he’s not alone. In 2017, he set up an Instagram page called TK Maxx Hunting where he displays his best finds from the store and encourages other followers to send in pics for him to post too. Soon a band of dedicated TK Maxx hunters had emerged, scouring the rails up and down the country on a daily basis to find gems like Snow Peak parkas, Norse Projects gloves, rare limited edition Ralph Lauren and C.P Company sweatshirts in amongst the seeming endless sea of Crosshatch hoodies and multi-pocket Bench jeans. And with most stock discounted by at least 70 per cent, who can blame them? In fact, during the pandemic, TK Maxx was one of the only high street stores to report an increase in profits and bucks the shift to online retail with the majority of its business still happening in its bricks and mortar stores.
“I’ve got mates who wouldn’t be seen dead in there,” says Johnny Hall aka Phil Sparrowhawk, the page’s most prolific poster. “But I just think ‘bollocks to you then. You go and buy it for two hundred quid in End or Oi Polloi!’ Everyone likes a bit of one-upmanship and knowing you got it for £40 instead of £200 – even if you had to work for it digging through the rails and driving all over the place – it gives you that little buzz.”
Billy Pritchard, 31, Newport
How did your TK Maxx obsession begin?
Around the age of 15, I got really into message boards like ’80s Casuals, which were an absolute goldmine of information if you were into terrace culture and learning about certain brands. Then I discovered some of these brands would turn up in TK Maxx and eventually found the Stone Island Ice Jackets. I bought two of them for £50 each and sold them for £200 each and have regretted it ever since! They’d go for a lot more now!
What’s your TK Maxx routine now?
I probably go about three times a week between the Cwmbran store and the Newport branch. I’m like a whirlwind when I go in the store. I’ve spent so many years in there taking in information about different labels that I just absolutely fly through the rails but a good label will catch my eye. I’m not usually in the store longer than ten minutes at a time.
What made you set up the page?
Initially I was putting stuff on my own Instagram page and people were telling me to start something. At the start it was me running around taking pics of stuff in stores just to fill it but now I’m getting around thirty-five things sent to me a day. It’s actually getting hard to manage on top of having a job and a family.
James Grattan, 28, Middlesbrough
How did you get into TK Maxx?
I worked at Size? in Middlesbrough for seven years and now work at Footlocker. I do my own vintage pop-ups too so would always go and have a look in charity shops and TK Maxx at lunch to see if I could find anything good for myself, or the stall. I got a bit obsessed and would skip meals as I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything.
Do you have any tricks for finding good stuff?
The rails are so packed that often I’ll assess them from a distance. I’ll kneel down to tie my shoelaces and look at the labels hanging down and I’ll look out for the red security tags that they put on stuff that has a really high RRP. That’s how you find brands like Gucci, Stone Island or Norse Projects easily. There’s been absolutely loads of Gucci in recently!
What have been your best finds?
I found a Maison Margiela trench coat in the clearance for £40 in Bath. It was meant to be £1,800 and had been reduced four times. It’s distressed and frayed around the edges and I don’t think it made sense to the demographic in Bath. I’ve got a Ralph Lauren duffel coat made out of alpaca wool that I paid £99 for but was meant to be £2,000. I bought two and sold the other for £200 so it was like getting a free coat. The quality’s amazing. I try and sell stuff on a lot if I can to cover the cost of my own clothes.
Zoltan Lurcza, 36, Luton
You mostly buy Ralph Lauren Polo in TK Maxx. How did you get into that?
I saw a documentary about the Lo-Heads from New York two years ago and that started me off collecting Polo. I was buying stuff all over the place and then realised you get it in TK Maxx sometimes at 70 or 80 per cent off. It wasn’t great before but I don’t know what’s happened in the last year as there’s now loads of limited edition Polo gear in store. Sometimes it’s sold out in the US, sold out online in Europe but turns up in TK Maxx for 30 per cent of the original price. The Lo-Heads in the States who follow me on Insta can’t believe it!
How often do you go?
I work in the glazing industry and work away from home a lot so I’ll go in one wherever I am. I’m in Poole at the moment and will go and check out a TK Maxx tonight. The one’s in the bigger cities are better. I found some good stuff in Cardiff and I used to live in Watford where the offices are and you’d find Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci in there. The more out of the way ones aren’t as good.
What are your best finds?
I found some pieces from the Ralph Lauren Snow Beach collection in Cardiff, which is super rare. I bought four black Snow Beach vests and sold two and kept two for myself.
Johnny Hall, 53, Manchester
How did you get into digging in TK Maxx?
Around 2007 I heard they had a load of deadstock Stone Island in so started going. I worked out that if something’s in one store, it’s likely to be in quite a few others around the country so that started me off going to loads of different locations.
How often do you go?
I’ve calmed down a bit but it was everyday. Where I live in Manchester, there are about twelve stores in a thirty-minute radius. At the start of last year I realised they had loads of Norse Projects in so was going to all twelve stores over a few days and coming home with fifteen to twenty pieces some days. They were selling Norse Projects x Hestra gloves for £20 instead of £120. I was buying loads and selling on to pay for my own stuff.
What have been your best finds?
Just before Christmas last year I got an Orslow Coverall jacket and a Snow Peak Waterproof anorak in the Arndale Store in Manchester. They’re both the kind of thing that usually cost a few hundred quid and that you’ll never see reduced anywhere.