In the world of fashion retailing, the landscape is littered with good ideas gone awry. This year's "Can't-miss' frequently becomes next year's has-been or never was. The segment of the market known as 'vintage apparel'- retro styling or actually used clothing is no different and it is rare to see someone or even a company of someones jump out in front of the pack and maintain a presence there.
I met Katie Echeverry in her office decked out in her workaday 'uniform'-jeans and a tee shirt and bare feet. Katie is the founder and CEO of Unique Vintage, Inc. located in Burbank, CA. Sitting at a rather humble desk surrounded by garments hung up on anything and everything available, she looks to be anything but the chief executive of an apparel firm, yet that firm, started by her, alone, in a garage back in Y2K, now employs 50 people in their 30,000 square foot location.
Began initially as an internet-only avocation, it was slow going at first. Indeed, when she launched her website, it took six months before she received her first order and they were few and far between after that, until, one day, she received an order with a note attached that said, simply, "You have Glamour to thank for this." She had absolutely no idea that the customer was referring to a small blurb in Glamour magazine touting the goods available on her site. The business experienced such an uptick that she had to impress her father into service helping her ship the orders that began to trickle, then pour in, though the work was still being done in her garage and she still had her "day job". Dad still does an occasional turn at the shipping desk and I would meet him on my tour of her facility.
As Katie, herself is quite young and fit (She confesses to 44 yrs., though she looks much younger), her crew, including Dad, project much the same image. I was introduced to the person she calls her go-to-for-everything, who promptly introduced me to the dog that was accompanying her."We are a dog-friendly workplace" Katie explained. And, indeed, the dog itself was quite friendly to me as well!
As she has outgrown the ability of the market to supply her with quality used apparel, she has taken to manufacturing her own vintage reproductions and does so at very reasonable price points. She has associated with an outside manufacturer that allows her fairly low minimum production orders. This allows her to rotate her styles rapidly enough so that her offerings never grow "stale". She was prepping for a visit to that manufacturer later that day, so we had to cut our visit short, but not before she entreated me to go visit her store, also called Unique Vintage also in Burbank. It is a spacious, delightful store with many offerings and a friendly staff, but the one thing that really stood out to me, as a former retail store owner, was the fact that the store featured 10 dressing rooms! Now, a retailer has to be doing some kind of brisk trade to require that many dressing rooms. I have been in major department stores that do not have 10 dressing rooms! When I mentioned this to the manager, she simply said: "Yes, we get pretty busy in here sometimes". I should say!
The company's cyber sophistication shows a similar growth pattern. At last look, the Unique Vintage Facebook page boasted over 400,000 likes and nearly a quarter - million netizens follow the firm on Instagram!
Katie & Co's latest pursuit is a co-venture with The Kamehameha Garment Company, the original manufacturer of vintage-style aloha shirts. She, under license from that firm, will be the exclusive maker of women's wear, co-branded and using KGC fabrics. This will also make her the sole outside wholesaler of KGC labeled goods. If her track record is any indicator, this ought to be another big hit for her and Unique Vintage.
Having spent a career in and around the garment business, It is truly gratifying to see a down-to-earth and all-around, pleasant person experience such major success in this extremely tough and competitive business!