A retro clothing business profits on the past

A Los Angeles woman starts a profitable business designing and selling early-20th-century vintage clothing.

By Annamarie von Firley, FSB Magazine

(FSB Magazine) -- I started wearing vintage clothes as a teenager in the late '80s. It was a rebellion against the homogeneity of conventional Missouri fashion tastes. Little did I know then that I would end up with a business, reVamp, which makes clothing that reproduces vintage styles from the first half of the 20th century.

It began when a friend and I did swing dancing as a hobby. One day in 1998 we were lamenting how poorly everyone was dressed and how that ruined the 1940s fantasy. She said, "We should start a business making historically accurate clothing!" Immediately I responded, "No, we shouldn't!" But my friend won me over.

A familiar pattern: von Firley supplies her throwback designs to everyone from drama clubs to HBO.

We were partners for a year, until she left to pursue her own business making corsets. Now I have five employees, but depending on demand, I've had as many as nine. My business is profitable, and we've had nearly 20 percent growth in each of the past three years.

At first I catered to swing dancers, but now my customers are primarily vintage enthusiasts or women who aren't interested in contemporary silhouettes. There are 200 men's and women's pieces in the line. Items from the 1930s and '40s are the most popular.

I want the clothes to be wearable every day, but much of my business is costumes. Through my Web site (revampvintage.com), I get a lot of calls from regional theater houses and drama departments from all over the country. I've made pieces for several TV shows, including the HBO series Carnivŗle, which was set in the 1930s.

In the eight years I've had the business, I've slowly transitioned to a vintage lifestyle. I dress in vintage full-time. In 2003 my husband and I bought a Victorian home and furnished it entirely with antiques from 1850 to 1940, including a 1920s stove and refrigerator.

There are a lot of people like me who are obsessed with old-timey things, and I hope that my clothes can help those people shape an identity for themselves. --As told to Julie Sloane, FSB Magazine

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