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Vintage looks make new business

  • Repurposed and adjusted used clothes sold at Civvies. (Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News)

In a throwaway economy, some local entrepreneurs have found value and mission in the recycled, once-loved clothing market.

“Vintage fashion is unique, it’s beautiful, and it’s sustainable,” said Georgia-native Erica Jarman, founder of the Starland District shop, House of Strut.

Jarman is among an emerging group of local entrepreneurs, fashion designers, and small business owners opening stores around Savannah dedicated to providing both quality, one-of-a-kind clothing; some are stressing the importance of buying vintage in order to not contribute to the “fast fashion” zeitgeist.

“Since the year 2000, the ‘fast fashion’ business produces clothing 52 weeks a year. In the ’60s, fashion styles were created four seasons a year,” Jarman explained. “In the ’60s, families spent 10 percent of their budget on clothing for the family. Now families spend six or seven percent, but the amount of clothing they buy is so much more because they’re buying for disposability.”

“Fast Fashion” is a term today used for the process of designing and manufacturing clothing quickly so that garments can be used for large retailers, such as GAP and Urban Outfitters, and sold at lower prices.

Jarman opened her fashion house in a pink Victorian home in Savannah’s Starland District in 2015 in order to provide people with one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. She also wanted to create a space where she could dedicate her energy to “all things sustainable.”

“Vintage is history. It’s an article of clothing created with love, and craftsmanship, and made in the United States of America when there were workers’ protection rights,” Jarman said. “By wearing vintage, we’re wearing recycled clothes that haven’t contributed to the disposable fashion industry, which can cause harm to the environment and can abuse workers’ rights.”

Jarman also uses business to support her beliefs and plans a fundraiser at the House of Strut on April 7 and April 8 for the Savannah Riverkeeper. The event will be a 24-hour music event and fundraiser, the Non Stop Boogie Drop, featuring blues, funk, local rap, among other genres.

Civvies on Broughton is a used clothing staple in Savannah located on the second story of a shopfront on downtown’s Broughton Street. Civvies manager Will Cramer, a textile major at the Savannah College of Art and Design, explained Civvies’ business model is based on Buffalo Exchange, because it’s “lucrative and environmentally conscious.” Civvies employees purchase unique, used clothing articles from their customers.

“We take things made 30 years ago that are still holding up well. We want the clothing to stand out and make people really happy when they buy it. We don’t like the whole ‘fast fashion’ manufacturing process,” Cramer said.

Civvies employees will also repurpose pieces to make them more interesting to potential buyers. “We’ll take a bunch of cheaper clothing and things we don’t think are selling well. We’ll bleach them out, put dye on them, and put patches on them, as a way to re-use what people don’t want and turn it into something that someone will really appreciate,” Cramer said.

“People find vintage way more interesting,” Cramer continued. “A lot of these vintage clothes stood the test of time and still are in good conditions. These things hold up better than some things manufactured nowadays.”

Cramer explained that as a textile major, he is aware of the detriments of “fast fashion” and the harmful effects it can have on the environment. He cited fashion label Juicy Couture as a good example of “fast fashion.”

“‘Couture’ literally means in-house and one of a kind, but Juicy Couture is all manufactured. This shows how its considered nowadays. On the one hand, it makes fashion more reachable — people can access fashion and designers. But this manufacturing is extremely detrimental to the earth. Micro-fibers don’t biodegrade and can be found in large quantities in the ocean. It changes the density of ocean soil. Clothing is manufactured everywhere, which means clothes are dyed all the time, and so there’s run-off into the earth all the time.”

Lauren McCoy, a former fashion design student at Savannah College of Art, worked as a buyer for new clothing boutiques before opening The Future on Forsyth. The Future on Forsyth, a retro vintage fashion shop, opened in 2014 and faces Forsyth Park.

“When I graduated, I worked as a buyer for a new-clothing boutique. I saw such a waste of packaging, and a lot of the clothing isn’t consumed, it’s wasted,” McCoy said. “Not only that, but the quality of the product is poor. The craftsmanship is poor; and the price is somewhat high. This pushed me back towards vintage with the beautiful craftsmanship and the quality. That’s why I opened the Future on Forsyth; I think it’s a finer quality product and a more unique selection.”

Cherry Picked, a secondhand shop on Jones Street, brings high-end designer brands to Savannah.

“When I opened up the shop first on Broughton Street in 2009, I saw there was a need for high-tier fashion labels in Savannah,” said Savannah born-and-bred Casey Lieber, store founder.

Before Lieber opened on Broughton and subsequently moved it to Jones Street, she had spent 15 years traveling to different consignment stores across the country to acquire high-end designer pieces, which she would then sell on eBay.

“Finally it hit me that I could run a consignment shop and that I might actually enjoy it,” Lieber said. “At the time there weren’t that many consignment shops in Savannah and since my family is from here, I thought there was no better place to open up shop.”

Now in her charming location tucked away on Jones, Lieber has built up a roster of local women with an eye for high-end fashion. “It’s like hanging out at Trudy’s Salon in ‘Steel Magnolias,’” Cherry Picked client and local Kim Lyle said.

Cherry Picked clients drop off gently worn or new designer clothing, which Lieber then approves or declines to sell at the shop. Clients have their accounts with Lieber and when an item is sold, half of the profit goes into their account where they receive cash for items sold.

“There’s always something new every time I go to Cherry Picked. All of Casey’s consigners have fabulous taste. And Casey is the easiest person in the world to do business with. I’ve sold dozens of pieces with her at Cherry Picked and I’ve bought millions!” said Bellamy Murphy, laughing.

Lieber said, “I am so incredibly lucky because I have such amazing locals who support me; that’s definitely one thing special in Savannah Georgia the understanding of how important it is to support local business and I am so fortunate.”

Lieber supports local charities by hosting events at her store. On March 23, Lieber will co-host a fundraiser with Meta Adler for the Alzheimer’s Association where a portion of clothes sales will go to the non-profit. The event will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Lisa Garneau Doyle, who opened Gypsy World in the Starland District, said, “I’ve always been into buy and resale.”

Doyle’s mother was a seamstress, so there were fabrics around her home as a child. Her father would take her to Sunday flea markets, auctions, and yard sales. She started her career in fashion by selling vintage clothes out to various vintage and antique malls in Savannah.

Doyle opened Gypsy World on Bull Street, where she says her prime market is SCAD students ages 18 to 25. She also has out-of-towners visit the shop.

“I actually am fortunate to get a lot of travelers and out-of-towners who find the neighborhood. I ask them how they found Starland if they’re from Europe or other cities, and they say Back in the Day bakery. That place is a gold mine!” said Dolye.

“Vintage clothes are such a passion of mine all my life. They’re so fabulous because they’re so well made, the styles are amazing, and what we can do when we recreate with these fabrics and styles is what’s happening. It’s the new generation of recycling and repurposing,” Doyle said.

Doyle is preparing to brand her own clothing, which will be handmade at her home.

“It’s all about sustainability. My clothing is vintage fashion that are irreparable and use that fabric to create my own style of clothes.”

House of Strut owner Jarman emphasize the mission is part of her style and that of her customer.

“I’m a big believer in what you wear matters. It really is a reflection of who you are,” she said.

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