What if you had an interest that made some people think you were weird (and made other people think you were awesome)? What if you could take that weird/awesome passion and turn it into a successful business where you called the shots? AND…what if you had a super cool look to boot?
Well then, you’d probably be Annamarie von Firley, the owner and designer of reVamp, a clothing brand that creates fine reproduction vintage clothing (focusing on styles from the years 1910-1957) for both men and women. (Um, did I mention even her name is pretty groovy?)
The sexy secret agent name, the cool Louise Brooks-on-acid look, the amazing business incorporating her passion for vintage clothing? It seems too good to be true. I, for one, am envious, but I’m even more incredibly inspired. While I have been into ‘40s clothing for a loooong time and even turned myself into big-time swing dancer, I never made a business from my love of vintage, like Ms. von Furley has done. (I was happy to shop and lindy hop!)
Though I didn’t start my own vintage clothing business, I was savvy enough to be a reVamp customer, and smart enough to catch up with Annamarie and get the goods for us all:
How did Revamp Vintage start?
ANNEMARIE: I was Swing Dancing on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien with a friend. We were lamenting on how poorly people were dressed. She suggested we start a company that recreates vintage clothing. Initially I said no because I worked for a start-up -and saw that my boss never got paid. But, soon after, the business was sold. And I did not want to go with it. Since I was between jobs, I decided to give her idea a shot.
My partner had her own corset company when we started reVamp. It became pretty clear that she did not have time for two companies. We decided that we could either be friends or be business partners, but not both at the same time. We were business partners for one year, but we are still best friends.
Did you have a background in retail clothing?
ANNEMARIE: I have a BA in Wooden Toy Design and Construction and a BFA in Furniture Design. I accidentally ended up in the fashion business.
How did you grow ReVamp, what were the “steps” you took?
ANNEMARIE: reVamp was founded in 1998. We always had a website; you might say we grew up with the Web. As more people became comfortable with purchasing clothing online, so did we. Our growth was organic. We tapped into the peak of the Swing Scene in the ‘90s, when there was pent-up demand for vintage reproduction clothing. For about 10 years, we and a couple of other companies pretty much owned the market for vintage reproduction clothing. We never needed to work hard to get sales or hits on our website until Google’s “Penguin update” in 2012 (see below). Now we have to do all of the social media, blogs and website optimization like everyone else.
At the time reVamp was opened, there were only three companies making vintage inspired clothing: Stop Staring, Dixie Fried, and us. Stop Staring grew a lot because they wholesale their clothing. We are not as big because we retail clothes made here by our own in-house cutters and sewers and have no economy of scale. It costs us the same amount to make one garment as 100. So our wholesale price is a full two thirds of our retail price. This makes us too expensive for most stores to carry our line, so we mostly sell directly to the consumer — plus museums, theaters, TV, movies and national parks. We do a lot of bridal as well. Since we aren’t really set up to wholesale, we are really limited to how much we can grow.
Aside from your limitations on how large you can grow, what else have been the biggest challenges?
ANNEMARIE: Regaining our ranking in Google search. The game changed for us in 2012 when Google changed its algorithms, which changed the way Google ranked websites in searches to stop companies who were gaming the system to make their pages come up first in searches. A lot of companies who were playing by the rules, like us, had their ranking lowered and less people were able to see their website. The “Penguin update” dropped our hits by about 65 percent. We are still hustling to regain what we took for granted for 10 years.
What are the biggest rewards?
ANNEMARIE: Seeing my designs on the big and small screen, on a happy bride or on a satisfied customer who has sent me a photo of herself in reVamp clothing!
Tell us about the classes, event and other special programs you offer that make you so much more than “just a store”?
ANNEMARIE: We do quarterly Vintage Hair and Makeup Workshops to teach historically accurate hairstyles and period appropriate make-up application. The attendees do their own hair and makeup and we guide them in the process since we won’t be around the next time they are going out on the town.
Any advice for young women who want to start their own business and be their own boss?
ANNEMARIE: I would advise that you work for a lot of companies before starting your own. I was a temp for several years. Temps are often hired to clean up other people’s messes—whether it is a filing system that has gone array or data collection system that was never set up or set up properly. Eventually the mess will need to be cleaned up. Better to start out knowing the pitfalls and avoiding them. Any business you start will need to manage data. Even in manufacturing or design, someone has to keep track of customers, orders, bills and billing. Having a good organizational system in place from the get go will save you a lot of time and may save your business. No one wants to lose a customer because you can’t find their paperwork or you thought that their order was shipped when it was not.
You can learn a lot of things from working for other companies. Sometimes the most valuable information is learning what NOT to do.
When I asked Annamarie what she learned from it all she instantly said, “Smaller risks = smaller gains!” And along those lines, she and reVamp are always evolving and coming up with new ideas, new ways to meet, make, and serve customers.
reVamp just launched a new version of its new website, and in addition to the company’s extensive ready-to-wear line of reproduction vintage clothing and in-house hair and makeup workshops, the revamped reVamp site now features a couple of new services: “Monthly Silhouette Procurement Plan” and the “Silhouette of the Month”.
The “Monthly Silhouette Procurement Plan” is a garment subscription service that allows you to receive one garment per month for a whole year. The other addition, the “Silhouette of the Month”, is a high-end, couture design that changes monthly, alternating between men’s and women’s silhouettes. For the ‘discerning vintage clothing aficionado’, the “Silhouette of the Month” is a highly designed and constructed garment that is not suitable for mass production. The garment is custom made for each individual’s unique measurements. Fabric consultations, mock-ups and fittings are all included in the price. (The design is only available for one month and then retired, augmenting the exclusivity—and the urgency.)
Clearly, Annamarie never rests on her adorable laurels; she’s coming up with new ideas and strategies to not only superserve loyal customers and keep them coming back, but to make her products more accessible and desirable at multiple price points. And for those who can afford it, now vintage repros can be as exclusive and luxurious as a couture item.
P.S. Interested in learning the biz? Annamarie and reVamp have an apprenticeship program where she trains people in sales/marketing, patterning/grading, and cutting and sewing. Each section is three months long, and the apprenticeship lasts one year.
Are you as inspired by Annamarie as I am? Ask yourself:
What’s your passion? How can you turn what you love into a business?
Can you address a need or a problem that needs solving, like Annamarie did?
Once your business was underway, could you keep coming up with new ideas to reach new people, and to serve your customer better, and in more ways?
What skill sets might you start developing now to prepare yourself for success?PHOTO CREDIT: (Annamarie) Jon Lile, (Models) David Rocha