Before breaking into the vintage wholesale market and becoming one of Texas’ biggest ugly Christmas sweater suppliers, Keith Marrs worked for his father, exporting cars to Central America. His wife, Amy, a Dallas native, gave us the lowdown on Vagabond Vintage — their small but mighty Design District showroom which totes the best and cheapest vintage threads around.
Dallas Observer: How did Vagabond get started?
Amy Marrs: Keith started the company in 1990, originally as a Guatemalan import store in Nacogdoches, Texas. He ended up in London visiting friends and was asked to bring some used denim Levis, Lees and Wranglers for his friends and a few extra pairs to sell. He carted two suitcases full of vintage denim. Twenty-six years later and we still sell to one of our customers he met on that very first trip to London. Our product list has expanded and evolved over the years but vintage denim is where it all started. He eventually dropped the Guatemalan imports in the mid-'90s and just did vintage clothing.
When did the Dallas showroom first open to the public?
The showroom opened in July 2015 to the public. We have had several stores over the years in Dallas, Denton and Nacogdoches, but we haven't had a retail space in Dallas (Deep Ellum) since the late '90s. Realizing the smaller vintage dealers that sell online need sources, we thought opening a showroom and retail outlet would attract more wholesale business and give the public a fun place to shop and dig through all of our stock. It also allowed up to get rid of a few storage units we had and house all our stuff in one spot.
Who are your biggest buyers? I’ve heard Dolly Python is one.
Our biggest buyers are overseas, Japanese mainly. Our other buyers are in England, New York, L.A., Nashville, New Zealand and Australia. Gretchen from Dolly has been a great friend for nearly 20 years. Everything she buys is mostly for her and we buy stuff strictly with her in mind. We love her and her shop.
What’s this about ugly Christmas sweaters?
We are purveyors of ugly Christmas sweaters. We are going on our 7th year we have easily been the top seller in Texas, or even the country. We sell about 4,000 to 5,000 every year and wholesale another 2,000 or so. We have pop-up stalls all over Texas, mainly in college towns, beginning the day after Thanksgiving and going through Christmas Eve. We've been on the same corner in Austin for the past five years.
Describe the “Vagabond Vintage” style.
Our style is wide reaching. More is more. We have everything from '20s to '00s. A dress from the '30s might be hung next to a Patagonia windbreaker. If you don't like to dig and search then you probably won't like our store. We have no modern crap or filler. Everything is hand picked. If you're into vintage tees, we are your source. We move so much merchandise that it's hard to categorize it properly but we try and our prices reflect it.
In Dallas, vintage clothing costs a pretty penny. Is it true that most of your items are under $20?
Yes, the only thing priced higher is a few vintage rock tees, boots, leather jackets and a few select dresses. Most everything else averages about $15 an item. Obviously prices go down the more you buy. Even if you’re not a dealer and just a collector, come in and buy five shirts and we'll give you a deal.
Tell me why you do it. Why this business and industry?
It has allowed us to live a very eclectic, fun and adventurous lifestyle. We both love to travel and Keith can't sit still for a minute, it just fits his personality to a tee.
People, different cultures and trends inspire everything we do. Japanese set the trends and control the market. They are always two to three years ahead in all trends in terms of vintage clothing. Keith has always had a knack for predicting a trend. He can see it before it blows up. I have to give him credit, he was buying members only jackets and high-waisted jeans, to name a few things, way before they were [popular].
Tell me about you and your husband’s background?
I grew up in Dallas, went to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and studied fashion merchandising at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches. That is where I met Keith and where he is from. We've been married for 22 years and have a son, 21, who is currently living in Barcelona. Our daughter, 14, attends Ursuline Academy.
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Keith grew up as the son of a car dealer. He went to work for his dad after realizing college wasn't his jam. He got the travel bug after exporting cars for his dad to Central America. He learned to speak Spanish fluently during his travels and has met a lot of interesting characters on the road. He has lots of great stories, which include a few harrowing near death experiences. His friends want him to write a book someday.
Where in the world do you find so many quality vintage threads?
We have a multitude of sources but the specifics we don't divulge. We have pickers from all over who bring us stuff and of course in our "free time" we are always searching thrift stores and garage sales.
Anything else we should know about the Vagabond brand?
We have another store in Nacogdoches, in the original space where we opened in 1990-2000. We re-opened about four years ago. It's been fun to see people's faces that were our customers 25 years ago when they come in with their kids. Keith's brother also has a great shop in the San Marcos historic district called Vagabond. He ran our shop in Nacogdoches before he moved to Austin in 2000 and then opened his shop a year or so later.
Vagabond Vintage, 1616 Market Center Blvd., is open to the public from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Wholesale appointments are available around the clock.