Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Avant Gaudy Interview

I was lucky enough to get to interview Deborah Umunnabuike the co-founder of Avant Gaudy. She is truly an inspiring woman who I believe fashionistas have every reason to look up to. Not only does she attend the University of Chicago but she also created and continues to run a successful fashion e-tailer that sells amazing timeless vintage pieces (at affordable prices too!) So now for your reading pleasure:


1. What inspired you to start a vintage online clothing boutique?

Avant Gaudy really began as a summer project and a way for my sister and I to do something constructive during the summer. Beyond that, it was really a way to connect with other people over something that really inspired me: fashion. We felt we were making a difference in the fashion world by presenting something unique and truly different, showing the world that  vintage fashion is modern and relevant.


2.              What makes Avant Gaudy different from other online vintage stores?

Most vintage stores are in an entirely different category. They see vintage as a link to the past, something that stands in contrast to today's trends. While Avant Gaudy and its customers do have a reverent attitude toward the past, we see vintage as modern, and as relevant as what's on the runways or on the street.


3.              What struggles did you face when you first got started? What struggles do you have now?

When we first got started, the biggest challenge was figuring out the technology behind running a webshop! We’ve since learned a lot about HTML, CSS, shopping carts, and the little things that can make shopping online fun. In the past, we focused on repurposing clothing and had more of an ‘underground fashion’ appeal. The current incarnation of Avant Gaudy showcases fashion-forward looks with more widespread appeal among urban fashionistas. Today’s primary challenges consist in creating a cohesive brand image across different social networking platforms and on our site.


4.              How have you managed to balance being a full time student at the University of Chicago with starting up and running a successful business?

Balance comes through constantly checking in with myself and reassessing my priorities. Do I have enough time to complete my reading for classes? Should I scale back on the merchandise buying this week? Am I still doing something that I am passionate about? There are daily trade-offs, though I’ve gained a better understanding of time management. I also have come to be far more patient with myself!


5.              What is your advice to young people who want to start their own successful businesses?

Extensive research is key. At Avant Gaudy, research can fill half of a workday, but it enables us to form better relationships with our customers and within the fashion community. This way, our customers can be ahead of the curve. Most importantly, follow a business idea that you are passionate about. People are always curious as to how much money a student entrepreneur's business makes per year. In response, I've always said that if it wasn't worth doing, I wouldn't be doing it.


6.              What are your favorite vintage turned relevant trends for fall 2009?

The 80’s influence in fashion is everywhere these days. You see it on the high fashion runways, on the streets of Helsinki, and in Forever 21. It’s been a trend that’s lasted through several fashion seasons, and I see it as continuing well through the end of 2009.


7.              What is your best advice for both men and women about incorporating vintage pieces into their wardrobes?

Most people would say start small, but I disagree. If you find any piece that you absolutely love – such as a dress, a bold shirt, or a jumpsuit, then go for it. Women can balance an avant-garde piece with long, layered necklaces, bangle bracelets, and torn leggings. For men, a neutral pair of pants or jeans makes a vintage look timely and timeless.

Finally, don't be afraid to modify a garment to suit your taste. We frequently remove the shoulder pads from dresses, and one of our standout pieces is a pair of shorts covered with decorative patches.


8.              How did you become successful at finding quality and fashionable vintage pieces? 

Finding quality pieces is literally a full-time job. We have a team of buyers who source clothing from all over the US. In addition, they're busy researching trends when not on buying trips. Our criteria vary from trip to trip, but all of our pieces must be authentic vintage, in good condition, and have that indescribable “wow” factor. Whether it be a pair of collapsible shoes, a yellow suede skirt, or a bag with pop-up handles, our buyers intuitively know a good find when they see one. Above all, the time investment and the talent of our buyers has made us successful.


9. Any last advice for those interested in working in the fashion industry?

Start a blog. While it's easy to get lost in the shuffle, a distinct vision and the right connections will help you stand out. Networking within the blogosphere is also great practice for networking within the industry. But above all, remain true to your vision.

I must say Avant Gaudy does offer the “wow” factor with their truly unique vintage finds. I’m so impressed not only with the merchandise they offer but by the entrepreneur who started the business. I’m a full time college student and there is a lot to be learned from this success story. I highly recommend checking out

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