I’m nestled on a comfortable leather couch with my back against a World War 2 sweetheart pillow in the homeliest store I’ve ever been to: Raggedy Threads. The vintage store is situated in downtown LA’s little Tokyo and aside from unavoidable shopping, I’m here to interview the owner and my long-time friend, Jamie Wong.
This little store is a place unlike its surrounding neighbors. It’s the epitome of authentic vintage, including the storage door that is made out of 100 year old wood from a barn that was being torn down. Jamie describes it as her “little cabin in the woods.”
It’s been 12 years since Raggedy Threads opened its doors, so I sat down with Jamie to get the details on everything from surviving the recession to how vintage plays an important role in today’s trends.
Audrey Magazine: When did your love for vintage start?
Jamie Wong: It started when I was really young. I’ve always been a rummager. Because I was such a hyper kid, my parents would grab a drawer full of random things and I would just dig through them and find things. The love of finding and hunting, whether it’s old or new, was exciting.
AM: You were quite young when you opened Raggedy Threads. How did the idea start?
JW: I grew up in Pomona and in my area, there were some really good thrift stores. There was one particular thrift store that I just loved. The couple that owned it was from London and we became really good friends because I would go there all the time. One day, they asked me if I’d be interested in doing the Rose Bowl for them. I didn’t know that much about vintage, but I just picked the stuff that I liked and set up every month for them at the Rose Bowl back in 97’ and they gave me a commission on what I sold. This was where I learned a lot about vintage and the business. I did it for three months before I decided I could do it on my own.
AM: The recession hit not long after, how did you survive it?
JW: It was hard. Vintage became really big in the Japanese market so I had a lot of design clients and a lot of Japanese clients. But getting the stuff was really difficult and I didn’t have a lot of money. Then the recession hit hard. I was struggling. It was the biggest hustle I had done in my life. I didn’t want to lose my business, plus I was stuck on a lease. I was selling any way I could, doing as many flee markets, calling people– the hustle. I made it through, barely, but I made it. I then got tipped off that there was this space in Little Tokyo that I have now. I ran down, saw it and rented the space. I love it. This is my 5th year here now.
AM: Who are your customers at Raggedy Threads?
JW: It’s so diverse. I get some tourists, even 80-year-olds come here. Some people come in here and think it’s a museum! I love that I don’t have a target audience. I have all walks of life come here. I even have twelve year olds and their moms! I just sold a 1920’s dress to a 60-year-old for her book signing. I also had a band come in from Australia called,Boy and Bear and they bought stuff for their tour. They asked me to their show that night, so I went and I saw them performing wearing the clothes they bought that day.
AM: What is your favorite thing about selling vintage?
JW: I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they find something. For me, it’s not about the money. It’s more about seeing pieces go to a good home because each piece is a story and the people I got them from have some incredible stories to tell. I also spend a lot of time restoring the pieces and bringing them back to life– I just love it. It’s so nice seeing people enjoying it too. It makes me happy that people like what I like.
AM: Where do you get most of your pieces? You must travel a lot.
JW: Yes, now it’s all travel to find stuff. This year alone I’ve been to ten states and some multiple times. I never now just go on holiday. I always go with the intention of finding things. Some trips are just straight for business but when I do go on holidays, I’m always looking. My goal is to always go somewhere new every year, and one beach holiday. I’ve been accomplishing that!
AM: How much do current trends influence what you buy and how important is vintage in fashion today?
JW: I actually do look at current trends and I have a lot of designers as customers and they come and buy for inspiration. So I like to see what they’re doing and what’s current. I have a lot of friends at WGSN (fashion forecasters) so I do keep up with that. As much as I hate going into stores, especially in malls, I have to see what they’re doing because they’re buying from me. I have to see what patterns are being used, what’s in this year, what colors I should look for. With vintage, you’re pretty trendy all year long, but there are always specific things. For instance, overalls and indigo’s are in this year! I’ve been selling them for a while, but it’s off the hook now. Also, my hat sales have gone up because of Pharrell. I’ve always sold hats, but right now, they’re so big!
AM: What are some of the other pieces you are currently selling?
JW: Lately I’ve been really in to Victorian pieces. I have some from late 1800’s and 1940’s. I just think they’re beautiful and finding them and seeing the condition they’re in is amazing. Those pieces have become really popular too. Even the designers are buying them because of the lines and the lacing. Lace is really big now.
AM: Any other pieces you couldn’t let go of?
JW: I am obsessed with flags because they are all so different. There are also specific hats that I won’t sell. Also my World War 2 pillows. I love them.
AM: Vintage has become so popular, but have you also seen a growth in the vintage market in Asia?
JW: I’ve had a lot of customers from China. Since ‘Mood’ (a vintage store) opened up in Hong Kong, it’s really opened up the market to vintage. They like the college style or cartoon stuff. My Taiwan customers really like oversized military shirts. The vintage they tend to buy is more subtle though.
AM: I know you buy some Asian fashion brands. What are your favorite stores?
JW: Kapital, a Japanese brand, is so inspiring to me. The patchwork and the way they stitch. I also like Visvim, a Hong Kong brand which is a very similar. I spend so much money in there!
AM: What is your favorite trend of all time?
JW: T-shirts. They will never go away. And hats.
AM: Favorite era?
JW: The 30’s and 40’s. I love the work behind the clothes. Also 70’s clothing across the board. The Harleys, the hippies, the bohos.
AM: What are your plans going forward?
JW: I am working on my own line of women’s workwear but more tailored and not so masculine. I want to do a workwear line that has more of a feminine cut, less bubbly and billowy with good pleats. I also want to open up another store and a vintage accessories store with vintage hats and customized headbands. It would also be nice to eventually have a store for my own line. I just need to buckle down and do it!
–STORY BY STACY FAN