CLOTHING WITH CONSCIENCE
Words by Katie M. Kooper
Photos by Jessie Holloway
Claire Brandon is a Tennessee girl with Mississippi blood.
She grew up in Franklin, Tennessee but spent her childhood summers with her grandparents in Lyon, a small town in the desolate Cotton Belt—more notably known as the Mississippi Delta. Her roots and her fascination with Delta blues culture were the inspiration behind her vintage apparel company, Delta Vintage, where she is the founder and curator.
What started as an Instagram venture with her roommate in their tiny New York City apartment blossomed into a beautifully curated website where shoppers who are looking for something with a little pizzazz can find anything lightly used—from a red silk kimono to an oversized wool blazer. To push the needle even further, Claire is using her brand as a platform to discuss topics on fashion sustainability while giving back to a part of the South that she says has heart—the Mississippi Delta.
In Claire’s past life, she worked in the fashion industry for brands such as Billy Reid and with the supply chain management firm Li & Fung in New York City. She also worked various side gigs in styling and digital marketing, which left her burned out. Frankly, she was just not participating anymore when she launched Delta Vintage. “I felt the need to create something,” she says, after working in the corporate sector for four years.
She left New York in early 2018 and headed South.
When Brandon worked with big retailers in NYC, she got her taste of the mass production of clothing. She started to understand the amount of waste caused by this particular type of manufacturing and how little transparency there was when it came to production and quality. “Most of these garments,” Claire explains, “end up in a trash bag after an average of four wears, and our society donates them or throws them out, therefore making them someone else’s problem.”
There was also the whole The Devil Wears Prada’s “cerulean sweater” concept—the spiral from high fashion to middle market consumer retailing. A runway piece, for example, that is “cerulean blue” trickles down into middle market retail in the form of a “trend forecast,” only to be made into a frumpy cerulean sweater we are told we need. “My job was to market mass produced new product to someone on a markdown business model,” she explains. It all left her feeling a little “icky.”
Claire began educating herself on resale and vintage. Through her study of the modern shopper, and being one herself, she learned that younger generations are more focused on personal style rather than the “It Girl” narrative found on the glossy covers of fashion magazines. Young adults, she found, are investing in pieces like an iconic sneaker, scouring eBay, and investing in pieces that not only are cult classics, but have resale value. Therefore, she is challenging her customers to find their own style and ask questions before purchasing.
“The Delta Vintage customer is a modern, Southern shopper who is looking for a way to join the conversation through a piece that no one else has,” Claire explains. “She has her finger on the pulse of the luxury runway but is tired of finding herself at ZARA,” Claire quips. (ZARA is a global brand notable for copying high fashion looks and selling them for less than affordable prices.)
Claire wants her customers to ask, “Why do I like this? Why not go ahead and make the real thing, find the real thing, or tailor the real thing?” before buying it brand-new.
Just like her approach to shopping vintage, every detail and aspect of Delta Vintage is thought out carefully. From the Motown/Soul Train inspired logo to her collection of signature frocks, Claire pays attention to every detail. She gathers iconic pieces whenever she is on the road, which is often. However, the Mississippi Delta is at the heart of her brand.
Claire writes that her family’s history and inherited stories give her a sense of nearness to that infamous Delta land and wants that portrayed in her brand’s story. “I like who I am when I’m there,” she says.
Whether it is doing photo shoots in iconic locations, listening to her grandmother’s voice recordings, or cultivating new friendships on the river, Claire spends about half of her time in different pockets of Mississippi. “I want my brand to be affiliated with Mississippi. Not only do I want to try and do something cool for Mississippi, but I want to create intrigue and care for the Delta,” she says.
With that in mind, Claire started the screen print capsule collection in conjunction with the vintage shop. She has designed an assortment of products, such as T-shirts, koozies, and tote bags printed with Delta-isms such as, “Bury It in the Mud.” “There was no way I could have something named ‘Delta’ and not give back on a local level,” she says.
After getting to know the community, she pinpointed three programs in which 100 percent of the proceeds could support local educational organizations. Delta Vintage collaborates with the Delta Arts Alliance Inc, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, and Cross Kingdom Church. These three nonprofits touch their communities in many ways but focus on supporting children grow their artistic talent. “In a dream world, we would be big enough to donate a portion of every sale, but we are doing what we can for now through the screen print lines. We’ve got to make money and scale before making donations that would make any real difference,” she says. “With lofty goals for the future, I’m trying to manage us at this size with authenticity and grace.”
Claire has come a long way since her tiny apartment in New York City. When asked how business is going, she doesn’t hesitate to say it has been a whirlwind. It took a while to cultivate her roots in the Delta, but with the help of family and friends, she’s building something fruitful. “I surround myself with people who know how to do it better than me,” she says, “and I do more listening than talking.”
“There are not a ton of young people in the Delta, but there is a diverse community present who want growth and change, and I want to build a fashion outlet that helps give a positive association to the area.”
Southern roots gave Claire Brandon wings. Her goal in sharing this treasure with the world is to not only sell vintage, but to bring awareness, share a story, and create a community of people who are willing to see things a little differently.
“If I want this, then surely there is someone else out there who wants it too.”