“If it makes you question how to wear it or how it will fit you, that’s what I want. I don’t want easy.” Amy Rose leans back in the driver’s seat of her 1976 Airstream Argosy with one sneaker on the dash. Customers hum around us, looking for treasure. She’s one part Forbes entrepreneur mixed and one part Instagram It Girl and hanging out with her is like raiding the closet of the world’s coolest older sister. Her vintage clothing business, Red Rose Vintage, has been motoring around Charleston for a year and a half. “Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast so I never really developed my own sense of style. I always had to dress like a professional athlete. Then when I was living in San Diego, I was a karaoke host so I had to find my personal style and vintage was what I really connected with.”
After studying destination and event management in college, Rose started her business seven years ago as a Facebook store. “I’ve learned the most just by doing. I’m a self-taught entrepreneur,” she said. Rose would photograph garments on her porch and then sell, a method she still uses on Instagram. Pop-up shows on Spring Street and at businesses like Kudu and Tabouli soon followed. Her first full-fledged online store went live in 2014. “I’ve always known that I could crush a retail store in Charleston, but the prices have skyrocketed and the pop-up retail was a great opportunity for me to test my Charleston market,” said Rose. Seeing an opening, she launched into her next adventure: buying a 1976 Airstream trailer, gutting the inside, customizing it and adding new brakes and an exhaust system. The result is a black, white and pink dream, an iconic vehicle that’s as modern as Charleston’s economic boom and as old-fashioned as its pastel-pretty streets.
Rose’s buyers shop for opposite seasons in order to maximize their chances of finding unique items. As autumn arrives, outerwear will be hard to find but it’s the perfect time for Red Rose Vintage to stock up on swimsuits and tank tops for next year. Her inventory consists mostly of ‘80s and ‘90s items, although she does occasionally have older pieces. “Vintage for the longest time has been so outdated, the way it’s been styled,” she said. “Most people when they think ‘vintage’ think ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, but ‘80s and ‘90s is vintage too.” Rose only carries women’s fashion, with a handful of unisex items. Her friend Nathan Edwin owns Tuff Stuff Vintage, and in many ways it’s the men’s counterpart to Red Rose. The two shops are often parked next to each other at events such as Holy City Vintage Market and Thrifters and Drifters. “We have very similar taste but in different genders,” said Rose. How can you track down the trailers and get some shopping done? Check @redrosevintageshop on Instagram. It’s Rose’s go-to method for advertising new clothes and updating customers on her location. “I was on Snapchat for a while and I really like Snapchat, but I don’t want to be on my phone all the time. To do posts and stories on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, I would not have a life,” laughed Rose. Whatever she’s doing must be working – she rings up anywhere from 130-200 transactions on an average weekend, maybe more if there’s a big event in town.
Shopping vintage presents a special set of challenges. “You could go into the dressing room and try on 20 or 30 items and maybe find one that you like and that fits you right,” said Rose. Styles and sizes differ hugely from the clothing produced today, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t zip up the first item you grab from the rack. Rose also believes that an old-school aura shouldn’t cost you a fortune. “Don’t overpay for vintage!” she said. “Today I think a lot of people can get away with charging so much for something that’s not worth that, so do your research.” Rose keeps her prices as low as possible by giving her buyers a limit on what they can spend. The savings are passed on to her customers – all her shorts and jeans are just $20, and many tops clock in at even less.
Affordability is always on her mind, but Rose is wary of rock-bottom prices and the rock-bottom quality they often entail. “The reason that Forever 21 can charge $8 for a tank top is they’re supposed to be paying workers $6 an hour and they’re paying them $4 or $3,” said Rose. “That’s why they’re able to price things so low.” Fast fashion has woven its way into downtown Charleston over the past few years, with chains like Forever 21, H&M and Francesca’s drawing lots of foot traffic on King Street. “There’s only about eight stores [on King] that you can’t find at any shopping mall across the country,” said Rose. “Charleston, in a way, it’s almost like they want it to be all corporate. It’s disheartening.”
As someone who can pair the craziest patterns and manage to make it look chic, perhaps it’s no surprise that Rose has carved out a loyal and savvy customer base in a city marked by contradictions – young students and old residents, extravagant wealth and creeping poverty, anachronous horse carriages and congested traffic. If she could snap her fingers and change one thing about the fashion landscape today, she would tell everyone “to stop making things. Stop making it! There’s so much good stuff out there that needs to be recycled and used, and there’s so much that goes to waste. It’s crazy. Let’s all just reuse, keep doing your clothing swaps, keep doing the yard sales. Halt production.”
Rock or hip hop? Rock.
Denim or leather? Denim.
Eye shadow or lipstick? Lipstick.
Morning person or night owl? Morning, all day.
Beatles or Rolling Stones? Pass, they’re both amazing.
Third option if you had to pick one? Paramore.
70s or 80s? 80s
Rec Room or Royal American? Rec Room! I love Rec Room.
Sneakers or boots? Sneaks.
Skinny or boyfriend jeans? Oh man, that’s tough…boyfriend.
Dress or jumpsuit? Jumpsuit.
Fringe or sequins? Who made these questions?! Both, fringe with sequins on fringe. S
tripes or dots? Stripes.
Favorite city besides Charleston? Burlington, Vermont. It’s my hometown, I’ve got to represent!
*This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.