T.B.N Interviews: Deb Umunnabuike

Becoming a successful entrepreneur and businessman or woman is without a doubt an actualization of the American Dream. The Black Nouveau interviews Nigerian born, Deb Umunnabuike, founder of Avantgaudy.com and asks what are her motivations, inspirations and goals for her Chicago based, online vintage boutique.

Deb Umunnabuike / Founder of Avantgaudy.com

Deb Umunnabuike / Founder of Avantgaudy.com

T.B.N: So AvantGaudy.com is your online vintage shop, what drove you to create it?

Deb: Quite candidly, a mixture of passion and boredom. My sister and I started Avant Gaudy in the summer of 2005 as a way to occupy our time. Beyond that, I really wanted to connect with people who were passionate about fashion. We both wanted to positively impact the lives of others, and thought that an online store was the perfect way to channel our enthusiasm.

T.B.N: What do you love most about vintage fashion?

Deb: Vintage is not stuck in the past. It’s not an artifact – it’s as relevant as what’s on the runway today. It does represent a link to the past, but what I love most is how vintage enables anyone to create a look that can’t be duplicated.

T.B.N: What or who motivates you?

Deb: Runway trends inspire me – from Dries Van Noten and Marc Jacobs, I can’t help but want to recreate the look. I read Women’s Wear Daily daily. Street style blogs (Hel-Looks and the Sartorialist) and just watching style on the street. They all motivate me to research different looks so our customers can be ahead of the curve when it comes to trends.

T.B.N: What was your best find at a vintage shop?

Deb: The mens’ shirt that we’ve dubbed “Toy Soldier.” From the back, you’d swear it was a Western shirt. From the front, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen.

The Toy Soldier Shirt

The Toy Soldier Shirt

T.B.N: I’ve noticed the men’s section of Avant Gaudy is a little small as far as selection choices are concerned, do you have a men’s vintage buyer? Or do you select the pieces on your own?

Deb: Vincent Choi is the creative director for Avant Gaudy. While he doesn’t often go on buying trips, Vincent is sort of the voice for men’s fashion at Avant Gaudy, alerting me to trends I would otherwise miss.

We’re expanding our mens’ section; over 300 items will be added to the site in the coming weeks, and often, it’s easier to find vintage mens’ clothing since men don’t go through clothing as fast as women do. In this case, a smaller selection allows stellar items to stand out when we’re on buying trips.

T.B.N: What’s your favorite decade of vintage fashion?

Deb: Most of our items are from the 80s, as the looks are decidedly vintage, yet wearable. Personally, it’s my favorite decade, and I see the trend continuing through the fall 2009 season.

T.B.N: As for being a Chicago based company, where do you shop for your vintage pieces?

Deb: We do source items from Chicago, but our items come from as far away as Ohio. Of course, we’re always looking to branch out, and are planning a buying trip to Southern Illinois.

T.B.N: Who is the Avant Gaudy customer?

Deb: Avant Gaudy customers are young, urban, and delighted in creating what we’ve dubbed “fashion experiments.” They’re not label snobs, but still love vintage designer pieces. Their look varies from day to day, and is equally influenced by the red carpet and what they see on the street. Their sense of style is constantly evolving and is never static. Our inventory mirrors their mentality.

T.B.N: Do you feel that your an inspiration to young black men and women who want to start their own business?

Deb: There are so many young black entrepreneurs who have forayed into fashion. Essentially, our story isn’t much different. Kanye West, Kimora Lee Simmons, and unknown designers are all equally inspiring. In terms of advice, I would give the same tips to any entrepreneur, regardless of their field or their background.

T.B.N: What type advice would you give them?

Deb: Extensive research is really the key. Sometimes research can take up a good portion of the day at Avant Gaudy, but knowing trends and knowing your customer is mutually beneficial. For those looking into starting a business, research allows for calculated risks.

Be fearless. Contrary to popular belief, middle age is not the best time to start a business. Start one when you’re young, adaptable, and passionate.

T.B.N: Finally, in 5 years time what does the future look like for Avant Gaudy?

Deb: Today, Avant Gaudy is in transition. In the past, we focused on underground fashion reconstructions. Our new online boutique caters to those who mix old and new and high-end and low-end pieces with ease.

We’re still willing to expand our customer base, and wish to do so by creating a cohesive message across social media. In doing so, we want to make it easy for our customers to be inspired, discover new looks, and develop their own sense of style.

Special Thanks to Deb Umunnabuike, Sarah Dietze and the entire Avant Gaudy team.

By: James Field / The Black Nouveau

Visit the site at www.avantgaudy.com


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