Drive or stroll down South Congress street in Austin, and you’re bound to discover something that speaks to your soul. Years and years ago, when an aunt and uncle of mine lived in this city, South Congress was my first introduction to Austin, and now, over ten years after my first visit, I am just as enthralled as I was the first time. Boutiques — specializing in the handmade, the local, the vintage and the weird — stand shoulder to shoulder with taco trucks and restaurants, hotels and motels cozy up to salons and galleries, and locals and visitors alike wander in and out of storefronts. Behind each door is a little piece of the puzzle that makes Austin the unique and beautiful place that it is. One of my favorite Austin puzzle pieces is located at the corner of South Congress and Milton streets, turn at the green wall, walk a few paces and your there. A little piece of Austin vintage heaven: Feathers Boutique.
Founded in 2005 by Emily Hoover and later joined by Christina Simon, Feathers is the gorgeous product of their mutual passion for vintage clothing and style. When I first stepped over the threshold a few years ago, the scent of incense greeting me with its warm and woodsy welcome, the gal behind the counter flashing a smile, it was almost too much to handle. As someone with a serious appreciation for vintage who also tends to get hung up on the tiny details, it took me a solid twenty minutes to stop zipping from rack to rack and focus. I just had to take it all in. Since that initial, frenetic visit, a stop at Feathers has become a non-negotiable whenever I’m in Austin, and I’m always eager to see how Emily and Christina have once again transformed the space. While in the city for our #FPFestivalDays SXSW showcase, I grabbed a few free moments to meet with these inspiring women and ask about their journey, read on to learn more about these Austin originals and to see more of their incredible place:
Are you both from Austin originally? How did your hometown help shape who you are today?
Emily: I grew up in Lubbock, Texas and moved to Austin in the fall of 2000 to attend the University of Texas. I’d visited Austin a few times and loved the carefree, anything goes atmosphere. Finally I could live in a city where I could do, say and wear whatever I wanted without judgment. The atmosphere here really promotes small business and self-expression. I moved away to New York after college but found myself thinking of the excellent food and sunny skies in Austin, so I came back. I find this city to be a total celebration of life and am proud to call it home.
Christina: San Francisco and Berlin are cities from my formative years that probably most shaped who I am today. They are places where you can completely manifest your own livelihood — and I think Austin has reinforced that sentiment as well.I moved to Austin from the Bay Area in 2000; I wanted to move here because of the weather. I was so tired of being chilly during the summer and simply wanted to be in a place where I could wear tank tops in the evenings. I also missed swimming holes from having grown up in the Midwest and knew that I wanted to be in constant sunshine.
How did you meet and what inspired you to go into business together?
E: We met like so many others in this town meet: going to shows. We are able to work so well together and we are so in sync with our objectives for the business. We run our business like a big family and we are the proud parents.
C: Emily and I had been friends from very early on in Austin. We think a lot alike from a strategy standpoint and somehow always land on the same page. It was an easy match!
What is your favorite thing about living in Austin?
E: Austin celebrates the little guy. If you have a rad idea, no matter how weird it is, you can make a successful business here. I am proud to have many friends who work for themselves. We all support and empower one another. I am also a huge fan of the food. This city celebrates any style of diet which I really appreciate.
C: I am still happy about the weather — even when it gets crazy hot. But I also love that Austin is growing and that there are more and more opportunities for entrepreneurs to have a shot at a dream. It is not so big that it is overwhelming and there are tons of creative people here who are willing to make their dreams come to fruition without sacrificing their way of life. I am always inspired by our friends and the people around us. In the end, Austin is about the culture and I love who I have connected with here.
Do you both have backgrounds in fashion? Do you remember the moment when you first knew fashion (or vintage fashion) was your calling?
E: I went to school for Costume Design and have held jobs in fashion retail since 2002. Rather than just costuming characters for the stage, I wanted to dress characters for their every day lives. I began as a vintage buyer at Buffalo Exchange then worked at Beacon’s Closet in New York. Both places were heaven for the vintage enthusiast and gave me much of the training I needed to be able to open up a vintage business.
C: I have always loved fashion but I think I’m most passionate about vintage. My first jobs were in the vintage world of San Francisco and I have been a collector since I was in middle school. The idea of recycling is a large part of that passion — and the individuality of each piece. When you resonate with a vintage piece, you also have the added benefit of it being completely unique. And having to hunt for that treasure just adds to the appeal! The counter to that is that I am also a printmaker through Alchemy Design, which is sold in-house. I’ve made pieces that can be purchased several times over. I think much of the silkscreening/fashion background comes from making my own band tees when I was younger and wearing what I was into, not what was being produced in the mainstream.
Feathers has been a go-to vintage shopping destination for Austin and beyond since 2005, what first inspired you to open up shop?
E: I had been living in New York City and wanted to open up a store that had the feel and creativity of a New York vintage store, but with Texas prices. I had several years of vintage buying experience and wanted to take that knowledge to make a special new place where ladies could come and grab something that made them feel and look amazing.
How has your vision for the boutique evolved over the years?
E: Vintage is here to stay but it is important to keep it relevant. While we all love the wild and crazy statement pieces, the evolution of Feathers has mostly been to integrate vintage pieces into the modern wardrobe. In that sense, we are constantly evolving. And as time has rolled on, it has become part of the mission. We have many designers and labels that source from our collection because we always evolve the collection to be about what is happening in fashion currently. I try curate our vintage based on wearability, accessibility, and what is right on the cusp of being the next exciting thing.
C: Emily and I wanted to focus on the heart of what Austin is about and the roots of what vintage represents. We wanted to evolve more into the lifestyle of our friends and clients — while there is excellent vintage jewelry out there, we also wanted to bring in cool new lines to complement the vintage and give it an updated feel. We’re also very interested in supporting local artisans, so that made it easy to bring in Sisters of the Black Moon, Rebecca Frazier, Heyoka, Via Crista, Marfa Brand Soap and other lines that fill in the rest of the story. Also, as an interior designer, I really wanted to decorate the store with beautiful things that are also for sale. We now carry candles, pillows, textiles and wall art that you can use to fashion your home. Our homes are also an expression of the styles we love, so it’s just as important that you love your space and allow it to reflect your personal style.
How did you come to fall in love with vintage?
E: I started going to thrift stores when I was 13 and have never looked back. It made me realize that you don’t need a lot of money to look fabulous. The style and craftsmanship can’t be beat. Each piece has a past and tells a story. I think wearing vintage adds depth and character to any ensemble.
C: It started out with thrifting when I was younger but over time, when you discover the really special vintage pieces, you begin to become infatuated with the history of the garment and also the history of the era. Every piece tells a story and that is very intriguing to me.
Do you remember the first vintage piece you ever acquired?
E: In the town where I grew up there was an entire store that sold vintage Levis. I bought a pair of 684 bell bottoms and took them to my grandmother and we added a cool panel of patchwork ’70s fabric from the shin down to make them even more extreme. I lived in those jeans… they were an extension of me. I have always had such an affinity for vintage denim ever since and will hoard that same cut of Levi’s whenever I run into them.
C: I was obsessed with vintage t-shirts and that is probably one of the first pieces that I can remember collecting. I still have t-shirts from over 20 years ago that are very special to me. Between that and leather motorcycle jackets, those are my prized vintage pieces. My favorite pieces are very hard to come by, but are not fancy or elitist in any way at all.
Who are your fashion icons?
E: The Duchess of Windsor and Diana Vreeland.
C: Patti Smith and Nick Cave.
Do you have a favorite decade to source from?
E: 1970s… which is also my favorite musical era. The whole decade was about freedom and self-expression. I love the flowy silhouettes, prints and oh, the denim! I think ’70s clothes just make a woman look powerful but feminine. I love the great crochet, leather jackets, wooden platforms, stacked heeled boots, maxi dresses and bell bottoms galore.
C: I don’t personally have a favorite decade. There is something from each decade that appeals to me for one reason or another. All you have to do is separate the classic from the trend and I love the classics from each era.
What does a typical day look like for you?
E: I am in charge of curating the vintage clothing collection. I do a lot of shopping and buying and refining to make sure our vintage is incredible and accessible. A lot of people bring their treasures to us as we buy daily so that schedule keeps me very busy! Christina and I both touch base with the staff and we work on the Instagram together. We’re always sourcing new finds and we often meet about that and text back and forth about stuff that we’re excited about.
C: Emily and I may not be in the same place but we’re always connecting on what is happening in our world. I handle much of the business aspect of Feathers and keep the team integrated on the day to day operations of the store. We have a lot to do with the recent success of our web store, the launch of our new clothing line with Bekah DuBose, the tremendous growth of our Instagram and figuring out ways to help our fans that live out of town purchase things from afar. Lately a typical day has revolved around our new line, the recent launch of it in our amazing new fabrics and figuring out how to keep it in stock! I guess that’s a good problem to have but it has kept us really busy.
How has owning a boutique influenced your own personal style?
E: I travel a lot to source items for the store and that is how I acquire most of my clothing. It feels very special to know that what you found is one of a kind and that no one else will have it. I have to catch myself some times and remind myself that it’s okay to have things that aren’t vintage. My closet is a plethora of embroidery, texture and print. I can honestly say Free People is my go to place to grab great current pieces to blend with my vintage.
C: I personally love shopping our store. There is something new every day and a major rotation that happens every week. Also, because of the work we do, I feel more informed on what is happening in the fashion world and incorporate that into my wardrobe. Bryanna, Lauren and Val, who are our treasured staff, also keep me up on everything that I probably would have missed out on otherwise.
What songs do you have on repeat in the shop?
E: I usually let the gals pic the music… I know War on Drugs has been our go-to Spotify station lately.
C: I am so consistent — I almost always play Talking Heads when I’m in the shop. It always makes the list and is what I would want to shop to! I have really enjoyed playing entire albums all the way through. There is something nice about not jumping all over the place. Not a lot of shops do that but I think its sometimes fun to hear music as a complete work of art.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about going into business for themselves?
E: Love what you do and do what you love. If you build it, they will come. If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
C: Don’t talk yourself out of making a move to do your own thing, having your own business. I have never met a business owner who didn’t have to face their fears and set them aside. Of course, it can be daunting work to have your own business but if it is something you really want to do, you can figure it out if you just take the first step. That said, make sure you’re in the business of something you love because it is a mountain of work and if you’re not that into it, it may never make it. Do something that you would do for free, something that inspires you to get out of bed in the morning. I am a firm believer that the universe aligns for you to be doing what you’re called to do and things have a way of working themselves out when you’ve found your path. What we’re called to do is whatever we’re passionate about. End of story.
What does ‘Free’ mean to you?
E: Free means being able to allow your inner compass to guide you. Free means waking up in the morning and doing something you love with people you love. Free means having the choice of using your voice.
C: I think that what resonates mostly with me right now is the freedom of being self-sufficient. I certainly don’t have the freedom of time at the moment but I feel very free nonetheless, and I think it comes from the fact I am doing something that I love to do. I get to be a creative person with the people I love.
Thank you so much Emily and Christina!
Follow Feathers on Instagram and if you ever find yourself at the corner of South Congress and Milton streets in Austin, stop in and say hello!
+ Do you remember the first vintage piece you ever purchased? Please share in the comments! (Mine was a ’50s prom dress bought when I was nine!)