Brandin Vaughn can trace his entrepreneurial career to a couple of couch cushions.
The St. Louis native said his family was not well-off while he was growing up, so when his 10-year-old self found a couch in an alley, he decided to take it home and sew new cushions made from an old coat.
“What that did for me . . . it sparked what my gift was and how my gift could be beneficial to the people around me because I saw the joy that came from my mother when she saw what I had done,” Vaughn said. “I mean, she was in tears.”
From that moment, Vaughn’s interest in sewing, designing and altering clothing grew from a curiosity into a real skill. He went to stores such as Goodwill and altered clothing he found there to make it “fresh,” or to resemble items from such brands as Nautica and Tommy Hilfiger. That’s when he began to understand the art of pattern-making, he said.
Later, in high school, Vaughn started to design his own garments, and he saw firsthand how his hobby could turn a profit.
“You know, I would take jeans apart, cut them up, wash them, bleach them and take them back [to resell] and get like 20 bucks,” he said. “So at an early age, I saw I could make money to support myself and make a lifestyle being a designer.
“But what really triggered it and really made me go all-in to being a designer was [when] I was sketching in class one day,” he added. “A friend of mine took the sketch and had the dress made and wore the dress to prom.”
When he saw someone believed in his art, he knew he was on the right path.
Vaughn went on to earn a bachelor’s of science and fine arts degree with an emphasis in fashion design from the Art Institute in Chicago in 2008. After graduation, he stayed in Chicago, where his internship at a design house morphed into a full-time job. He made patterns for a designer, and within five years that designer opened a second shop on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a premier commercial district.
From that experience, Vaughn learned what it took to start a grassroots business. But soon after, the designer could not afford to pay him and let him go.
Vaughn walked away from fashion and taught reading and math to middle school students.
“I love the children . . . So to inspire the youth was good, but there was still a void there because I wasn’t a creator, and I am a creator at heart. At the same time, while I was teaching, I had a list of designers I was still making patterns for. But I wasn’t being creative for myself.”
In 2013, Vaughn quit teaching and moved back home to St. Louis and his support system. Eventually, he integrated into Create Space, an incubator that functioned as a rotating artisan market in the heart of the Delmar Loop in order to birth, grow and sustain local creative businesses.
“I partnered with a friend of mine, and my role was director of development,” he said. “So we were able to [help] start 28 businesses within three years — putting them through a boot camp and showing them how to live off their art.
“It also offered me a platform on the Delmar Loop — one of the busiest streets in the country — to launch my product,” he added. “So while I am teaching people to take their art and make money off of it, I still have the opportunity to be in the store to sew and test my product as well.”
Demand for his garments grew so fast that he was able to quit a second job, working for a local politician, within six months. He put his name on his garments — calling it the Brandin Vaughn Collection — knowing he would take the art seriously with his own identity on the line.
“And then the magic happened,” he said.
After Create Space shut down, Vaughn vowed he would not open another brick-and-mortar business. But while he was doing a pop-up, a developer approached him with an offer.
“He gave me the numbers, and I would have been a complete fool after seeing the numbers,” Vaughn said.
He drafted a letter and sent it to each of his clients, asking for a $50 contribution toward his goal of opening the storefront. Within a week, Vaughn had collected enough for the deposit and the first month’s rent. A second letter, asking for $25 contributions, raised enough to build out the store.
Vaughn opened his storefront on Cherokee Street in November 2017. He said he likes to offer garments for everyone for every occasion.
“So I guess a really big lesson I took from that is, don’t ever underestimate the people that are surrounding you because they always want to support you. You just have to talk, manifest it and tell them what you need,” said Vaughn, who recently celebrated creating his 1,000th garment.
My biggest mistake
“It’s never too early to start. The earlier you start, the more times you’ll fail, of course, but you always have time to get up and keep going. So if you make those failures earlier in life, then by the time you are 40, you turn into a beast — you know how to move, you know what works for you, you know your gift and you know how to serve the people around you. I mean, that’s the most important thing, to find your gift, to find your purpose and serve the people around. The money is going to come. Don’t focus on the money; just be persistent and just keep going.”