For recording artists Nikki Lane, Molly Leary and Tanya Montana Coe, thrifting and fashion curation went from side interests to full-time gigs. Though their personal backstories and business models differ, they have one thing in common: a passion for self-expression through music and western wear that's steadfast regardless of what's popular on the charts or the runway.
Read on to meet three entrepreneurs and influencers at the forefront of a western fashion revival.
Nikki Lane's High Class Hillbilly
Upon arriving in Nashville in Oct. 2010, Nikki Lane's prior fashion experience in New York provided a practical way to keep a roof over her head amid her less-than-lucrative obligations as a relatively-unknown independent musician.
"I had an Etsy store where I would go every morning to Goodwill and spend $50," Lane said of her vintage-seller-by-necessity business plan. "That was my max. I would try to list 10 items from it, and I would try to buy boots and belts. That's pretty much what was coming out over there."
Nearly 12 years, three well-received albums and untold miles as a touring artist later, Lane's earned respect as one of Nashville's most creative and consistent musical exports. Achieving success in music and feeling less desperate financially didn't negate her desire to chase that next thrifting score. Instead, connections made far from home increased her access to clothes that belong in High Class Hillbilly, her well-curated physical shop in Nashville.
"I do most of my picking on tour," she said. "I've been blessed that you meet a dealer in Dallas, and now I'll go to Dallas a whole day earlier or even look at my routing and say, 'Oh, we should have a day off.' I typically wouldn't have taken a day off between Dallas and Austin, but I have a dealer and I want to make both things work."
Indeed, the time management skills needed in 2010 to juggle fashion and music still impact Lane's tour itinerary.
"People will tell you that there's no time to do that, but it's like you have to get up two hours earlier," she explained. "The problem in my life has been that that means the boys also have to wake up two hours earlier. Because I like to pick so much, we've actually gotten into a thing where for this year and for a little bit of 2021 I rode separately from them and I showed up at 7 o'clock. I don't need to soundcheck most venues. My guys can handle getting my monitor correct. I look at picking as almost like meditation, and I think they do, too. I think they would rather have me do my own thing and come in happy than sit still in a basement somewhere for eight hours a day."
Lane's knowledge of decade-specific style has lured in high-profile customers ranging from Southern rapper Yellawolf to Mark Wystrach of Midland. The latter wore a vintage Hawaiian shirt during his band's Stagecoach performance that his team had just purchased from Lane's pop-up marketplace at the festival.
"I like that I'm finding something in the middle of nowhere and it's maybe going to end up at the CMAs. That's fun to me," Lane said of her celebrity clientele at a time when western wear and other vintage looks inspire fashion choices beyond Nashville's sphere of influence.
Lane sees her dual role as a musician and entrepreneur as life affirming, if not life saving.
"One of my favorite articles was in Rolling Stone where Willie Nelson said that weed saved his life," she said. "My mom goes, 'What does that mean?' I said, 'Well, I think it just means that he knew he was going to do something, and that was the safest thing.' And I feel that way about my pot and about my antiquing. I'm a habitual person, and if the worst thing I'm doing is playing on eBay buying cowboy boots, we're all in good shape. I'm going to buy something. I'm going to do something all day. We might as well hone in on something that's good for everybody."
After all, both provide creative fulfillment for a true multi-media artist.
"Art is an expression of what's going on in the mind," Lane shared. "My house is full of it and my store is full of it and my record is full of it. I don't know any other way than to outlet like that. I juggle it because I have to. Lots of things are harder than choosing to be an artist that slings vintage, so I just actively decided it's what I like to do. I try to make sure I don't complain about what's too hard about it too much because I don't have to do it. It's now my way of life."
Molly Leary's Squash Blossom Vintage
Touring took a backseat after Auburn, Calif.-based Molly Leary became the mother of two daughters on the autism spectrum. As her priorities and availability shifted, Leary utilized changes in technology to alter her company, Squash Blossom Vintage. Instagram stories allow her to sell a certain rock 'n' roll look-- one she likens to "Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg, south of France, recording Exile on Main Street"-- to a loyal base of collectors and recording artists, on her own terms.
"It makes it a lot easier to run your life and your business when you can control the timing of it and don't have to be in a specific location," Leary said.
Not that life on the road's completely out of the picture. Leary turns out-of-town visits with boyfriend Charlie Sexton, a guitarist who's toured with Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, into picking opportunities. Because of the social media sales system she's developed, being away from home never disrupts her process.
"When I'm on the road with Charlie, I will literally pack an extra suitcase and shipping supplies," she said. "We can be wherever, and I will just do my listings on the app. I pack the stuff up and ship it from where I am. It's such a streamline business at this point. I've been doing it so long that it's not like, 'Oh, drag, I've got to work.' It's like I'm listing stuff in stories and I'm shipping it, so why wouldn't I do that? I just get the pictures shot ahead of time, so it's pretty simple to do it online for people who are traveling a lot."
Leary brought a lengthy fashion resume to Squash Blossom Vintage. She has a college degree in pattern making plus professional experience that ranges from working at a high-end store in San Francisco to connecting fellow artists with vintage looks via pop-up sales at SXSW.
Like Lane, Leary expanded her stock while touring middle America. In the process, Leary built an upscale clientele that includes Lukas Nelson and his band.
"Back in the day, 10 or 15 years ago when I'd tour, you used to be able to pull into any smaller town if you're in Kansas or even areas outside of Austin and find great western wear, rodeo gear, boots, leather bags," Leary said. "Kind of the style I do is really specific: late '60s, early '70s. So I really do find the best things on the road in those towns where cooler, hipper older ladies are retiring and kind of getting rid of their stash."
Tanya Montana Coe's Goodbuy Girls
Being a daughter of country outsider David Allan Coe positioned Tanya Montana Coe to fall in love with western fashion at a young age.
"I've always been very passionate about fashion and clothes in general," Coe said. "I have a real appreciation for western wear because my parents wore a lot of western wear and stage clothes. So I always saw them, and my mom was my fashion icon and always had really cool, custom western wear and just really nice western wear pieces. I just always have appreciated it."
Likewise, Coe's family taught her the creative possibilities of used clothing.
"I love to thrift," she said. "One of the reasons I started this store was I grew up thrifting, mostly because of my mom not having the money for us to buy new stuff at the mall. She would take us to thrift stores, and I got really good at picking out cool pieces or would find certain brands and things like that."
For over 12 years, Coe's Goodbuy Girls shop in East Nashville has taken full advantage of her lifetime of product knowledge while offering work that's more fulfilling than her past career as an accountant.
Though western wear was dismissed by the mainstream as kitschy and out of fashion when Goodbuy Girls first opened, it has proven to be a wise investment for the shop.
"A big part of starting it was going through my mom's closet for things that didn't fit her anymore, that she wouldn't wear anymore," Coe said. "Western wear was definitely not having a resurgence at that time, and it wasn't as trendy as it is now. Now you see western wear everywhere. Even though I thought it was the coolest, it hadn't really come back around as cool again yet. I had to endure a lot of people coming in and laughing at cowgirl boots and fringe and all of that kind of stuff."
Beyond sparking in Coe the courage to be a second-generation musician (inspired by Todd Snider and other singer-songwriters she met through Goodbuy Girls), the shop allows her to instill confidence in others.
"There's something really magical about cowgirl boots," Coe added. "I not only noticed this in myself. There's been so many girls that bought their first pair of cowgirl boots at my shop. The immediate sense of confidence that it gives them once they put those cowgirl boots on... I know it sounds silly, but it's real. I feel like I'm not just selling clothes or selling stuff to make money. I feel like I'm helping spread confidence amongst women."
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