Women Working It is an outgoing High Ground Q&A series focused on women entrepreneurs and business owners in Memphis.
Native Memphian and small business owner, Katie Gore, entered the world of vintage clothing in 2014 through her online Etsy shop. Two years later, she launched a brick-and-mortar store at 2153 Central Avenue, next door to Urban Outfitters.
Gore is the owner and creative director of Fox + Cat Vintage. She has a keen eye for fashion and continues to learn more about vintage fashion every day. She admits that she has not owned a television in over five years because in her few moments of free time, she would rather be researching vintage fashion.
She calls herself a “junkyard dog” because she stands her ground and carries that strong sense of personal wealth into her business.
As part of an ongoing series on local business owners who are women, we met with Gore to learn more about her story, business and impeccable style.
HGN: What inspired you to start a vintage clothing business?
KG: I went through this terrible breakup and it brought up a lot of things from when I was younger that I never processed because I was too young; so, when I went through this breakup, I had such an exaggerated response that I wanted to figure out why I was reacting the way that I was. I came to realize that I was living my life for someone else. I really didn’t know who I was and what I wanted to do with my life, so I scratched everything.
I had always loved fashion, I had always loved vintage — which I got into through thrifting — and I decided to start an Etsy shop, which was something that I always wanted to do but never really took the plunge. I named it Fox and Cat vintage after me and my dog, who is a fox colored British lab. It was about a starting over and rediscovering who I was and what my true strengths and passions were.
HGN: How did you start learning about vintage clothing?
KG: It’s truly a self-taught process. It’s one of those experiential things; you could sit in a classroom and they could tell you about labels and to look at the hems and stitching, but it truly is a learn-as-you-go process. I research every piece that I get. This is for my own self-edification, and also so I can differentiate between a $70 and $700 dress. I have a lot of books and do a lot of research, but you can’t really always trust these sources. You have to take knowledge from a large range of things.
I was an art history major, so I knew a little about the history of fashion. For example, a '90s tag is so easy to spot just based on the way that it’s done. It’s a faded white tag and typically in cursive, and they spelled things weird like ‘nite.’ Once you know it, you know it. Sometimes you can narrow it down to the year or two years. But it’s trial and error. I look back at my old Etsy posts that I thought they were fantastic and now, I cringe. At the time it was awesome for me but it’s cool to be able to track your progress and know where you started. There’s something very gratifying about learning yourself and putting in time. It’s definitely not something you can gain through a manual.
HGN: What would you say are the three hardest challenges you’ve faced since starting your own business?
KG: Time management is very difficult. There’s a big part of me that is left-brain, and I love spending time on the creative side of things. But I also have to keep the business side in check. A lot of that is about finding the right people to help you; I had a good lawyer and accountant to help me get started. It’s about surrounding yourself with people you trust to send you down the right path
Another challenge is employee turnover. Being a retail store, I know that if I want to hire bright, young people, that they’re not going to be with me forever. They’re going to eventually do their own thing, and be everything they can be. I’ve lost a couple of employees, and we’re still good friends, but that was really hard to adjust.
Another challenge is learning how to accept your limitations. Not everything is going to be perfect. I used to be a really big perfectionist, which is not a positive thing. I’ve learned a lot about my self-worth and establishing that as a human being, outside of my business life and Instagram or Facebook following. People are going to talk no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you love.
HGN: What have been your three biggest successes?
KG: The thing I pride myself the most on is the climate that we have created here. My employees are amazing. They are both incredibly kind, smart and unique individuals. We are a drama-free workplace. There is no “female competition” that we are socialized to have. I do not tolerate this, and luckily, I haven’t had to worry about this. I’m really blessed in that regard. Making a place where anyone can feel comfortable coming into the store, and won’t feel judged based on their choice of clothing, or appearance, or gender–it doesn’t matter, everyone will be treated equally.
Being written up in Style Blueprint was a huge thing for me. That was one of my three-year goals. So, when I did that within a year after opening my business, I was really excited.
Another thing I’m really proud of is that I really go out of my way to make sure I have a range of sizes. A lot of vintage stores will just get whatever they think is cute or is easily avaliable, and a lot of that will be extra small. While I do have a lot of pieces that are extra small, I have sizes that go up to XXL and have made an effort to offer sizes for everybody. It takes more work, and often more money, but it is worth it to have an inclusive selection.
HGN: How did starting your business in Memphis contribute to its growth?
KG: I did not approach this from a sound business path. I didn’t do research; I didn’t scout out different locations. I went with my gut and I happened to come in at a time when Memphis was starting to get on board with vintage. There’s a huge niche that for high-end, designer, vintage clothing that is similar to the contemporary wardrobe. Also, just because it’s higher-end doesn’t necessarily mean it will be crazy expensive. I’ve got a lot of items from the '80s that were very expensive, like a $500 sweater that I sold for $60 here. But because our shopping is so limited, people don’t have that many options of places to go and we provide great customer service. We don’t just send people into the store blindly; we’re here to help as much as each person wants to be helped.
HGN: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
KG: In 10 years, I see myself in my own building. I want to be able to customize it and make it my own space. I also think it’d be so cool to have a mobile fashion truck. I would want to have more of a presence in the south. All of the big vintage shops know each other. There are certain ones that I look up to and aspire to, but I’d like to collaborate with other people across the country or even the world. Overall, I want it to be a retail destination and to become a part of Memphis’ culture.
Memphis used to be a huge retail destination, and people who lived during Memphis’ period of high-end clothing and fashion are starting to pass down their clothes to this generation. I want to be able to carry on the legacy and history of Memphians through their clothing.