I'm leaving town in a couple days, so the series of posts on politics of vintage continues here with an excerpt from an interview with Sacramento's Thunderhorse Vintage co-owners and twin sisters Marilyn and Jen Ayres, published in the UC Davis Women's Resources and Research Center newsletter in May 2009 (read the full interview here). Jen began her graduate work in Textiles at Cornell University this fall with an eye toward theorizing thrifting via feminist cultural studies. Awesome!
Kohgadai (UC Davis Women's Resources and Research Center): What were your majors and minors?
Jen: We transferred as design majors, before we really knew that we were feminists or into critical cultural studies, and attempted to take design classes and it was a shock. There was complete aesthetics divorced from theory, from accountability, any kind of critical analysis. That’s when we got out the registrar of classes and decided to do Women/Feminist Cultural studies 103, not realizing that at UC Davis you really have to take Women’s Studies 50 before getting into 103. So, it was very challenging. It was very challenging, very stressful but very mentally stimulating. It was this crazy, rigorous world that we hadn’t been exposed to.
Kohgadai: How has your experience with your education influenced your shop and what you stand for?
Mar: The disconnection between ideology and the production of images of art and design were completely antithetical to what we were about. So we went completely a different route. We decided to make ethical decisions, to know where things come from, and understand the meaning and, importantly: acknowledge where things came from — something so basic and simple. Being disingenuous, appropriating, and making a buck off of other people’s artwork, that’s what we didn’t want to do. That’s just the easy way out, that’s not critical thinking, that’s not special.
Jen: The Women and Gender Studies Program really helped us become who we are, and helped us open and run the shop because it has those ties to intersectional feminist ethical principles that let us remain true to who we are and do business— without compromising, without exploiting. And it’s crazy because shopping today is all about what maquilladora your handbag came from in accordance with what’s in fashion at this very instant. And I think what we’re doing is complete in the opposite direction of that.
Kohgadai: I noticed someone brought over clothes, do you do trade-ins?
Jen: We emphasize to our friends: Please, we really want to circulate goods, to trade and swap things between us. If you want something that’s in here, please bring us some of your cute clothes because we like seeing goods go, and go to our friends. The thing about a good transaction is that it’s fair on both sides.
Mar: Because there’s a lot of places you could go, and you won’t be paid a fair amount.
Kohgadai: How did you first get interested in vintage clothing?
Mar: We just love thrift shopping. When we were little, the first thing we would do when our parents would take us to a new town, was look up the thrift stores and just go there. We love seeing unique art, unique design from previous periods of time. Cultural oddities that were no longer valued because they were no longer “in vogue,” or whatever. Having the discarded stuff, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Suspenders, the stuff that no body else thought was awesome, and kind of reclaiming that. Now, its just coincidence that vintage is very much at the height of being in fashionable.
Kohgadai: Did you always want to become clothing shop owners?
Jen: To us this wasn’t a business decision. Getting to share our clothes with people that we love and cherish and having them wear it is the most enjoyable art.
Mar: The whole idea of idea of collecting and accumulating crap, this whole American notion of getting as much material goods and just hoarding it, what happens with that is it just sits there unappreciated and unloved. It’s just something you go to once a couple months when you go through your attic.
Jen: We want to have amazing stuff that the right person will come in and pick up. We want to be accessible. We don’t want a museum that you can’t touch, and engage with and love. (Like high priced vintage stores). We want to be able to display it, and have that right person come in and have something click for them. To us, clothing is a huge part of how you express your personality and its kind of an unrecognized art form.
Kohgadai: Where did you two accumulate your clothing?
Mar: We’ve been collecting since we were 14 (laugh). Jen was always very good at getting things from thrift stores, but what did she do with them? There wasn’t anything you could with it.
Jen: It started out as a tie to my friends. I’m like “Oh, so and so will love it, and I’ll just hold on to it for her. Because I know she won’t be here at this thrift store, on this day to pick it up. And it’d be perfect for her.” I’m a giver. That’s how I express my love, I burden people with lots of crap (laugh). That’s how it started out. Having an eye with other people in mind.
Kohgadai: Do you two share a wardrobe?
Jen: NO. We’re identical twins so we have insane identity issues. For the longest time we had big hurdles to overcome about clothing because the way we perform our identity is through clothing. The way we perform a lot of things is through clothing: Gender, identity, sexuality, class, all these things. For our personal identity, when we are already genetic clones of each other, hell no we’re not going to be okay with sharing, because those are our individual signifiers. Then people might confuse one of us for the other, which would be crazy because we are *SO different (*sarcasm). I have been the one most afflicted with these insecurities, however. Mar has always been confident in her identity-in-relation-to-me.
Kohgadai: Did you always want to be clothing shop owners?
Mar: It sounds cliché to say we were inspired by Buffalo Exchange, but, we were really inspired by Buffalo Exchange on Height Street. When we went there as teenagers, it was like this crazy, eccentric collection of one-of-a-kind stuff. Vintage stuff, new stuff, but it was all crazy and unique. There was weird old stuff old punk and metal shirts from the 80’s and it was all very affordable. And we thought this is exactly what we want to do: to have a shop of weird stuff you can’t get anywhere else.