Today we’d like to introduce you to Taylor Hamby.
Taylor, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Sputnik’s Vintage, as a business, has roots in my previous life as a reporter in Orange County. In 2014, I was working at my dream job as a reporter and editor at my favorite publication in the world–OC Weekly. And though I was over the moon to be working at the best damn independent publication to have come out of the West since the Territorial Enterprise, working full time for a newspaper had taken my creative outlet of writing and turned it into a job. And I was ready for a creative outlet again.
Through the Weekly’s reporting on unique and interesting cultural events, I learned about historic reenactment subcultures going on in Southern California like the Labyrinth of Jareth and the now defunct MYTH Masquerade Ball and the Edwardian Ball. LP Hastings, a childhood friend who later serendipitously became a co-worker at the Weekly, introduced me to the Renaissance Faire in Irwindale when we were teenagers, and those trips to Faire getting wine drunk in medieval costumes were some of the highlights of my teenage years. The growing steampunk and high fantasy masquerade cultures circa 2012, 2013 seemed to echo some of the fun we had dressing up in costumes and parading around Ren Faire in our formative years.
That’s actually an unintentional but excellent segue–I guess costuming and historic clothing go back even farther for me. LP and I were both aspiring actresses when we met in fifth grade. Theater kids, drama nerds, thespians, you know. I’d love going over to her house because her wonderful mother Vicki was an outstanding seamstress and costumer. LP had trunks of amazing costumes her mother handmade for her. And us friends would all go over to her house and try on these costumes. LP had a handheld VHS camcorder and she’d direct and star in these short films we’d create in her house while wearing these lavish costumes. LP says she still has the tapes but she says they’re terribly awkward and I really don’t want to see them!
Anywho, I was in many plays and took acting lessons and would go up to Hollywood to audition sometimes, so costuming was a big part of my childhood as an aspiring actress. LP told me about the Orange County High School of the Arts (Then OCHSA) in Santa Ana, which had just started taking middle school students and encouraged me to apply to their musical theater program in 7th grade. I was on a big Marilyn Monroe kick at the time so I auditioned for the school with “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from How to Marry a Millionaire. I didn’t get into their theater program or the creative writing program. Up until that point, I had always landed major parts in anything I auditioned for so it was a big blow for me then. I let it pump the breaks on my acting aspirations, and dressing up in costumes by proxy.
The following year, in seventh grade, I discovered and fell in love with punk rock. And I guess that’s the first time I dressed in an era other than the one I was living in on a daily basis. I wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs from their punk days in the late 1970’s and early 80’s and clothes I found in thrift stores or at Flashbacks in Orange (RIP!). Though we had to wear uniforms in school, I accentuated the uniforms and with safety pins, Sex Pistols patches, Crass buttons and a tartan backpack. I cut my hair short and spikey.
I continued this look and lifestyle into my freshman year of high school at El Modena in Orange. I dated a kid who was also in the local punk scene with a foot-tall mohawk for two years and at the beginning of sophomore year. He cheated on me with our friend and gave me my first taste of heartbreak. At 15-years-old, it really threw me for a loop and I dropped punk almost completely at that point, along with many other things I had enjoyed previously.
From there, I jumped into a pool of experimentation, looking for a new identity. I tried as many looks as I tried drugs; 90’s grunge wearing flannels and ripped pants; 1960s hippy boho imitating Janis Joplin by going to Dee-Lux when it was still in Costa Mesa, and later rockabilly when the legendary Electric Chair on Main Street in Huntington Beach was admittedly on the decline but still plugged in.
Though LP and I went to different high schools, we thankfully remained loosely in touch through the shifting tides and times. And then as we got into our older teens we’d get a small group together and go to the Renaissance Faire in Irwindale together (which I still go to to this day–HUZZAH!) and it really reignited our childhood love for dressing up in historic costumes. Though she left the VHS recorder at home for these outings, it felt like the “adult” version of our childhood shenanigans.
AND SO, when my work at the Weekly led me to the fantasy and costuming world of steampunk and masquerades, it had a familiar but fun flavor. And I guess you could say I dove in headfirst.
I started sourcing my own costumes for these events like Gaslight Gathering steampunk festival in San Diego or the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade where I always got everything–at thrift stores and flea markets. While I was out searching high and low for unique costume pieces, I began finding great pieces that weren’t my size or style. Then a lightbulb went off for me–“what if I did the leg work and digging for the people who did fit or fancy these cool pieces, and then I could purchase more pieces I wanted?”
So in 2014, I began picking up any amazing corsets or gowns or tankards I’d find, and I’d offer them on eBay. I needed a name for my eBay account so I named it after my dog at the time, Sputnik. It began as Sputnik’s Curiosities because it was more of a historic/steampunk/Victorian/oddities flavor than the mid-century centric vibe Sputnik’s Vintage has today.
Has it been a smooth road?
From the beginning in 2014 to say, as recently as this past November, I’ve felt the need to make everything about Sputnik’s feel polished and pristine and smooth. Because that’s how I want my client to feel. I want them to have a taste of the polished, pristine, smooth, elegant glamour that vintage fashion evokes.
I want them to feel the joy I feel when I watch a Marilyn Monroe film and no hair strand is out of place and every rhinestone is sparkling on her dress divinely as if its whole reason for being was just to try to outdo her radiant smile.
I want my clients to stun spectators the way the timeless elegance of the Art Deco marvels of the Queen Mary or the Biltmore or the Griffith Observatory make your jaw drop the first time you step on their decorative floors and soak in the authentic, historic splendor of each room from floor to ceiling.
Or the sense of dignity and grace a gal feels when she wakes up in the morning and sees that poster of Audrey Hepburn first thing, reminding her to put on her crown for the day. As trite and overdone as Breakfast at Tiffany’s may have become since the sixties–Holly Golightly is still a helluva vibe.
Anyway, I want all those empowered feelings of looking one’s best for my clients. I want every day to feel like Dapper Day for them.
But in keeping my eye on that prize, I thought that meant both I and Sputnik’s Vintage had to be as infallible and pseudo-perfect as Marilyn Monroe or James Dean has come to mean.
Even when I had struggles, the last thing on Earth I wanted for myself or my brand of Sputnik’s, was to show any of the cracks that may have been present in mindset or manifestation.
I was proud so proud of what I had accomplished. Too proud to give any time or attention to any obstacles that arose along the way. My natural instinct was to hide any perceived “flaws” I felt I or my business had under the rug.
I never made the connection that if I wanted something clean and pristine, I could go to Amazon or Target and get something modern and mass-produced. But to me, it was always the patina or the authentic wear and tear of age and experience that made something special to me. The long time, hunt, or struggle it took to track down and find something rare and meaningful. I never expanded that ethos to my business story or message.
It’s only recently–as in VERY recently–that I’m learning to embrace and accept any “flaws”, shortcomings or long-time-comings I feel I have as an owner/operator. Almost everything I’ve done in business with Sputnik’s I’ve done and learned from trial and error. So HELL YEAH I’VE MADE MISTAKES!! HELL YES THERE’S BEEN STRUGGLE! And I’m learning how to not only become okay with that but embrace it as part of the process.
There’s been overwork, overdrafts, and over-estimations. I’ve under-valued items, undercut my own worth, and underestimated my capabilities. I’ve neglected to reach out for help when I’ve needed it and I’ve let the voices of the haters who say I’m never going to “make it” with a creative endeavor/passion project and say “get a ‘real’ job” win. I’ve tapped out and I’ve given up more times than I care to recall.
And yet I’ve also been divinely supported by mentors before me like Alan Watts, Tony Robbins, Cathy Heller, Ram Das, Gabrielle Bernstein, Oprah Winfrey, Esther, Jerry & Abraham Hicks and my coach Cynthia Freeman. Each have held a candle for me in dark times when I felt walls of self-doubt, loneliness, singularity, stupidity, short-sightedness and short-change collapse in on me.
And then there’s the folks in our local community who may not have international name recognition but have made a huge support and difference in Sputnik’s Vintage’s story like Molly Olivia Fox (of Fox & Fable Vintage), Abby Maharaj (singer of Abby Girl & the Real Deal), the Atomic Cherry Bombs collectively (and showgirls Nautica Nice, Miss Magnolia, specifically), Mr Tiki Head (aka Andrew McClain – RIP), Nikki Marvin (aka Moxie Gold) of the Atomic Ballroom, Sarah Sunderman of Golden Years Vintage Market in Santa Ana (& Cameo Appearance Vintage), photographer Brandon Ferguson, Ralph RJ Perez, David “Goober” Henning, Tom & Shelley, and my parents Robin Ziegler and John Hamby. I thank them to the moon and back for their support.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Sputnik’s Vintage story. Tell us more about the business.
Fashion sets the tone for your life. Whether you like it or not, what you wear defines so much of people’s perceptions of you. Your clothing speak way before you ever open your mouth. How do you know when you see a police officer? By their uniform, right? What do police officers do when they don’t want to be noticed or treated like cops? They take off their uniform and wear a certain kind of plain clothing. The same thing applies to everyone.
Sputnik’s Vintage helps men and women achieve the version of themselves they see inside their head and help bring it from their mind and put it on their bodies. Whether they’re professional musicians looking for their next statement stage ensemble or a 9 to 5 office worker looking to ditch the drab beige and browns of the cubicle life and instead radiate the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood for special weekend, Sputnik’s helps them achieve that look and feeling.
As the proprietor of Sputnik’s, I source the authentic, historic clothing from a variety of places. Sometimes I take long road trips and stop at every thrift store, antique mall, flea market and rummage sale I see. During the week, I hit my usual round of favorite thrift stores around Orange County, and also early morning estate sales around Southern California. On the weekends, I have my monthly rotation of flea markets I hit or special sales that pop up. I also sell the collections of private clients for them; restoring, photographing and marketing their pieces for them and then putting them in the hands of other collectors.
Many pieces come to me with various stages or signs of wear and tear to them–most pieces I work with are over seventy years old at this point, so some degree of decay is to be expected. But I take the time to restore each piece to the best of my ability by replacing buttons, reinforcing the seams, removing stains and dry cleaning each piece as needed. I work with an amazing seamstress and together we get each piece back to its original glory as much as possible.
Though Sputnik’s has a studio space in Westside Costa Mesa, the vast majority of sales are done online either on our Etsy.com store or vintage fashion groups on Facebook. Which is really cool because we ship clothing all around the world! I say my clothes are more well-traveled than I am!
A smaller percentage of sales come from pop ups at special vintage events like the Golden Years Vintage Market in Santa Ana or the Dapper Day Marketplace at the Disneyland Hotel, which are fun to meet clients face-to-face versus online only.
And then an even smaller amount are from clients who come into my studio and shop by appointment. I love private appointments, especially shopping parties with a few friends because it turns into a fun fashion show and snack fest–and I’m obsessed with snacks!
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It is my belief we will always have people with a strong reverence and resonance with the past. It’s inevitable because our heritage is carried in our cellular and spiritual makeup. If we carry certain traits of our parents and grandparents–physically or personality-wise–it makes sense that we inherit other aspects of these ancestors as well. For me, I feel a spirited breath of life when I hear the horns of Glen Miller through an old speaker or swing dance on a floor of a historic building like the Cicada Club in Downtown LA. And I know this is the same for many of my friends and customers. It’s a feeling that is transcendent, beyond a personal passion–it feels like a collective passion and experience. Like people of the past, looking through my eyes to enjoy these glimpses of the activities, surroundings and clothing they once enjoyed in the flesh too.
And I know I am not the first one to feel this, and I have a good sense I will not be the last. So it gives me reasonable expectation there will always be antiquities dealers, stewards of a cultural moment long since past, yet paradoxically living on in the decades and centuries following.
Yes, it’s true we live in a fast-fashion world of low cost and low-quality clothing made without much care for the garment, tailor or customer. But as that reality grows, it only helps to accentuate the value of a finely made garment made with the skill of a fine tailor made with substantial materials and that is still wearable and stylish some seventy to ninety years later. You really can’t compare the original garment from the era to the fast-fashion take from Target or H&M.
I love the people who faithfully reproduce these clothing or nightclubs or events and I love the people who reverently and painstakingly restore and resell the authentic heirlooms of the actual eras. Both are necessary and valuable skills and services. I see them continuing to thrive as time goes by.
- Address: 2121 Placentia Ave., Suite C, Costa Mesa, CA 92627.
(Open by appointment only)
- Website: www.sputniksvintage.com
- Phone: 714.418.3001
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org