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Jaime Wong.

Most entrepreneurs dream of having their business make it to a decade. Jaime Wong’s on the cusp of doubling that with her bi-coastal vintage clothing store, Raggedy Threads. Her Little Tokyo shop in LA is a few blocks away from our headquarters, and through our friendship we’ve been fortunate to be able to work with her on small projects, throw annual summertime BBQ’s in her NYC backyard, and launch a pop-up shop for our SS18 season.

As you’d expect, being around for this long means a wealth of triumphs – and with them, trials of all kinds. We got to spend an afternoon with Jaime in her Williamsburg shop to chat about her beginnings, her motivations, and what struggles she continues to deal with as a small business owner firmly entrenched in the vintage scene. We left inspired, as we often do, by her keen ability to find beauty in what others might deem old and worthless. 

1 New York City

You just passed the four year mark here in NYC, yes?

Yeah it’s 4 years in March – but LA hit a bigger milestone this year; we’re turning 18 in June! I’m not doing any anniversary parties soon. I’ll throw one for special years like 5, 10, 15, 20… hopefully. [laughs]

Can you tell us a bit about the history of the space?

Well, it was a Polish bakery over 20 years ago. My landlord and her husband sold bagels but the husband passed away, so they shut it down. It was empty for a while until my friend Neil took it; he had a vintage shop a block down called Mello. Neil completely gutted the space to make it functional. There was a huge rat problem when he first moved in and it took months for him to get them out; he did a really great job. To carry on their legacy, he renamed his shop to “Grand Street Bakery.” The dressing room used to be her office, and the ovens are still in the back with the baking racks. Anyways, Neil had the space for 5 years and then passed the torch down to me. We had met through a mutual friend in the vintage network and were planning on doing something together before, but it didn’t work out. Eventually, he wanted to move and asked me to take a look at Grand Street Bakery to see if I wanted to take it over. I walked in and was like fuck yes.


Now that it’s been four years in NYC, is it even clearer now how you have to stock this store differently?

It’s definitely taken some time, but I have a pretty good handle on it now. I know what my customers want here: it’s shockingly almost the same as what I stock in LA. The only real difference is the colors. People here want black and darker colors: black jeans, black tees. Darker colors are always in play here, much more so than LA. But now that so many New Yorkers are moving to LA, I’m starting to see that swing in my LA shop now too. I also stock more jackets here in NY because we have winters.

It seems like everything is moving along well at this shop.

It definitely has, but I still need more time to build it. I feel like there is so much more that we can do. I’m still trying to find a balance in running both stores, sorting out inventory and stocking two locations now. And, of course, finding stuff at a decent price so I can sell it at a decent price. That’s the biggest challenge.

2 Vintage

You’ve mentioned before that you felt like eBay ruined the vintage market. Can you tell us why?

A lot of people are unknowledgeable. Say a picker in the Midwest countryside finds a pair of denim or something and they don’t know what the deal is. Before, they would sell it for cheap but still make a nice profit on it; everyone wins. With eBay now, tons of listings and prices are available to browse through online, which gives people this false idea that everything that is old is worth a lot – which is not always the case. Why am I paying $400 for a piece in Kentucky now? It just doesn’t make sense.  Pickers now see a pair of vintage Levi’s and automatically assume “Oh, it must be worth a lot of money.”  eBay just drives the prices up on a lot of things that just aren’t worth that much.

So does that mean you have to pass on a lot of stuff?

I have to pass on things that I like because they want more than I would sell them for at retail. It’s more than anyone would sell it for. Let me give you an example: I had a lady message me from the Midwest. She was like, “Hey, I came across an early pair of overalls from the 40’s – check out my eBay listing.” I went to take a look and they were nothing special. They were completely destroyed with holes everywhere and no good patchwork. I get that they are an old pair, but she had them listed for $1,100. Now tell me: no brand, no nothing on the overalls. Where did that number come from? The worst part is, if she does sell them, now she’ll think that she can get that much for anything and everything. It really ruins it for everyone else trying to find and sell vintage.


It’s false confirmation when they sell it at the inflated price.

Forget selling. People go to eBay to price check and only look at the listed price, not what price sold items have gone for – and that informs their own pricing. People just throw things up for crazy prices to see what they can get.

Is another problem that stuff is getting picked over? There’s a finite amount of vintage clothing, after all.

There’s still so much stuff out there, though. I still see friends coming up with crazy hauls, like deadstock clothing from a basement somewhere; it happened recently to a friend. There are lots of houses and hoarders out there. I just had this conversation with a friend, and we talked about how if vintage does run out, I think we’ll just start buying from people in our business who are dying: buying out their personal collections. I mean that’s really the next kind of score. Or maybe clearing out a business that’s been collecting for a couple of decades and has a bunch of stuff. They might be dying and have no family to take the company over.

It’s crazy that it takes someone dying for certain things to see the light of day.

When you put it that way it sounds kinda bleak, but it’s true.

How do you source your stock for the shops nowadays?

I am thankful to have consistent people who I’ve been dealing with for decades. They’re a network of pickers who hit thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, everywhere. They do a lot of the hard work for me and put it together, and I’ll meet with them to sort through their hauls. I just don’t have the time or energy to do what they do anymore. When I was younger, I could hit every thrift store and every estate sale – but that’s changed.

You said it was hard to balance the two shops – is it because you want to be at both all the time?

Yeah, I’m at that phase in my life where I’m not constantly on the road 6 months out of the year anymore. I really enjoy actually being in the stores; I like talking to my customers and seeing them put things on. My goal this year, though, is to turn the focus back to buying since I’m having a hard time balancing the inventory between the two shops and running out of. Selling out of stuff isn’t a bad problem, but it is a problem.


You’ve been offering repair and alteration services in the NY store. Do you prefer to sell stuff in the condition you found it in, or do you like to repair things before they go onto the floor?

There are good tears and bad tears. No one wants a big rip in the crotch, but some knee holes can be cool. Shirts will eventually give out so it’s best to patch them up. I personally prefer hand repairs: it takes longer to do, but it brings out the character of the piece. The machine repairs keep garments going for another 10 years because they’re stronger.

Most vintage stores don’t always repair stuff before selling it.

Some do and some don’t. There are some people who will only buy stuff that’s already sellable and ready to go, but I look at a piece and try and see the potential in it. Is it too far gone? Can I put a sleeve back together? Say I find an amazing chambray shirt – this happens all the time – where the buttons are gone, the sleeve is half gone, but it’s not dry rotted and doesn’t smell either. I can probably soak it to get the rust stains off and remove the smell, but can I repair the sleeve and piece something together to make it work? I like to mix fabrics. I think canvas and denim look great together or chambray and salt and pepper. I love those combos.

I actually have a small capsule collection I’ve been working on for years. I obtained a huge score of old denim and workshirts that were stuffed in a house for insulation. It took months to clear the house out: overalls, denim, shirts, everything. Many of the pieces were still good; there were plenty that weren’t. Some shirts were half gone but then I’d find another of the same style and so I was putting two or three shirts together into one shirt. I have 6 shirts that I’ve made so far. Chambray, salt and pepper, and twill, as well as a couple of pairs of overalls. I was going to call the project Frankenstein and get a gallery to display them. I wish I followed through, but I got caught up with other stuff. I have so many pieces I haven’t started working on yet.  Piles of clothes and boxes of scraps everywhere. I just haven’t had the time to do it all.

 I personally prefer hand repairs: it takes longer to do, but it brings out the character of the piece.

3 Beginnings

How did you get your start in vintage?

There was a couple that used to own a thrift store in my neighborhood. The wife was Indian and the husband was Pakistani. They treated me like a daughter; I would eat with them and fast with them. They were so great. Every time they would come back from estate sales, they’d let me cherry-pick from the bags. So for a few months, I was taking their stuff to Rose Bowl to sell and I got a percentage.

So when you started picking from them and then on your own…

I just bought what I liked. I feel like my tastes have matured, though. When I started, I was doing a lot of 60s and 70s stuff: flares and band tees. 646s and 684s, lots of orange tabs, Members Only jackets, some old Nikes. Always vintage tees though. I didn’t know what I was doing so I was pricing stuff low and people got great deals. It was pre-internet.

That’s crazy not having a general point of reference – people take that for granted today.

They do for sure. I still do it old school; I’ll go ask someone instead of just looking it up online. Say I find a military piece that I can’t identify: I’m gonna take the pieces to one of the guys I know who specializes in it. I trust what they tell me over the internet. And that’s just the way I started my business – I learned everything by asking. I was selling amongst people who had been doing it for decades when I started; if I need information today, I still go back to some of those same people.

In some older interviews, you mentioned that your mom helped you with basic business elements when you were getting started.

She helped with stuff like where to get permits and how to file taxes. My family has had a printing company for over 30 years, so she’s gone through all of it. I helped out with shipping for a little in college. My mom worked for a defense company and then she and my dad started the business when I was ending high school.

What was it like to see your mom leave a structured company and go into something more unknown?

My mom had a strong background in business. She’s good at finances, accounting, and she’s good at talking to people. But as far as printing went, she knew nothing at the start. She had to find out where to source paper, what it should cost, and all that. She enrolled in night classes to learn about printing, and she hired great employees. And my dad was in IT, so he built the whole technology side. They were a great team going into a business that they knew nothing about, and they both left their jobs for it. The business is still running, and she has a great staff. Some have been with us almost the whole time.

What were you doing at the time you started selling vintage at Rose Bowl?

I was a spare parts broker for commercial airlines – my clients were companies like Qantas and American Airlines. It was fun; no different than what I’m doing now except I deal with vintage clothing and before it was aircraft parts. Say American Airlines hits me up and they need a specific part for their planes. I’d use a database to search every company that has parts available. I might find one that’s removed but AA might want it overhauled, so I’d buy that and ship it to a mechanic to fix up and certify it, and then they’d send it to the airline.

Looking back, what was applicable there to what you do now?

Negotiations, sales, searching and generally finding ways to get things done. Lots of phone calls; I was constantly on the phone. It gave me a foundation to be able to build relationships and source things on the vintage side.


You mentioned that your family has always been super supportive, which I think is unusual for many immigrant parents.

They’ve been really supportive of whatever I’ve wanted to do. I was still working the corporate job, which I’d grown to hate; I loved the work but did not like the company. I was 21 and female, surrounded by a lot of older domineering men. I loved the job and made crazy good money for a 21-year-old, but was coming home crying every day. I went to my mom and told her “I can’t do this anymore.” She told me to quit my job, work for her for a bit, and pursue the flea market stuff – so I did. I helped her out with the printing business and that gave me more time to focus on the flea market.

Then I woke up one day and told my mom that I really wanted to open up a store and she said “Great – well why don’t you take half of one of my storefronts?  Try it out, and give me half the rent” – which, at the time, was $500 or less. She taught me how to budget my money, use QuickBooks, and really do all of the accounting that I had no idea about. I know how to do my taxes really well because of her. She taught me where to go to get permits in the city, where to apply for a sales tax license. She learned all that herself and I was lucky that she could pass that along to me. That was amazing for me. Where else was I supposed to look for all that? Online? Where online? The internet was young at that point. I didn’t know anyone else who had gone through that before. She gave me the space and I got a bunch of friends and we painted and put racks up. I just did it my own way – word of mouth. I told all my friends to come to the opening. And then every day, I kept the doors open and worked by myself and people just started to come in.

There was no thought to whether this was a good location or not?

No – zero thought. I wasn’t trying to figure out my demographic or anything. People these days have business plans and research, but I was like nope I’ll try this out. I never honestly thought I would get this far. After being in Covina for a year I was like this city sucks, I’m not making any money – I was barely making $100 a day. That’s when I got the opportunity to move to the Arts District, into an epic huge space. And that’s where my business actually flourished. My friend had the space and he was already wholesaling vintage, so I took the storefront space and I built it on a little of both of our existing customers and just went from there. A few years in, he asked if I wanted to do this show Rin Tanaka was putting on called “Inspiration” – and even though I didn’t really know what it was, I agreed to do it. We shared a booth together; he had a lot of his collections in Rin’s early books so he’s been in that scene for a while. That show ended up being where I met everyone. At that point no one really saw each her, because there wasn’t social media. Unless you lived in the same city, you didn’t meet those people. I was able to meet New York vintage dealers, and I met the RRL team too. I met so many people from that very first show. My neighbor at the show was John Gluckow. I met all the big dogs.


How long were you in the Arts District space for?

I guess around 4 years; I had to leave once the recession hit in LA. It hit so hard and I couldn’t afford that space anymore. Little Tokyo opened up shortly after and has been open about 9 years or so, almost 10.

What’s better about the Little Tokyo space you’re currently in?

Well, it’s a smaller space – the shop went from 2000 square feet to 850 and the rent was a quarter of what I was paying before. At that point, I really did think that that made the biggest difference because I was doubting my ability to stay in this industry, it was that bad. I had huge credit card debt that accumulated from paying rent and employees. I was struggling to pay the rent at my house. I really thought I was going to have to give it up and started making plans to move the business all online or go back to selling at flea markets. That was the only time in my life where I thought that was it. And from there, it was like the universe heard me and gave me the Little Tokyo space which allowed me to continue. From then on out it’s been amazing.

Kind of like when you went to Inspiration and were able to meet all the dealers and the community, in a different way Instagram seemed to open Raggedy Threads up to a much wider customer base.

Inspiration gave me a whole new vision of this whole world I’m in.  And then Instagram really helped my business, as I’m sure it did for many others. I learned so much from people at Inspiration. It really opened up my love for the workwear stuff to be honest.

4 Things That Last

Would you say that if there was one thing you want people to know Raggedy Threads for, it would be old workwear?

I do, yeah. I love that stuff. It’s the way it’s made, and all the weird sub-companies that don’t exist anymore. There are so many old weird workwear companies but it kinda reminds me of how there are so many small clothing labels now in fashion – because eventually that will be crazy once that stuff is vintage. I often think about what a vintage shop might look like in 50 years. There might be vintage 3sixteen stuff that people are looking for. Or people might be trying to research what this denim is, or what that shirt is. That’s how I see the 30’s or 40’s denim brands like Steerhead or Big Buck or Rabbit. They aren’t companies we know now like Carhartt or Levi’s. We gotta thank the Japanese for compiling magazines with archives of all this stuff.

I like to think that some stuff produced today will last as long as that stuff did, specifically smaller brands who pay a lot of attention to what material they’re using and the details they incorporate into their garments. Those garments might last another 50 years, who knows.  The majority of clothing will not: fast fashion and made in China stuff probably not.


I like to think that some stuff produced today will last as long as that stuff did, specifically smaller brands who pay a lot of attention to what material they’re using and the details they incorporate into their garments.

What’s the best part of your job?  Is it coming up on something that someone else didn’t see the value in?

Yes, those are certainly good scores if that happens. But I see value in everything; not just clothing, but accessories, fixtures, furniture. For me, value is not strictly tied to what the actual worth is, but how much you personally cherish it. It’s not all about what the market price is, or what it’s going for on eBay. People always ask me for price checks and how much I think something should cost, but I tell them “it’s how much YOU think it’s worth.”

I generally don’t price according to market value; I price according to what I paid for something. I mean, hey, if I got a good deal, I want to pass that on to my customers. People will tell me, “You could have gotten $750 for that – why did you sell it for $300?” and it all comes back to how I personally assign worth. Part of the reason I sell something is to ensure that it’s going to a good home and that it’s going to be enjoyed.


Can you tell us about the van and your other cars?

I have a love for old Fords. If I could have every single one I would, but I can’t; I just don’t have space. My first Ford is my 1940’s V8 half-ton pickup, which basically has a hot rod engine in it. It’s fast and loud, more like a shop car that I have for fun. This van is a ‘65 Ford Econoline 150.  I found it actually – don’t laugh – on eBay. I won the auction and then flew to Colorado and met the owner, he was so incredibly sweet. He cried because he spent a lot of time taking care of the van. It runs so well. We hugged and cried together. He didn’t want to let it go but he had to because his health was going and he just couldn’t keep up with it anymore. Which goes back to – you’ll get the good stuff when people start dying. It’s morbid but true. But yeah, I flew to Denver and picked it up and drove back to New York with no problems at all. I was picking vintage all the way back so it was a long trip. It was in the body shop for 4 months because the brakes went out twice. In New York City.  Scary. So I had to fix the brake lines and patch all the rust that was on it because it was getting really bad. Especially having a car out east with the snow and salt; I never have those issues with my one in LA. Just paint damage from the sun. Someone grafitti’ed the van though thinking it was a box truck so I had to fix that. I was so angry.  But now it’s patched up, painted, and it looks so beautiful. I’ve since sent it out to LA, but I don’t drive it much. I have a Subaru Outback to get me around town.

What else are you into?

My end goal in life is to have a store and only sell salesman samples, so I’m starting that collection. Imagine a store of just miniatures, but cool vintage ones – or giant things. It would only be little or huge. That’s what I want to do after Raggedy Threads, I think. After I have no more stores, I’ll have a little place, like 100sqft just filled with salesman samples.  I don’t have a lot yet, but I’ve started collecting. So far, I have some denim and little shoes and boots. I have little hats.  I also have giant, giant jeans and pants. I also like old pins and jughead style beanies with the pins all over it – I have a collection of that too. Maybe I’ll open a shop of Jughead beanies. [laughs]

I have a 401k – I feel like every vintage dealer should have one – but my real retirement fund is a really big band t-shirt and Harley t-shirt collection. I have a few gems that I keep in case I really need the money so I can sell them.  I hope other vintage dealers do too.

5 Conclusions

Almost 18 years in, are there some lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Staff is the hardest thing for any business. Either you do it all by yourself or you hire people, and finding good people is the hardest thing for me. And I treat my people very well, like family. But that’s my biggest continual challenge.

The recession was the lowest point of my life; everything was just going wrong.  Like great – what do I do now? Imagine you work so hard and then it’s all gone. My plan B was to just start over again. One thing I know is that I’ll never stop selling vintage. Once you start, you can’t stop. Even if I’m 80 years old and can barely walk, I’ll still find a way to deal from my home in bed. But yeah, if I didn’t have the store anymore, I might pivot towards teaching. Next week I’m guest speaking at my friend Alex’s class at Parsons and I am excited to see how it goes.

What are you most proud of?  

This. Like now, where I’m at right now. I still can’t even believe it sometimes. People on the outside could see it as “Oh you have a store here, you’ve got a store there, you’re living bi-coastal, you’re living the dream” but I don’t really see it like that. It just feels like I’m working and commuting. I guess I’m humble in that sense. Traveling across the country might seem glamorous but I have to find stock for the stores. It’s work for me, but it’s also passion. Sometimes I don’t step back and look at the whole picture because I’m too busy focusing on the function of making things work. It’s routine in a way; my own routine, which is nice. I guess having routine is something to be proud of.


We’ve talked a lot about old clothes and how they tell a story. Have you thought about what kind of legacy you want to leave?

You know I’ve never thought about that, because I don’t have a family or any partners. It actually surprises me to see people in this business with a full family. It’s not easy being on the road, finding stuff, always the back and forth – all that internal stuff that people don’t always see is so much work. And then you have to go home and have kids and a family. I really applaud them for doing it because I can barely hold a relationship because of my job. But I love what I do and I don’t want kids. Is that selfish? That’s just the choice that I’ve made for myself.

My legacy could be to give what I find back to the next generation. When I die, there’ll be a massive estate sale; I want it to go back. It’s not about the money because I won’t need it, I’ll be dead.  Just take it. I feel like I do that already; I’m always giving stuff away.

Legacy is more than just what happens to your stuff, though.

Yeah. I actually helped one of my pickers to get health insurance because theirs is so expensive. She has really bad health issues. They’re like the Brady Bunch: 6 kids. When they got married, she had 3 and he had 3.  When I buy from her, I try to help her pay for her health insurance for the month – it’s a lot of money but it really helps her. I do the same for people who work for me. A lot of times, they are still young and trying to figure things out and I feel like the mama. I try to teach them as much as I can and be as supportive of their next step in life – even though I would love for them to stay with me forever. One of my girls moved on to open her own retail store; it was beautiful with great product in there. She specialized in women’s clothing but like tomboyish stuff, not girly things. Even though it didn’t work out in the long run, it was really cool to see. That’s almost like seeing my daughter grow up and do her own thing. I’ve tried to teach all my employees as much as possible; I like to feel like I’ve influenced them in some way.