Photo by Mark Cho / Text by Mark Cho / Brian Davis
I met Brian recently through one of our colleagues at the store. He owns an excellent vintage shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn. What Brian is doing is interesting to me from two perspectives:
1. Brian's vintage selection, has a strong emphasis on workwear and military wear, i.e. clothing that is designed for practical use. I find items designed in this way as beautiful as any decoration. It makes the appearance of the garment very clear and focused on its function.
2. Brian has setup in Red Hook, very much an up-and-coming part of New York but far from the normal retail areas. Unfortunately, good and interesting retail can be so easily crowded out of markets like New York which are expensive to find space in. Red Hook gives Brian the opportunity to create a beautiful store but the distance from the main areas of the city means he must work to a high standard to attract people to come to him.
1. Tell us what you're wearing
Gitman Vintage oxford cloth button down shirt
L.L. Bean Norwegian Sweater
L.L. Bean Field Jacket
Seiko 5 Sports Automatic 100m Scuba Diver (gift from Jeremy)
The Real McCoy’s Double Diamond Khaki Trousers Lot 451
Converse Jack Purcell Signature in white
Wooden Sleepers vintage heavy duty canvas coal bag
2. Tell us a little about how you started getting into clothing and finally ended up with a superb vintage shop.
The first item of clothing I remember having a strong opinion about was the Adidas Samba Classic. The year was 1992 and I was in fourth grade. I was enamored with them. I was never an Air Jordan/Nike kid. Soccer ruled in my town and the Samba was king. My grandmother bought them for me and I felt like the coolest kid in school. By the time I was in sixth grade in 1994, my style was influenced by equal parts Kurt Cobain, Snoop Doggy Dog, and the CCS skateboarding mail order catalog - flannel shirts, Dickies work trousers, Chuck Taylor Allstars, Levi’s 501 jeans, band/skate t-shirts, etc. My first experience in a thrift store was revelatory. It was 1996 and I was a freshman in High School. My Grandmother volunteered at the Eastern Long Island Hospital Thrift Store and I would buy vintage t-shirts for $0.25 a piece. That turned into digging at Salvation Army and other thrift stores. By the time I was in 11th grade in 1999, I was making frequent trips to downtown Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad to shop for vintage in the basement of Canal Jeans, Search and Destroy on St. Marks, and the myriad of other nameless vintage shops in SoHo and the Lower East Side. It wasn’t until 2010 that my wife, girlfriend at the time, Allison suggested that I start a vintage men’s wear shop online. With her help, I launched Wooden Sleepers on Etsy in April of 2010 as a small collection of vintage men’s wear, accessories, and objects for the home. By the end of the year WS had participated Pop Up Flea as the only vintage seller alongside brands like J. Crew, Levi’s, L.L. Bean, Red Wing Shoes, and Warby Parker; and were invited to set up a shop in shop at Steven Alan in Tribeca. I moved WS out of my apartment into a studio space in Greenpoint where I held private shopping appointments and grew the business. My dream all along was to open a retail store, which we did in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook in November, 2014.
3. Any particular vintage items or periods you focus on?
Classic American style through a Northeast Atlantic lens: select Military, Outdoors, Workwear, Sportswear, and Traditional “Ivy” style. We also stock relevant home items such as old books, blankets, and other antiques.
4. Do you treat collecting as an investment? Outside of the things you collect and sell at the store, would you sell any of your more personal items?
In my personal life, I do not buy things with the intention of “flipping”. I am much more interested in clothing than a normal person and I’m ok with that. Some people like sports and have an encyclopedic knowledge of stats and whatnot. I enjoy the process of researching an item or brand, visiting a retail store, having a conversation with a salesperson or store owner, trying on a product, purchasing, and beating the hell out of it for as long as it lasts.
5. What do you think is next for the vintage market? Do you feel like it's growing? Becoming more mainstream? Plateau'd?
The specialty vintage store is what is most exciting now, stores with a strong point of view. Normal people do not want to dig around for hours, picking through overcrowded racks of overpriced clothing. Less is more. It’s all about the edit. The ability for a shop to tell a story without words, to communicate a feeling, a vibe, something that connects with people on an emotional level. Ultimately, it’s nostalgia. Nostalgia is very powerful. Different people are drawn to different things. For a vintage store, or any store for that matter, the most important thing is authenticity, being a good neighbor, and providing an amazing experience for anyone who comes through the doors. In that way, Wooden Sleepers appeals to a more mainstream audience - not just the vintage connoisseur.
6. Any style heroes for you?
My friends - Jeremy Kirkland, Joseph Au, Ouigi Theodore, David Alperin, Danny Calderon, and many more.
7. You are in quite a new, up-and-coming area of Brooklyn, could you talk about it a little?
Red Hook has a real neighborhood feel. People say “hello” to each other on the street. People know each other. There is a thriving small business community. With the exception of Ikea, most all of the businesses are independently owned and operated. The food and drink is incredible. I am very happy there. I like taking a deep breath and smelling the salt in the air from New York Harbor, it reminds me of home on the North Fork of Long Island.