Women-Owned Brooklyn Business Series: Olly Oxen Free Vintage

We are delighted that we had the opportunity to talk with Suzanne Palmer who owns one of our favorite vintage stores in Williamsburg. She is sharing the space now with Swans Nest Yoga, which is set to open tomorrow with an open house event! Read more and see a gallery of photos below!

Tell us about your business!

Olly Oxen Free Vintage is in its 7th year of business. We primarily sell womens clothing but also have a smaller men’s section, as well as some midcentury furniture and art. The collection spans the Victorian era to the 90s, though its a small shop and inventory changes frequently- I try to put out at least a few fresh items from our backstock every day. My favorite part of the store is a collection of hand block printed cotton dresses and bellbottoms from the India Imports of Rhode Island label, unworn from 1971. I try to source natural materials such as 100 % cottons, silks, and linens rather than blends, and always look for examples of artisanship from around the globe. Currently we have some 1940s handwoven Aguayo tribe from Bolivia, 70s Chimayo work from New Mexico, embroidered caftans from 60s Morocco, and 1950s Japanese silk kimonos mixed in with our regular stock. Indigenously handcrafted items carry a special energy and knowledge and its my hope that my customers will wear these pieces with appreciation for the people and the craft which produced them. 

Do you have any events coming up?

This coming Saturday August 18th is the grand opening party for Swans Nest Yoga! Come celebrate with us from 12-5 for storewide sales and get the early bird special for yoga classes too! At the end of the month we will be hosting a screening party for the latest episode of ‘Screwed’ by Director Stefanie Sparks. I was involved with this production as Wardrobe Stylist, and provided several looks from Olly Oxen Free as well as my personal costume backstock. We love to collaborate! Follow our IG @oofvintage for more on this upcoming event. In early September we will be offering a few workshops with stained glass architect Valeria Haedo before hitting Europe for a sourcing trip.

Tell us a little about your background and why you feel a connection to your brand.

Vintage clothing just makes sense to me.  First, it’s the easiest way to help the environment. Aside from not supporting fast fashion, buying used does not contribute to the 2nd largest polluter of our earth’s water supply- dyes used in clothing production. Second, I’m a total romantic and I love how one of a kind vintage is and I love that the pieces I wear have already lived other lives before me. I try to take care of them so I can pass them on! Lastly, at least when you are buying before the 80s, the clothes are just so durable and well made. I adore the construction details and hardiness. I have no qualms wearing a small stain or pinhole if it has good bones. I like choosing pieces that were handmade or have Union labels so that I know they were produced in fair conditions.
We’d like to know about your experience within your community. Why did you choose the neighborhood that you did to open your business and how have you become involved within your community?
I see Olly Oxen Free more as a community space which is supported by selling vintage clothing than a straight up business. I wanted to have the experience of having a local shop and getting to know my community and as a long time collector I recoginzed Vintage as my pathway to that end. My neighbors and customers have turned into some of my closest friends over the past 7 years. Since the beginning, donation based community yoga classes have been held in the shop, led by different teachers, and this year, with the help of Realty Collective and Victoria Hagman, we are expanding to include Swans Nest Yoga behind the shop, a full time studio led by Sean Moore. We have also hosted many local bands, film screenings, and art workshops in our space and hope to open a more dedicated space for these activities later this fall. Through the shop I became involved in my local community garden and also hosting Bushwick Open Studios events since 2012 or 2013.
What advice would you give to young women who want to open a small business and thrive?
Take advantage of all the resources NYC has to offer- there are many free and affordable workshops and mentorship programs throughout the city such as WIBO and PowerUp which were a great help to me in figuring things out. Accept that your initial years will be tough. Most importantly, take the time to negotiate a good lease with fair terms and feel you can have a good working relationship with your landlord. I’ve never had more than a 2 year lease at a time and it has prevented me from investing in my business the way I would have liked to and is the number one thing I would change if I was doing it over.
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