Growing up, Nashville native Claire Brandon spent her summers in the Mississippi Delta, visiting family in Clarksdale and Shelby. After several years in New York City, working for Harper’s Bazaar and big-name brands like Calvin Klein, Under Armour and Tommy Hilfiger, Claire returned to her roots with the launch of Delta Vintage, an online apparel company she built to explore, honor and support the Mississippi Delta.
The Delta is part of Claire’s story, but it’s not just her story she seeks to tell. Through the way she styles vintage apparel, and through Delta Vintage’s online journal, printed zine, and captivating photography, Claire wants to create representation and support for a region often overlooked and written off. By highlighting the area’s artists, writers, musicians and other residents, she both celebrates and challenges aspects of the community that she believes make it one of the most nuanced and misunderstood regions in the country. Though she once wrote in an online journal entry that “I need the Delta more than the Delta needs me,” Claire also wants to give back. Delta Vintage also offers a screen print collection — printed on vintage garments — and the proceeds go to after school programs such as C2k Ministries’ RE>Direct After School Program in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, the Delta Arts Alliance in Cleveland, Mississippi, and GRAMMY Museum in Cleveland. Meet today’s FACE of the South, Claire Brandon.
What inspired you to start Delta Vintage?
I was living in New York, working in media. My background is in magazine publishing, writing, digital media and fashion marketing — working both in-house for small labels and also working on the licensing side for bigger brands like Calvin Klein. I worked really closely with design teams throughout that process, seeing how they create their lines, which was such a treat. But my last job in New York was on the corporate side and didn’t have very much of a creative outlet. Delta Vintage first began just as an excuse to have my own ideas — to go and figure out what my taste level is, what I would buy, what I would try to sell, and how I would shoot it.
Explain how Delta Vintage is also your way of promoting the Mississippi Delta.
I took five or six months shooting and spending time down here and creating a community of my own so I could understand the current state of the Mississippi Delta, and my main hope now is to try to remove the characterization that goes on with this community. I’m trying to demonstrate the nuances we encounter down here, and both celebrate and challenge them. I’ve been lucky and blessed to find a community here that does the same thing — both through their art and the festivals that they present.
I wanted to bring Mississippi back into the conversation in a realistic way. I also wanted to open up conversations that are challenging and new, and that come from a relational place instead of the low-hanging fruit with all of the dynamics that happened down here.
Why did you decide to focus on vintage?
Those clothes make me feel good. It taps into the pride and the self-discovery of finding something that no one else has and tailoring it, if need be, to make it work for me. I like thinking about the stories that happened in the clothes before I found them.
For you, selling vintage clothing is also about being environmentally conscious.
We’re overproducing to a severe degree. It’s unrealistic to think that everybody is going to only buy vintage and have the energy and brain space to go and find those things and get them tailored, but if I could do that for myself and help other people do the same, I would feel great about that.
You mentioned that you feel vintage clothing can be about self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself through the years?
I’ve been really humbled by how much I was willing to sacrifice on behalf of making other people comfortable. I used to pride myself on being a curious person, and I still do, but I think some of that was born out of trying to find a way to assimilate. It’s hard to think back on times when you chopped off parts of yourself to make someone else feel comfortable.
Now, I’m in an empowered and explorative process of finding my actual voice and being willing to stick up for that — regardless of which community I’m in.
You travel all over the country to find vintage apparel for your online store, but is there anything about Delta Vintage that makes it uniquely Southern?
I think it’s a lot about how I style them. I come from a pretty traditional background, and my voice is feminine and classic, but also has kind of a masculine edge. There’s an ease to them; you can move in them. You can wear them in a bunch of different ways. But they’ve got a little funk to them, a little nuance.
Describe the woman who is your ideal customer.
She is both educated and trying to become better educated. She is confident and not afraid to be herself; she’s a free spirit. She’s asking herself and the people around her a lot of questions. She’s constantly trying to improve and taking ownership of the fact that the decisions that she makes have an impact while also seeing the good and being present and enjoying the day-to-day.
Where in Nashville do you go when you’re just shopping for yourself?
Do you have any favorite places in Nashville to see live music?
The Ryman, of course. It’s our most renowned venue. It’s incredible. That’s where I grew up, going to really good shows. And 3rd and Lindsley — they do great collaborations with our local radio stations.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Nashville?
What advice would you give other women looking to start their own businesses?
Surround yourself with people who are better at it than you are.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
You’re going to mess it up, and it’s not going to be perfect, but the doing is more important than being perfect. Be willing to try and put yourself out there and make something that isn’t the greatest thing that ever happened to the world, in order to get to the place where you really can settle into yourself.
Name three things you can’t live without.
Moroccan oil, my dog Scout and the Sonic Powerade Slush
Thank you, Claire. And thank you to Leila Grossman for the beautiful photos.
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