Photos by Skylar Richardson
Roughly four years ago, a fledgeling business owner was selling vintage women’s clothing out of her apartment in Brookings, South Dakota, when she discovered her true passion for fashion — most importantly vintage fashion.
Vintage Willows, located in downtown Loveland, Colorado, is Kali Graff’s masterpiece. Going from a customer salesperson at a electronic parts supplier, to a savvy business owner with two vintage clothing shops in less than five years is truly an accomplishment.
“I have always had a passion for fashion and clothing, as well as business management, although it was only really a hobby when I first began selling thrift items,” Graff said.
The name Vintage Willows stems from the obvious vintage items sold at the stores, but “willows” comes from the street Graff grew up on in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She recalled the name just coming to her one night while admiring vintage finds.
“I started my online Etsy Shop in April of 2012,” she said. “I would sell clothes and other handmade items to people all over the U.S.”
Etsy was a place where Graff could share her great finds and gain profit.
“My business originally began in my apartment and on Etsy.com, then grew into a rented, 300 square foot office space in the fall of 2012,” Graff explained.
After the expansion, the business grew quite quickly.
Because of the amount of clothes she was was beginning to collect, she finally moved into a real store also in Brookings in January of 2013.
Graff, from a small town called Aberdeen, graduated from South Dakota State University, where she majored in consumer affairs. She always loved fashion, but searching for the priceless, can’t-find-anywhere, vintage clothing was a skill learned from her husband, whom she married earlier this year.
“I actually found the love for vintage clothing from my boyfriend, now my husband, Gordon Graff,” Graff said.
Gordon Graff, the thrifter and handyman, helped Graff remodel parts of her Loveland store to give it a sense of modern originality that sets the overall tone for the business.
“It was a little random how we chose to move to the Loveland area because many of Gordon’s friends were in Fort Collins,” Graff said, as she recalled the series of events leading up to finding the store on Fourth Street, which was affected by factors such as lack of available space and high rental rates in Fort Collins.
“This space [we found in Loveland] is why we fully decided to move, it was perfect,” Kail said.
The young couple made the move in May, 2014, and opened the Vintage Willows Loveland location on June 19, 2014. It has been a booming business since the day Graff put out her first window display.
In previous years, downtown Loveland was not typically the destination to go shopping for people of a younger age or any age for that matter. The curb appeal that Vintage Willows adds makes it feel like less of a ghost town and more like a lively place with hints of culture and style.
“I wanted to channel a slightly younger population and get more young shoppers in downtown Loveland,” Graff said when explaining the different items of clothing.
Graff explains further on her quest to narrowing her age demographic: “I know the demographic in Loveland versus. Fort Collins is obviously older, but I wanted to cater to a younger group because there simply was nothing for the younger generations in downtown, however many of my pieces that I sell are universal and can be worn by women of any age.”
Katie Sykes, an employee of Graff’s who also shoots and edits photos for the website, loves working for Graff.
“I have been working with Graff for almost one year, and have really enjoyed getting to know her personally, and getting to know the business she has created,” she said.
“I really admire her desire to support the community, carry local goods, and her overall desire to offer her customers unique items,” Sykes said.
Not only is Graff the owner of both stores, she also manages to be the main buyer for both of them as well. She travels to several different cities such as Chicago, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. She travels around three times a year and buys by season in the amount she knows will sell at the store.
The vintage items she finds by thrifting locally and on ebay and many of her goods, such as the jewelry, is sold to her by local metalsmiths and jewelry artists.
Graff has recently been printing a lookbook for Vintage Willows, so people can see the upcoming styles for the seasons that are modeled by local models and employees of Vintage Willows, and shot by Sandra Lee, owner of Shoebox Stories Photography.
“Creating the Lookbook gives me, Graff, and the models and or employees the opportunity to collaborate and express our creative “itch” for fashion and artistic photography,” according to Sandra Lee, photographer and author the Lookbook.
She expresses the love for the clothes, but also for Graff’s fashion expertise and how they portray teamwork throughout the whole process of making the Lookbook.
“I am super excited how the recent Lookbooks have turned out, I feel like they exemplify the true essence of the store and the product we sell,” Graff said while gazing through the glossy pages of her magazine.
Graff is excited by how things have taken off.
“I never imagined having a successful brick and mortar store when I started my Etsy shop in my apartment, let alone two,” she said. “I am beyond blessed and hope to keep to finding unique, affordable clothing pieces for my amazing customers.”
Entertainment reporter Skylar Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.