At the end of the day, the most sustainable clothing purchase you can make is buying the thing you will actually wear and not throw out when the new thing comes out a month later. It’s just about being mindful.Mike McMillon, Grit & Kin
When I managed a seafood shop at a grocery store, I bought almost all of my clothes from the local Salvation Army. Between the markup for someone’s old high school play t-shirt and the bell-ringers outside, I burned out on it pretty quick.
Fast-forward a few years, and a re-budded interest in previously-loved clothing to compliment my heritage wardrobe intersected with meeting Mike McMillon of Grit & Kin, a one-man, DC-based vintage resale brand. Last summer I did an interview on his podcast, and we worked together on the team that produced last summer’s RAW event. As we got talking, the time felt right (with his help) to find some good pieces. I had Mike curate a small collection of vintage goodness for me – both to integrate into my wardrobe and to document the process.
That being said, there’s a big difference between someone’s old band tee and a classic vintage piece that has withstood the test of time. I had a lot of questions for Mike around vintage how-to’s, sustainability, and where to begin. I couldn’t keep the findings to myself – read on for the answers and a short interview with the man himself.
Also worth noting – I’ll be sharing another post later in the week with the contents of Mike’s haul, as well as my thoughts on the pieces and the overall vintage experience so far. So read on, but stay tuned!
LF: What’s the rundown on Grit & Kin? When did you get into vintage, and when did you make the jump into starting a brand?
MM: Some part of me has always been connected to vintage, the dust and the grit. I used to spend a lot of time with my grandparents, who were junkers in Missouri’s Bootheel. They bought little things for a few bucks they could fix up and flip, always had odds and ends around the house, curiosities. Four years ago or so I moved from the Midwest to the East Coast and started picking here and there to fill time between jobs. I would find an old worn-out, dried up pair of work boots and fix them up. I fell in love with the thrill of the hunt, the research, and the people I would meet along the way. It wasn’t really until a year and a half ago or so that I realized while it did give me something to do between jobs, the real reason I was hunting and pecking for oddities wasn’t to kill time but was really me connecting with my home and my family. I have been hooked ever since.
As far as the brand, I think I just did what a lot of small brands do – I got deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. The more I learned, the more I re-evaluated, refined, and specialized.
I operated the shop under the name Blacksmith Fine & Found for a few years, but when I launched the website and started doing more events and curated work for clients, I brought the shop back to its roots and rebranded to Grit & Kin.
Grit & Kin Vintage is hungry for the grimy forgotten goods, the one of a kind and the things built to last. I pick pieces that tell a story, connect me to community and always nod back to history, and to family.
LF: Obviously, modern American heritage brands pull inspiration from the classic heritage brands and silhouettes, but I’m pretty clueless on how the two interconnect. When it comes to folding in a good vintage piece or two into a wardrobe like mine, where would you advise starting?
MM: I think it’s important not to force it. Just like with new heritage goods, don’t buy just to buy. Buy with intention. Buy pieces that speak to you. For someone like you who appreciates well made goods & heritage wear but already has a pretty curated wardrobe, with your staples covered, I think it’s about finding pieces that just compliment your “go-to’s”.
It can be tempting to go all in on awesome vintage overalls because of the character, the history. But if you are new to vintage, you might start with simple pieces that you can layer into your outfits. A good faded crewneck or zip-up sweat, a basic 1950’s blank tee with some character goes with anything, timeless. A vintage denim trucker or French Chore Coat are also versatile staples that make a subtle statement.
LF: Part of my hesitance to get some good vintage pieces has been fear of ruining or breaking a piece that has lasted longer than my lifetime. I’m sure these pieces have lasted because they’re built that way, but how do you care of vintage clothing?
MM: A lot of what I carry in the shop was designed to last generations. In the 1940’s, a person who worked on a farm or in a factory didn’t have the money to buy a new pair of denim bottoms or a new coat for winter days on the line every 6 months. They bought one good item that they new would take care of them for decades and companies made things that way back then. So I think you said it, they have lasted because they’re built that way.
That said, depending on the age or the condition, you may have a piece that could use a little extra attention. You may not want to wash a fragile or delicate item in the regular washer/dryer so you might soak, hand wash and hang dry. You may also snatch up something that could use an occasional small stitching, mend or patch to extend its life.
If you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask your vintage dealer before or even after you buy. It’s their job to get you the best information they can.
LF: Between big-box businesses twisting the meaning and general overuse, “sustainability” is a buzzword that has had its meaning diluted in the last year or two. What does sustainability mean to you, and how does the concept play into the vintage resale market?
MM: Yeah man, “slow fashion” is part of the style zeitgeist as much as using the word zeitgeist is a part of the zeitgeist these days. The short answer is yes, sustainability is a definite benefit to buying vintage or second hand, but I would be lying if I said it was my primary motivator.
We can talk about keeping clothes out of landfills or avoiding giving massive corporations our money to make clothing cheaply. Of course its important to know where your money is going and generally when you shop a small vintage dealer you can be pretty sure you are supporting their passion and for many, keeping a roof over their heads. All important things.
At the end of the day, the most sustainable clothing purchase you can make is buying the thing you will actually wear and not throw out when the new thing comes out a month later. It’s just about being mindful.
LF: Any general advice for someone looking to get into vintage from a point of minimal experience?
MM: Vintage is for everybody and every-body. You don’t need to be a full on vintage-hound hipster to own a 60+ year old piece or two. Stay true to yourself but be curious.
Not sure where to start? Unsure about sizing? There are a lot of really nice folks running small shops who would be happy to help point you in the right direction. Despite the crippling affliction known as dumb-face I suffer from in all my photos, I think I’m pretty nice and approachable, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
Remember, clothes don’t have a gender and a style doesn’t belong to any one type of person. The right piece for you is the thing you think is dope. It’s just clothes.
Big thanks to Mike for his generosity in time, expertise, and answers. As I said, I’ll be tossing another post up here later in the week with Mike’s picks and my review. I haven’t even shown you the best one yet. Hold tight.