Alum Earl Clark Jr.’s entrepreneurship journey in vintage fashion

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Earl Clark Jr. can remember when he was younger and would go to the thrift store with his mother even though he would rather be at the mall. But his mother said otherwise.

“She said, ‘We going to the thrift store, you gonna find something in here. You gonna have to hunt for it. But if you find you gonna find something you like and you gonna like it, and guess what, we ain’t gonna pay much for it,’” said Clark.

Clark graduated from Rowan in 2022 as a psychology major. While at Rowan, he would have his dressers and closet packed with many of his vintage clothes. 

“I had curated how it would be at home,” said Clark. “I don’t know what drove me to bring my whole wardrobe, but I guess it was just more like I can’t take something because what if I wanna wear or, I think about it, I don’t have it. So I’m the kind of that person. I bring everything, no matter how heavy or how much time it takes up.”

But what drove him to start his business “Vintage Breeds” was when he saw on Instagram, a guy posting pictures of his clothes and selling them on Instagram.  

“It’s genius,” said Clark “So I’m like, wait a minute. If I can this quickly get a shirt or a jacket in someone’s face through a phone, I don’t have to have a store.”

Clark would take photos of his vintage clothes in the middle of his dorm room or in the hallways of Willow Hall late at night to post and potentially sell his clothes.

“When I did that, it wasn’t that it sold immediately, but it gave me a social media presence,” said Clark. “And that back then was so important because everybody was still kind of like, not everybody, but a lot of people weren’t really looking to purchase something from off of Instagram. Like, go back to 2017, nobody.” 

Balancing school and starting a business was difficult but that wasn’t going to stop him from continuing to grow his business. 

“What’s the point of giving up? Are you gonna leave yourself with questions…” said Clark. “So that’s, so I just keep pushing.”

Earl Clark poses with a rack of his clothing for sale. – Photo via Earl Clark Jr

Clark would print out flyers to promote Vintage Breeds and give them out in the common areas in Rowan, he would be in the middle of the steps at the Student Center to give them out to passing students.

“I would be in the middle of the steps, sitting on the steps,” said Clark “You can’t miss me. I’m in the way,  I’m passing on a flyer ’cause I’m obvious. That was my thing to be open and obvious and, and just push what I believed in.”

His business would grow to the point where Clark needed a storage unit to store many of his clothes. People would come by the storage unit to buy clothing from Clark. Once Clark graduated, he was able to put more time into his growing business, where he could travel around the U.S. to places like California or Baltimore to sell his clothes.  

For Clark, it is much easier to sell his items online than to own an actual store. He can have people come to his storage unit or he can go to locations with his clothes on racks and tables and be able to set up and break down quickly to go to another location. This also has the benefit to lessen the likelihood of items being stolen or damaged Clark said. Clark brings his business to pop-up locations to sell his items and has taken it back to Rowan. 

Clark came back to Rowan as a vendor for the Rowan Black Student Union’s (BSU) third annual Obsidian Ball. 

Earl Clark poses in his graduation cap at Barnes & Noble. – Photo via Earl Clark Jr.

Graduating Rowan was a big deal for Clark as he wanted his mother to see him graduate. His mother had many health problems over the years and Clark did not know if she would be able to see him graduate and hoped she would get the chance too. 

“Finishing school was rough, but she did get the opportunity to see me graduate and that was all I wanted,” said Clark. “ That was really all that I was pushing for. Like if all fails, if nothing else worked or if I wasn’t successful with anything else, I wanted my mother to get a chance to see me do something as a first-generation student in my family. So she was able to see it and a couple of months later she passed away.”

Clark admitted that he wasn’t sure if wanted to finish his degree due to the success of Vintage Breeds at the time but it was his mother who told him to finish getting his degree. 

“I’m in California and I’m buying up vintage and I’m packing it up and I’m bringing it back,” said Clark. ”I’m figuring out how this business gonna grow. And she like, well, why would you be at almost over 80-something percent finished with your degree and not finish? When are you gonna get a chance for the state or anybody in these programs to cover free education? And I’m like, you know what? Wow. She was right. So I had to make the sacrifice.”

Earl Clark poses next to some of his vintage clothing. – Photo via Earl Clark Jr.

And that sacrifice seems to be paying off for Clark. Now done with school his focus is on his business and he wants customers to leave with more than just clothes. He wants them to leave with a piece of himself. 

“They leave with a piece of me and it is definitely important,” said Clark. 

Clark believes that the quality of clothes is worse than it was in the past. 

“We’re used to just going into the stores and we’re shopping with these bigger corporations and they’re just selling us the same thing,” he said. “Whatever the new movie is, whatever the new show is, whatever they push out these clothes, and I’m watching these stores like Walmart, Kmart, or Target … I’m not knocking these corporations and brands, but the quality of the clothes gets thinner, weaker, and the garments don’t last for this shirt to be as old as it is.”

For Clark, people are not just wearing vintage clothes, they are wearing a part of history. 

“It’s a chance for you to connect to history through clothing,” said Clark. “A lot of people don’t understand that. There’s timeframes where we weren’t here. Time periods when we weren’t here, and the culture and the fabrics and just the culture of how clothing was either worn or even made were just different. I want to be able to bring that and keep bringing it as I run this business, every year.”

Clark wants his customers to know that they are not here by accident. That different periods in the world occurred before their consciousness. For Clark, when he goes into a thrift shop to find clothes, he sees a fashion library.

“Somebody might have won an award or had the best moment of their life and they chose to pass it on,” said Clark. “And now you get to touch it. You don’t know the history. I’ve had people not say it’s the same piece, but oh my God, I had this when I was in ninth grade and I couldn’t find it. And I have to buy this from you ’cause it’s connected me to my childhood. These are the substantial things that I push for in terms of experiences and the results outta my business.”

The connection that he has made with people is what excites him about running his business.

 “People have taken pictures with me,” said Clark. “People have smiled and connected to memories through the business that I chose to run. Not just that they spent their money with me. So you spent your money and you left with a memory and you left with a physical memory, a mental one. That’s what we shoot for, bro. And I’m continuing to keep that model in my business because it’s been substantial for my growth and the connections to my customers.”

To find Clark or Vintage Breeds, you can follow @ec4bands or @vintagebreeds on Instagram.

For comments/questions about this story DM us on Instagram @thewhitatrowan or email thewhit.featureseditor@gmail.com

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