Lauren Flagg, founder of the sustainable streetwear brand Obviously Vintage, is an entrepreneur on a mission to spread awareness about the importance of eco-friendly fashion. Originally from North Carolina, Flagg traveled to Atlanta to kickstart her professional career in fashion design after graduating from the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham in 2017. Inspired by nostalgic designs from the 1980s and 90s, Flagg started Obviously Vintage in 2018, a homage to her teenage and young adult years spent thrifting and repurposing clothes.
After five years of growing her business locally, Flagg earned an opportunity earlier this year to promote her business on a global scale. Flagg was selected along with five other U.S.-based designers this year to have her work featured in international retailer SHEIN’s collection of sustainable pieces, as part of the company’s evoluSHEIN by Design initiative. All six designers participated in the company’s designer incubator program, SHEIN X – an project dedicated to scoping out and partnering with new talent in the fashion industry. Flagg’s designs from the collaboration are available for browsing and purchase on SHEIN’s website.
The Atlanta Voice spoke with Flagg about Atlanta’s status as a rising fashion destination, her collaboration with SHEIN and her aspirations for Obviously Vintage’s future.
Atlanta Voice: Your interest in fashion stemmed from your love of art as a kid. In what ways is being a fashion designer similar to being a visual artist using more traditional mediums (a painter, photographer, etc.)?
Lauren Flagg: Being a Fashion Designer is similar to being a visual artist because I am expressing myself through my designs and I am turning my art into wearable fashion. As an artist I painted pieces that made me happy, now I design clothing that makes me and my customers happy.
AV: You’ve mentioned being particularly attracted to clothing from the 1980s and 90s once you entered high school, which inspired you to start thrifting for pieces that fit this specific style. What was it about fashion from this era that caught your eye during your young adult years?
LF: Fashion from the 80’s and 90’s was so iconic and effortless. It shaped the current generation of fashion trends. We see styles like the Bomber Jacket, Flannels, Slip Dresses, Cargo pants/shorts etc. being carried throughout the years. We just continue to elevate these styles, but it can never be replaced. That’s what I love the most, we always repeat these trends, but we put our own twist to them. These classic silhouettes and styles will continue to have longevity and will continue to make an impact on today’s fashion trends.
AV: You grew up in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, but moved to Atlanta after college to pursue your dream of fashion design. Why did the city appeal to you, and how does Atlanta’s fashion scene differ from those discussed more often in American media (i.e., New York, Los Angeles, etc.)?
LF: To be honest, my family wanted me to go to New York first because I have family from New York. I was afraid of the big city, because I am such a county girl. I am not used to the fast life at all and I like driving my own vehicle. I wanted to move to Atlanta, because I saw that Atlanta was a good mix of city life and country life. I love the culture here, seeing people that look like me and that I could relate to, that was another deciding factor for me. I started to look into the fashion scene, but I did not see that much movement or impact. The Music industry and beauty industry was the only thing really making noise, so I decided to take a chance and make some noise of my own in the fashion industry. The fashion scene in Atlanta differs from other cities because it is still finding its voice. Atlanta had rappers like Outkast that really shook up the scene for fashion, but again that was back in the 90s. I see the industry elevating more and more since I’ve been here, and I love everything that I am seeing. You have the creatives really leading the scene for fashion right now.
AV: You launched your clothing brand, Obviously Vintage, in 2018. What does the name ‘Obviously Vintage’ mean?
LF: The name ‘Obviously Vintage’ was a play on words when I first came up with the name. When I would be out with friends, I would see someone wearing a vintage designer brand, I would spot it and say, “oh that’s a vintage piece obviously.” Then I started thinking to myself, when I up-cycle my pieces from the thrift store, I want people to still recognize that it’s vintage. I started to say its vintage obviously, but it wasn’t doing anything for me, so I changed the words around and named my brand Obviously Vintage, OV for short. After that it just stuck, and it was the best way to describe my brand.
AV: How has the business evolved in the five years it’s been active?
LF: The business has evolved a lot. I went from making one of one pieces to having full collections on the worldwide e-commerce site SHEIN. It changed my life. I would spot my own pieces being worn at events, someone doing a get ready with me on IG and even doing clothing Hauls with my pieces. I didn’t think this would even happen in a five-year span. I am so proud and it is continuing to evolve each year!
AV: You’re one of six U.S.-based designers who have released collections through SHEIN X’s Designer Incubator Program. How did this partnership come about?
LF: This partnership came about when a friend of mine reached out and said “Hey! There’s a program on SHEIN that lets emerging designers showcase their collections on their site”. Soon after I did some research and applied to be in the program. I heard from the team probably not even three days later, asking me to design for the upcoming FALL/WINTER season. Then the rest was history. I never looked back and SHEIN has given me the opportunity to drop four collections with them in the last three years. I am so grateful and thankful for this amazing team and all the people that have played a hand in helping get this far within the program.
AV: What’s the inspiration behind your current collection, and where do you normally seek inspiration as a designer?
LF: The inspiration behind this current collection was for my ladies that are always on the go and just need something cute and quick to throw together. I am always in a rush, and I never think about what I am going to wear beforehand, so I wanted to create pieces that were timeless, easy, casual, and can be worn multiple ways and multiple times. I am all about getting as many wears out of my clothes that I can. When you have a good ‘go-to’ piece that you can just throw on with anything, it just automatically puts you in a great mood and makes life easy! I normally think about how I can make dressing fun and easy for my everyday guy or girl and that’s where I seek my inspiration. It’s all about my customer at the end of the day and how I can make them as comfortable and confident in OV pieces.
AV: What did your time spent thrifting as a teenager teach you about sustainable fashion? Did you always want to factor sustainability into your brand when considering launching your own business?
LF: When I was thrifting at that age, I really didn’t know much about sustainability and how it affects the environment. As I got older and went to college, I learned more about it in my fashion classes. I then began to realize, like wow, I was actually playing a small part in helping the environment by up-cycling ready-made clothing. After realizing that, I made a point to make sure all my one of one pieces would either be up cycled or made with sustainable fabrics.
AV: How do you hope to use your brand to educate others about the importance of sustainable fashion?
LF: I hope that the mission behind my brand will encourage people to care more about being less wasteful, hold on to their clothes longer and also do their part in rehoming clothes that they no longer can wear. There are a lot of people in need, so giving clothes to the less fortunate can also play a part in sustainability. I want people to also start checking their tags to see where their items are coming from, what is it made out of and start there. Once you educate yourself on what you are actually wearing and making a switch to buying only sustainable products, that is the first step towards a better future.
AV: What’s the most challenging aspect of running a small business? What’s the most rewarding aspect?
LF: The most challenging aspect of running a small business is knowing where to start and how to keep the business running. I’ve met a few people that have said they started their own business, but it ended up falling through. I was always afraid of that. I have taken a small break and had to step away in the early stages of my business, but I never left it completely. I educated myself more about the business and continued to work through the obstacles. The most rewarding aspect of running a small business is seeing people’s reactions to my clothing and seeing them happy and satisfied with my product. It’s literally the best feeling in the world. I love to ask for feedback and to see how I can continue to evolve in my craft.
AV: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business or brand but might be too afraid to take that initial leap to entrepreneurship?
LF: I want entrepreneurs and all creatives to know that as long as you believe in yourself and continue to be consistent, dedicated and passionate you will achieve whatever it is your heart desires. Never give up on yourself even if it feels like the world is against you. Always do your research and continue to educate yourself on your business/craft. It’s always going to seem scary or hard but it’s worth the risk!
AV: Where do you see Obviously Vintage in five years’ time?
LF: I see Obviously Vintage in stores across the world, in more fashion shows and hopefully on the big screen! The sky is not the limit, so OV is definitely going above and beyond the limitations. I see greatness for my brand and the world will see it too…obviously!