Vintage clothing chain Branded opens Kent shop with sustainability mission

Mark Baxter/The Portager

Vintage fashion lovers have a new destination in downtown Kent with the opening of Branded at Kent on Black Friday.

The new store is just the second of a planned chain specializing in sustainability in the clothing industry and focusing on finding genuine vintage men’s and women’s wear.

Store manager Kelsi Biondo said the new store on East Erie Street happened in such a hurry that there was little time to announce its opening to the public, but she is planning a grand opening for early next year.

“We only signed the lease and got the keys a month ago,” she said. “It has been a lot of work getting ready and putting all the fixtures in.”

The brainchild of two veterans and brothers-in-law, the original store and warehouse is in Butler, Pennsylvania, and Biondo said Kent was an obvious choice for the second store.

Mark Baxter/The Portager

“It’s not too far away and has a good demographic with higher-than-average incomes, and the university has its own fashion school,” she said. “One of our team had been to college here and suggested it, so we looked at four or five sites and chose this one.”

Biondo joined the company not long after it was founded at its Butler location and jumped at the chance to head up the expansion into Kent.

“I just thought, ‘Why not?’” she said. “We have talked about opening more, and I may go ahead and help launch them.”

She said the founders, Lance Calvert and Brendan O’Brien, started the business in 2019 by reselling any items they could find, buying pallets and listing items on eBay, Facebook, Amazon and other online sites.

“In one of the shipments they bought was a box of old Harley T-shirts which went for over $100 each, and they were hooked on vintage fashion from then on,” she said. “At first, we had to rely on people bringing us vintage clothing, which we paid over the odds for. It can be very hard to find.”

The company now has its own recycling facility and sorts through more than 82,000 pounds of bundled clothing a month searching for vintage items for its stock.

“It is like mining for gold — only about 2% of each bale of clothing is vintage material,” Biondo said. “We are committed to driving down waste and creating sustainability in fashion. We do not send clothing to landfill.

“We focus on 1980s and ’90s vintage for the shop. There are those that say real vintage has to be ’50s and ’60s; there is a division in the community.”

Items not suitable for reselling in Branded at Kent are rebaled and exported to Africa, where everything is used. If an item cannot be worn, it still finds a new life in the rag trade.

Along with the vintage clothing, Branded at Kent has a full wall of iconic and collectable sneakers not on general sale in chain stores.

The company lists new vintage finds on its website every Thursday and on its Instagram page @brandedatkent.

Mark Baxter
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