Behind The Vintage: Panache

Panache is defined as “flamboyant confidence of style or manner” and that’s exactly what you can expect from the brand Panache. Panache turns regular second-hand garments into one-of-a-kind that are sure to catch your eye. From design and creation, Panache pulls inspiration from everyday items like bagels and baguettes, but Panache is more than just a creative upcycling brand — it’s a brand that tells stories, starts conversations, and connects people through puns.

Read the full interview about where Panache gets inspiration from, how they manage imposter syndrome, and what it’s been like learning new skills for a small-business in our latest “Behind The Vintage” interview below.

Tell us about how you started Panache!

Well, from a young age I knew two things were true: one, I loved fashion and it was how I expressed myself and two, I hated authority haha. I guess those two things morphed into starting Panache 20 years later. I always loved adding something to my clothes to make them my own and help me stand out, some Panache if you will. I knew that I wanted to create products that were unique, which helped people tell their personal story and make connections with other humans over the love of say, a bagel. The power of someone complimenting your bag can start a conversation that could change your whole journey, which sounds dramatic but I’m a little dramatic, I guess.

Other than that, it’s the same old story. I worked in a creative field, hated my job and felt like I was putting so much energy into creating things for other people (that they would inevitably suck all the creativity out of) so I, much like the plot of a cringe-y but somehow addictive lifetime Christmas movie, quit my stable, well-paying job to chase a passion on a whim. I didn’t know if Panache would succeed or not, I hadn’t even launched yet but I believed in myself and what I wanted to create so much I didn’t even let my mind think of the possibility of failure. I knew I would keep trying and pushing until it succeeded because this new path will always and forever be more fulfilling than whatever journey I was on before.

How do you decide what to paint, where do you get inspiration from?

It’s cliche to say “inspiration is everywhere”, but it is. The bag that started it all, our gluten-free baguette, came about because that style of bag was coined the “Baguette” bag by Fendi, and I thought it would be hilarious to put a baguette on a baguette bag!

I enjoy the unexpected (when it comes to art…) so when I find something that seems cool to paint, I think about what would be an unexpected way to bring this to life, or how can I make something old seem relevant to today. Like the troll doll I love doing, I replaced the iconic gem belly button with an ESC key so that it would now represent the internet trolls you can’t escape.

Other pieces have been just random thoughts or puns that have popped into my head. I also have a lot of books that I pull inspiration from when it comes to color palettes. But mainly, I have a theme or concept in mind, and then I find ways to bring it to life in a new way or with a twist. Obviously I do a lot of food related paintings, so the fridge is a big inspiration. Someone will order something new, and I’ll see it in the fridge and my brain will be like “who ordered nutritional yeast? Wait... nutritional yeast would be funny painted on a bag…” and that happens about 193545 times a day, and then I spiral because I have too many thoughts and not enough hands, and then I calm down and just start painting.

Do you have an art background? How did you cultivate your creativity and skill with painting?

Definitely don’t have a formal degree or anything fancy, but I’ve just always been a creative person. I thrived in art classes growing up, being creative and hands-on was how I expressed myself. Any chance I could get to learn a new skill I would, like pottery, painting, basket weaving, balloon art. It was like learning a new language, a new way to speak to people.

With Panache, it’s a lot of trial and error. Sometimes I’m so inspired and I just want to paint, so I start painting and play around until it’s my version of perfect, but I can also end up sketching before I paint to plan it out a bit better.

Why is it important to you that the pieces be vintage?

Obviously, there is the sustainability factor of buying and circulating items that are already in existence. Although it is not the most sustainable option, buying vintage and pre-loved is a great option. Beyond the sustainable factors that are important, Panache is a story-telling brand told through clothes and accessories, and what has more of a story to tell than a purse that’s been around since 1953? I personally have always strived to have one-of-a-kind pieces in my closet. When I find a vintage bag and paint a new story on it, it’s now the most unique version of itself, which is what I hope people feel and celebrate when they wear my pieces. Also, how fricken dope are vintage pieces? They literally do not make them like they used to, and that’s an aggressive opinion!

What are some of the challenges of starting your own business?

The biggest challenge is having to learn things that are not in your wheelhouse. I focus on the creative side, sourcing items, conceptualizing designs. This in itself can be a challenge, but a challenge I am familiar with and enjoy. When you consider the business side of things like pricing, taxes, IT, customer service, shipping rates, etc.m you have this moment where you’re like “Oh, I’m in the wrong class, I didn’t sign up for this.”

It truly is like going to school, which I HATED, but the good thing about this school is that it is like a trade school for exactly what you want to do in life. I literally learn something new every single day out of necessity. The challenge is in the constant learning, and the application of those learnings immediately, but it evens itself out because it's all focused on the one goal of bettering your business.

What's the biggest learning you've had from running Panache?

To be kinder to myself. I have these wild and elaborate visions and ideas for pieces or shoots, and when they don’t come to life exactly how I imagined in my head, I have these *minor* meltdowns. I have learned that I need to unlearn my previous standards, because those standards came from a corporate job where shoots came with a million dollar budget and a team of 60. I’ve learned to redefine perfection and redefine success and hold myself to the simpler question of “Does this still make you happy?”. I know as Panache grows those ideas and shoots will come to fruition, but that may not be tomorrow. Giving myself that permission to live in my current “perfection”, and just be kinder with what I say to myself has positively affected Panache, as well as me personally.

Is there any advice you'd give people interested in getting into the vintage space?

Do it, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Don’t do it because it’s trendy, don’t do it because so and so said you could make money. Do it because you love it, because vintage or upcycling or whatever your niche is, is all you think about and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Because it isn’t easy! Sourcing items, cleaning items, mending items, and all that comes with the territory is A LOT, and if you don’t love what you do, you’ll look over those details and won’t honor the pieces. It’s a saturated space, especially now that everything is online and on instagram, so I believe if you want to succeed and grow your brand, you have to find an angle that makes you unique, find your niche and then add on that to make it even more niche.

Is there a favorite project or bag that you've created?

That’s like asking what my favorite child is! I have a problem where I create things, then want to keep them all. I loved all the collaborations I’ve done. We’re living in such a unique moment in history being so far from people, but the collaborations were that sense of humanity that I really needed over the course of 2020/2.

Getting to work with like-minded, creative people was such a breath of fresh air from the constricted career I came from. I do have pieces that I’ll never sell. I say I’m putting them in my Panache vault. I have a small purse that I painted a bodega on, I called it “Bodega Venetta” and that piece reminds me of the bodega that was right below the apartment where Panache all started so it might be my favorite, and a piece I’ll keep.

Talk to us about imposter syndrome - do you struggle with that at all?

Abs-f*c%kng-lutely. I think most creative people are inherently emotional. so with great emotions comes great imposter syndrome. I think it comes out most when I’m pricing my items. I’ve done the math, I’ve worked with people who have done the math for me, and yet when I see what I should be charging as a number, on paper, I’m like “Who me? Oh I’m not worth that”.

I love my art, I love what I do, I wear what I create, I know I have a unique angle (even typing this is making the imposer sweats come out), but yet I don’t feel worthy of the appropriate price. I find I have to force myself to stop if something good has happened, and sit there for 15 minutes to mentally acknowledge the achievement.

Where do you see Panache in 5 years? What are your wildest dreams for Panache?

Five years from now I see Panache thriving! I see us having a little storefront, maybe creating our own bags or jackets from vintage fabrics or textiles along with what’s painted on them. I see it as a well-oiled machine with a team that can help bring my wildest creations and ideas to life. Panache’s unofficial, official tagline has always been “Add some Panache to…”

Whether it’s a bag or a jacket, my goal has always been to add some Panache to it. I’ve been creating some prototypes of these “add ons” that people can buy and add to pieces they already have at home to upcycle and give them new life, since the most sustainable option when it comes to fashion is shopping in your own closet. Hopefully in five years, those add ons will be available!

Wildest dreams? So many! I would love to create pieces for some Met Gala level event, music video or movie!

photo by Celia D. Luna