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After ironing a dress behind the cash register, Kayci Wheatley hangs the hot pressed frock in the front window of Moxie and the Compound, a popular Mary St. boutique carrying one-of-a-kind work made entirely by local designers. Retro funk plays on a radio as she takes me on a tour of the chic store she shares with friend Pam who runs Plume, the left side of the store that’s hung with a plethora of swanky high-end duds. On the Moxie side, you can actually buy T-shirts for around $30 -- couture cheap enough to redo an entire wardrobe.
Sixteen years ago, Kayci was living in LA when she got pregnant. Working at a music importing company, she just assumed that she would go back to her job right after she had her baby—that is, until the baby arrived. Opting for cheaper cars and a life of poverty so she could stay home with new baby Paullee, Kayci was forced to be creative.
“Paullee drooled a lot, Kayci recalls. “And I don’t know, why but we called her drool ‘flooby.’ So I made a bib out of a big puffy sleeve from a Laura Ashley dress, and lined it in vinyl. Friends started telling me I should sell my bibs. So I made a little pair of pants and a hat to match, called my line Flooby Company, after Paullee’s drool, and took the set to Fred Seagle, in LA. I didn’t know it was like the coolest store in the world and I would need balls bigger than Texas to walk in there and say, ‘You wanna buy my clothes?’”
Flooby Company led to two other lines of clothes by Kayci: Hank and Paullee, and Yid Kids, a hilarious line of baby and toddler clothes touting common Yiddish words and phrases. Kayci insists she’s not a creative genius, but simply a “take action” kind of person.
“I come up with an idea, like opening up a store and carry it through,” she says. “Other people will just have great ideas and never do anything about it. And, you know, I just fly by the seat of my pants, and I just do it.”
Recently, Kayci sat down for a chat with AustinMama.com about life as a mom and official don of the local fashion mafia.
AustinMama.com: Can you tell me a funny memory about motherhood?
Kayci Wheatley: When my daughter
was four, I had this thing where I didn’t like being called a Lady. It
isn’t like you’re a girl. That means I’m supposed to sit up straight
and I don’t want to. And I used to spew all this stuff to my daughter. I was at a department store and the salesman came up and said,
“May I help you ladies?” Paullee, I swear to God said, “Don’t you
call my mom a lady. She’s no lady!” And I just started laughing so
AM: How do her tastes differ from yours?
KW: Not a lot really, she wears
some of my old vintage clothes. And I have a favorite pair of my Joan and
David boots from back in the 1980s, and she wears them all the time now.
We’re pretty similar. She
actually wants one of Kathy Sever’s Ramonster dresses and I’m like
‘Save your money.”
AM: What does your husband think of Moxie and the Compound?
KW: He loves it. He’s a part of all these crazy ideas I have. He takes care of all the books and stuff for me.
AM: Why did you move to Austin?
KW: Well, because we didn’t want to raise Paullee in Los Angeles. I started getting paranoid. I had friends who were getting carjacked in the middle of the day. We used to get our sewing done in downtown LA and it’s a little sketchy. I had Paullee in the car with me one time and I started getting kinda like, “Someone was going to carjack me with my baby in the car.” Southern California is also expensive. She was going to be starting school soon and we couldn’t afford a private school. So, we decided to move. We had our own business so we could move anywhere. And people were saying, ‘Austin, Austin, Austin…” So we came to check it out and thought, “This is the coolest town ever. Look at all these people.” And little did we know we were here during SXSW. And we were like “This town frigging rocks, man!” And my husband was a drummer in a band. And because of SXSW, we knew we would see people from LA once-a-year. So we said, “Let’s do it.”
AM: Did it take you a long time to adjust?
KW: Yes! It took me a long time to adjust because we worked out of our home. So we didn’t know anyone. You know, how do you meet people? Paullee wasn’t even in school. When she started we met a few people.
AM: Do you have one wish for each and every Austin Mama?
KW: I’d probably wish every Austin Mama a good night’s sleep. I don’t know why, but I appreciate that more than anything. We all need good sleep, as boring as that answer is.
AM: Was there ever a rough patch that you hit when you weren’t sure whether or not you were going to make payroll, or rent?
KW: No, because it grew at a reasonable rate, although I did make a mistake in designing my own fabric. You can’t use 6,000 yards if you’re a teeny tiny company. I just used it every season in my line, and changed it up a little bit. It took me years to get rid of that fabric. When I started up my business, I didn’t research anything or do a business plan because, if I have a business plan, like you’re supposed to do that, then I won’t do it. You can’t make it happen. It’s really hard to be successful. I almost become immobilized by, “You need this kind of money and that kind of money.” So if I just do it and make it up as I go along, then I have fun at my work.
AM: It’s hard to buy basics without going to Old Navy. I need practical stuff I can wear. And it doesn’t need to be dirt cheap, but it can’t…
KW: It can’t be $100 for a fucking T-shirt. I can’t afford that. You know, when I had my first company, I couldn’t afford to shop in the stores I sold to, which is how I came to this. I mean, it’s like you’re home, you’re creative, there are very few baby clothes designers that I know personally who aren’t moms. And it came from having an idea once you have a baby. And it all ends when we don’t have to stay home with the baby anymore. You see, now that my kids are older, I don’t want to do that. I worked in my home up until two-and-a-half years ago, and I haven’t had a job, I mean a real job, until I opened this store and my daughter is almost seventeen now. So far I was able to do it. So, that’s what I wanted to do.
AM: Do you have any advice for moms who want to start up their own enterprise?
KW: Yeah, just go for it! What’s the worst that could happen? You fail. So what? I mean, I’ve failed at a lot of stuff, but I just start all over. Don’t become immobilized by the fear of not succeeding, or not making enough money or whatever it is. Just do it. And, it’s fun.
AM: How do you continue to balance motherhood with work?
KW: I don’t think I’m very good at it. I mean, Henry (7) comes here every day and hangs out with me.
AM: How do you keep him out of stuff?
KW: He has a play-room. I know when I’m a mom and I’m shopping, I wish I could have a place I could put my kid. And, all the customers bring their kids and they play in the play-room. Henry either watches TV or he plays on the computer. But he doesn’t want to go anywhere else, I put in Creativity Club at the Daugherty Arts Center and he’s like “Uhhh, I miss you!” And I’m like, “Whatever. Come on in to work with me.”
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AM: What is the best thing about owning your own store?
KW: It’s important for me to have fun in my work, and that means getting to chat with a bunch of different people.
AM: What are you looking for in a new designer?
KW: It’s almost like if you’re a designer in Austin, I want to support you and let you be in here. But, if I don’t think I can sell your stuff whether I like it or not, then I tell people that. Because they are just going to be paying me rent and not selling anything. I used to take anybody. Now, I just want to like it and think I can sell it.
AM: Is the clothing cottage industry in Austin improving, growing or changing? Are there more people doing it now because they are moms and nobody will hire them?
KW: I think all of the above definitely. I don’t know if it is getting bigger or I only think it is because I am in it. But when I first opened, there were no other stores in Austin that carried only local designers. I hope my designers make more money here than they do at other places. If you’re like Kathy [Sever] and you sell a lot, you make more money here than you do wholesale.
AM: What do you want to say to mothers who think they can’t afford the clothes at Moxie.
KW: I think they have to realize that the clothes I sell were made by somebody who lives up the street from them. They can at least feel better knowing that they are putting money in Kathy Sever’s pocket or my pocket as opposed to a big corporation’s pocket. They are paying for the time for this one girl to sew this one dress. Usually designers devalue themselves so the prices are not as high as they should be. So, even if you go into the stores that I consider not that expensive like Urban Outfitters or Banana Republic, our prices are way lower than that.
AM: Why is Moxie and the Compound important to Austin?
KW: Because it gives Austin a place for local designers to express themselves. It’s important because it’s fun, especially for moms, because if you just had a baby and you are losing your mind, you have a creative outlet for yourself.
AM: You mean as a designer or as a mom?
KW: Both! Mom’s come in here and they are like, “Oh, I can’t afford it,” Or they say, “I wanted to make this,” and I’m like “Then do it!” But it inspires them, and it makes me feel good to have mothers say that.
Thank you, Kayci!
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