With seven stores throughout New Orleans, Trashy Diva has become a fashion fixture in the Crescent City. And where else could a name like that be so well received?
“I’ve thought about changing the name a million times, in fact, I still think about it,” says owner Candice Gwinn. “I just don’t like people getting the wrong idea. But it’s funny, actually. It’s been popular. We’ve sold a lot of T-shirts that say Trashy Diva.”
The name appealed to Georgia native Gwinn and her friend when they came to New Orleans in their early 20s to sell vintage clothing in the French Quarter. They liked it, not only for the idea of irreverent beauty it suggested, but because it described how they were literally taking other people’s “trash” and turning it into treasure.
“We started at 304 Decatur St. back in 1996,” Gwinn says. “The space was maybe 600 square feet. It was so small that it exists now as the bathroom for a club,” she laughs.
With extremely limited funds, the women started out selling what she describes as, “very low-end vintage” from the 1970s and ‘80s.
“It was basically what we could find or what someone gave us,” she says, noting that she would often have to make major repairs on garments – a skill that would serve her well in the future.
The girls’ big break came when they were offered the chance to purchase a warehouse of what turned out to be high-end vintage garments and jewelry for $1,000.
“That was it,” Gwinn says. “Suddenly we were high-end vintage dealers.”
While the clothing was selling in their store and online, Gwinn realized that people were loving the styles of the 1940s and ‘50s, just not the fit.
Thus began her foray into clothing design. Gwinn’s first pieces were a long silk and satin 1930s-style dress and coat.
“I sent them to this factory in China and ordered about 100 or 200 of each piece,” she says. “They came back looking great.”
Sales continued, and after Hurricane Katrina Gwinn became the sole owner.
Her collection of 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s-inspired clothing kept growing.
“Now we’ve got 2,000 or more pieces coming in every two weeks,” she says. Gwinn still designs all the clothing herself.
The Trashy Diva line has expanded to include lingerie, shoes and accessories sold in seven New Orleans locations, online and in boutiques worldwide.
Not a woman to rest on her stylish laurels, Gwinn has plans to open her first store out of New Orleans in the next few years.
“We’ve been looking and we haven’t found the right fit yet, but it will happen.”
mentor: I’d say that my mother has always been my best mentor. As a child I remember her being such a glamorous, independent hard worker. As a single mom and without a college education she worked her way up to being vice president of a bank, all while wearing four-inch heels!
defining moment: Cliché to say, but the birth of my children, (one is 6 and one is 2.5) I feel like having children has changed me so much more for the positive. It has made me a better person in every way – kinder, more tolerant and a much better multi-tasker!
advice for young women: Do what you’re passionate about. Do it everyday and be ready and willing to put in the time and pay your dues.
Anything worthwhile takes time and effort. Also, be willing to be poor for your dreams. If you aren’t willing to struggle then you probably don’t want it badly enough.
goals: I’d love to expand the Trashy Diva stores outside of New Orleans and have retail locations of our own in other cities. We sell the Trashy Diva brand in 75 or so boutiques worldwide, but have only retail locations in New Orleans.
favorite thing about what I do: I love being surrounded by so many talented and exceptional women. It feels like a family at Trashy Diva and I am so grateful to have so many amazing ladies to work with everyday.