Inc. 5000 Update: Historical Emporium
Fashion may be cyclical, but who knew that you could get rich selling clothing that dates back 150 years? Alicia Allen and her husband, Chris, co-founders of Historical Emporium, have done just that, by peddling garments from Victorian England and the American Old West. Sales hit $2.4 million in 2009, helping the company capture the No. 1,400 spot on the Inc. 5000.
In 2003, Chris and I were working in Silicon Valley. With two kids at home, I wanted more flexibility. My father-in-law ran a business selling clothing and accessories to Civil War reenactors. We decided to build an e-commerce site to sell those same things.
After a year, we decided to offer more clothing from the Victorian era. That's when things took off.
We tapped a niche market. It's a mix of individuals who want to dress up, as well as theaters, TV and movie studios, and museums. We sell to Disney World and the New York Metropolitan Opera. We do a ton of research and go to a lot of trade shows to find the best items.
We don't spend a lot of time overanalyzing things. We like to make things happen quickly and see what sticks.
The beautiful thing about being a bootstrapped business is that we aren't trying to please anyone other than ourselves. We have structured our company so that we can provide excellent service—and stillhave flexibility.
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Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.