In the big storefront windows that look out over Nuuanu Avenue at Barrio Vintage, you might see Chanel mannequins dressed in ’60s-era Mod/Space Age fashion with kitschy metallic UFOs hanging up on fishing line. Depending on the month, it might be an homage to Tiki culture, with bright ’70s aloha shirts and ladies’ sundresses hanging on display. Or a surf inspired scene showcasing colorful swimwear.
Regardless of the theme for that month, the window display is impossible to miss. And it’s only a small sample of what’s inside the shop.
“There are at least 800 pieces in the store at any given time,” says Bradley Rhea, co-owner of Barrio Vintage, a boutique clothing store specializing in ’60s and ’70s retrowear in the heart of Oahu's Chinatown. “And we turnover about 200 or so items a week, so it’s constantly rotating.”
Rhea and his partner Jonathan Saupe started Barrio Vintage in 2011. Back then, they had just moved to Hawaii from Tuscon, Arizona, and were living in the Chinatown Artist Lofts. What began as an invitation to a few friends to come over for champagne and to try on vintage clothing that the couple had brought from the mainland turned into a regular pop-up shop at the lofts, more guests, and (way) more clothes.
By early 2012, Rhea and Saupe had turned their passion into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar shop only a few blocks away from the lofts, specializing in vintage clothing, accessories, and light houseware. In 2014, they moved across the street to their current location, a bright spot with big storefront windows.
“We change the display about once a month, each time with a different style starting from scratch,” says Saupe. “Sometimes the mannequins are naked because people come right in and buy the dresses or outfits they see as soon as they pass by.”
Although Rhea and Saupe maintain a storage facility to hold any additional pieces they have, for a secondhand store, clothing here moves surprisingly quickly. They’re a consignment shop that buys, sells, and trades, and the couple attends estate sales on the mainland several times a year, bringing back their new finds—some of which have even included classic aloha wear, purchased from Hawaii years ago, and ironically better preserved in the West.
“With the humidity in Hawaii, clothing doesn’t always last thirty or forty years, but in Tuscon or other dry areas around the country, it preserves stuff like a time capsule,” Rhea says. “You’d be amazed at what’s out there.”
Barrio Vintage’s clientele ranges from first time visitors to Hawaii exploring Chinatown, to residents just stopping by after work to pick up something chic before an event that evening. Novelty T-shirts, kimonos, little black dresses, paisley blouses—people can’t seem to get enough. On more than one occasion, Rhea and Saupe have seen customers come in, fall in love with a perfect outfit and wear it right out the door.
“Nowadays, you see a lot of clothing that goes for cheap that just ends up falling apart,” says Rhea. “The vintage stuff has lasting power. If you make a great find, you’re giving it new life. And who knows where you’ll take it next?”