How One Creative Vagabond Made A Career Out Of Traveling And Shopping

A new age of style is dawning. No longer are Hawaiian shirts the sole territory of embarrassing dads on their yearly beach vacations. They’re now being recognized as full on fashion pieces. Trendy even. It’s a movement that vintage retailer Lindsay Bardwil is spearheading and capitalizing on. The world traveler and fashion curator actually specializes in vintage Hawaiian shirts.

Yes, Hawaiian shirt resale is a business… and business is booming.

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Making up the “Wil” part of the Unk & Will vintage lifestyle brand, Bardwil is a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate who has worn the designer’s hat, the painter’s beret, dabbled with fashion blogging, and is now falling into stride with a vintage collection and brand.

I met Bardwil at one of her pop-up shops in the New York City. She had three racks of clothing with the most unique pieces I’d ever seen in a second hand set up. From Parisian nighties in perfect condition, to sequined disco dresses and a few letterman sweatshirts from Ivy League schools in the 60s, I felt like I was looking at an editorial spread that was pulled for a fashion shoot.

Bardwil’s mixed experience in the fashion world has given her keen insight into the needs of her customers.She tells a story of an international trip, when she realized that the vintage pieces shoppers in America are looking for aren’t in America. They’re overseas. They’re in tiny thrift shops on the end of windy streets in Italy. They’re in chain donation centers in tourist-free zones of France. They’re in local markets in India. And so she started collecting.

Over the last few years, Bardwil has traveled the world pulling pieces from obscurity and bringing them to New York where she and her partner Keri Shunk curate pop-up shops and trunk shows in addition to hosting an online retail site.

“Keri and I are extremely passionate about traveling the world, exploring new places, and finding fabric and vintage pieces wherever we go,” Bardwil tells me. “Over the years we acquired a pretty vast collection.”

With such a collection, it would have been a shame not to share it, but Bardwil and Shunk weren’t just trying to clear out their closets, they also felt a strong pull to create a business that was environmentally responsible. Curating and selling vintage clothing was well suited to this ambition.

“It was an opportunity to transition and grow our business into something new and more sustainable,” Bardwil says, “something we both feel should be a top priority for all businesses today.”

Once they started selling their finds, Bardwil developed a reputation in the vintage world as a knowledgeable curator of the later part of the last century.

“We pull pieces from the 60s to the 90s,” she says. “We love unique pieces, whether that be an amazing jumpsuit from the 70s, a beautiful silk 80s Hawaiian shirt, or a classic distressed denim piece from the 90s.”

Bardwil explains that even though she’s pulling “old” clothes, they’re still very functional for the contemporary dresser.“Vintage doesn’t have to feel “old” if you wear it in a modern way. We want to build an appreciation in our generation in the quality and craftsmanship of vintage clothes, because the process just isn’t the same anymore.”

The trick of vintage, the mystery that people like Bardwil have figured out, is to understand the cyclical nature of style and know when things are about to pop. To anticipate the market and see patterns in fashion. Which brings us back to Hawaiian shirts.

“We personally have found a really cool niche with tropical Hawaiian ‘Aloha’ Shirts,” Bardwil says. “That’s what people come to us asking for, believe it or not! Plus, they are unisex, universal, and classic. You can get so fun and creative with them too; like tying them up cropped, or wearing an oversized one as a dress, or over an outfit as a duster or overcoat.”

Flipping through Badwil’s collection, I’m kind of in awe by how cool these boxy sunset blouses feel. Each shirt is a little postcard from a place far away and a time long ago. They’re the perfect focal point for the Unk & Wil brand — a mix of travel appreciation and vintage swag.

“I think people like special pieces that make them feel like they are wearing something one of a kind,” Bardwil says. “Something that has a story.”

You check out Unk & Wil’s next pop-up shop this summer. They’ll be debuting a special curation of Hawaiian shirts at Random Acts of creativity in Southhampton.