Angie Snow was 4 when she opened her first pop-up boutique.
The toddling entrepreneur loaded her red wagon with drawings and hair bows she made herself, then went door-to-door in her Leawood neighborhood selling the stuff.
“She came back with a pocketful of money,” remembers Snow’s mom, Barbara Gagnon.
Twenty-five years later, Snow has again combined her creativity with business savvy to create MoVi, a boutique housed in a beautifully restored Airstream trailer. At MoVi Modern Vintage Mobile Boutique, Snow sells vintage women’s clothing she has updated with modern touches and tailoring. Snow, a visual designer for Hallmark by day, on Saturdays parks her mobile boutique in Westport and on First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District.
MoVi is tiny at a mere 150 square feet, but it embodies a huge accomplishment for Snow, who says she has dreamed for as long as she can remember of owning a boutique.
It started with the hair bows and the wagon. When Snow was a little older, she expanded her business portfolio with lemonade stands. She stretched herself as a designer by making head-to-tail ensembles for her cat. She even ventured into interior design.
When her parents told her she could make over her bedroom, Snow brought the outdoors in by covering the floor with grass-green Astroturf and painting the walls sky blue with puffy white clouds.
“I was amazed at the things she could do,” Gagnon says.
In high school at Bishop Miege, Snow became more interested in fashion. She remembers redesigning her prom dresses to make them one of a kind. After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles to study journalism and communications at California State University, but quickly found a different focus.
“I realized I wanted to do (fashion) for the rest of my life,” she says.
Snow considered opening her own boutique, but “insane” rental prices in L.A. put that idea on hold. She got a job as a personal assistant for an interior designer, then a film director. During that gig, she spent two summers living in Iceland, surrounded by filmmakers, artists and musicians who were living their dreams.
“These people just go for it,” she remembers noting. Snow vowed to do the same. She moved back to Kansas City in 2005. One night she went to a friend’s barbecue and met Gary Snow, a former high school classmate she hadn’t really known that well. She immediately knew Gary would be her husband some day, and she was right. The couple married four years later, in 2009.
After moving home to Kansas City, Snow worked as an interior design consultant at Curious Sofa, a now-closed boutique in Prairie Village that displayed beautiful housewares and accessories in a quirky, carefully stylized environment. One Halloween, the boutique had (fake) black crows perched on its sparkly chandeliers and skunk statuettes crawling across pretty bed linens. You don’t see that at Pottery Barn.
In 2008, she became assistant manager of the couture department at Halls. Working full time in fashion inspired her to revisit the idea of opening her own shop. She loved the thought of buying a trailer and opening a mobile boutique. The overhead costs would be lower (no rent or utilities!), and she wouldn’t be pegged to a neighborhood or a strict set of hours. But there was one problem: At the time, food trucks and pop-up businesses were big on the coasts, but they hadn’t caught on in Kansas City.
That changed last year, when Kansas City chef Alex Pope started a pop-up restaurant called Vagabond, and a fleet of food trucks rolled out, selling indulgences such as coffee cake and meatballs. One of the most popular was Port Fonda, a gourmet taco truck in a shiny silver Airstream trailer. Port Fonda’s chef and owner, Patrick Ryan, is working on opening a permanent, brick-and-mortar version of the eatery, this summer in Westport.
The success of those businesses showed Snow that local consumers were ready for a pop-up clothing store. She found an Airstream dealer 150 miles away in Marion, Kan., and convinced him to sell her a busted trailer that he had been using as a storage unit.
Gary Snow was excited about his wife’s mobile boutique idea, especially because it meant he got to buy a pickup truck. But he wasn’t immediately excited about the Airstream that Angie had picked out.
The exterior was dull with oxidation, for starters.
“It was missing a door and four windows, the electrical (system) was old, the floor was dry-rotted, the tires were dry-rotted,” Gary Snow says. But the price was right. “We towed it from the middle of Kansas to De Soto, where her mom lives. That was the beginning of the adventure.”
When Angie’s mom saw the trailer, she had Gary park it behind her shed so neighbors wouldn’t see it.
“It was a pile of ju-unk,” Gagnon says.
Later, the Snows moved the trailer to Gary’s sister’s yard in Lee’s Summit so they could start working on it. They didn’t have enough room in their Brookside neighborhood for the 25-foot trailer. Gary’s dad, a recent retiree who years ago worked as a mechanic, joined the restoration effort.
Between work at their full-time jobs (Gary’s a paramedic, and Angie is still at Hallmark), the Snows gutted the Airstream trailer, replaced panels, rivets and tires, installed new doors and windows, rewired the electrical system and built dressing rooms in the back and a counter up front. It took more than two weeks to polish the dull exterior until it shone like liquid mercury.
All the while, Angie was taking graphic design classes at Johnson County Community College so she could learn to make her own logo and business cards. She was buying vintage clothes and accessories from estate sales and antique stores, then transforming them into modern pieces by shortening hems and sleeves, adding embellishment with buttons and lace.
By spring, MoVi was taking shape. The Snows invested in an air conditioner and a generator, then painted the interior bright white. Angie coated the fresh floorboards with an electric aqua Sherwin-Williams paint called Synergy.
When the 9-month process was complete, the Airstream resembled a silver cloud from design heaven.
“I love the process of transformation,” Angie Snow says. This was her biggest transformation yet.
Gagnon says that when she saw the finished trailer for the first time, “I had tears in my eyes.”
Snow stocked MoVi with about 100 clothing items and an assortment of accessories, including worn cowboy boots, chunky beaded necklaces and pastel bangles. She finally unveiled her boutique in May at First Fridays.
MoVi was a success: At one point, 14 customers crammed into the 25-foot trailer. Snow sold 75 items in four hours. It was an amazing feeling, she says, watching people sift through the racks, try stuff on, and in many cases, fall in love with one of her garments. High-waisted shorts were a particularly hot item.
Shopping at MoVi delights the senses without overloading them, says Abby Campbell, who used to work with Angie at Curious Sofa.
“It’s clean and simple and not overwhelming,” Campbell says. “I’ve seen other mobile boutiques, and they’re crammed to the gills. It’s claustrophobic. And your eye has nowhere to rest.”
MoVi’s clean white walls allow the colorful prints and rich textures of the garments to stand out. There’s lots to look at, but the space doesn’t feel like it’s crammed, even when four or five people are inside.
The fact that the boutique is mobile and temporary also gives a sense of urgency that’s irresistible to some customers.
Nola Heidbreder, a fiber arts teacher from St. Louis, was visiting Kansas City last month when she spotted MoVi parked in Westport. The shiny Airstream caught her eye, and so did a black taffeta dress with short sleeves and a full skirt.
“Looks like something Audrey Hepburn would’ve worn,” Heidbreder says.
Heidbreder was on her way to a movie, but she says she felt like she had to check out the boutique, because a) it was adorable and b) she didn’t know how long it would be around. She bought that taffeta dress for $58 without trying it on. When she slipped it on before brunch the next day, she discovered it was a perfect fit.
“People came up to me all day long saying they loved my dress and asking me where I got it,” Heidbreder says.
Elizabeth Gimbel, a visual merchandiser at Hallmark who’s also a friend of Angie’s, already has bought two pieces from MoVi: A bright pink shift that reminds her of something from Jackie O’s closet and a white eyelet dress with a ruffle down the front. Gimbel plans to wear the white dress to her wedding rehearsal dinner next year.
Gimbel shops at Gap and J. Crew, but she says she loves when she can support a local business and buy something that’s one of a kind. She already has worn the pink shift to work with ballet flats.
“This weekend I’m wearing it in Miami with reptile sandals and giant Chanel sunglasses,” Gimbel says. “I’m working that Jackie O look.”
Gimbel says Angie inspires her to wear more color and have more fun with her clothes.
“She opened MoVi because she thinks fashion is really fun,” Gimbel says. “It’s great that she’s bringing that to Kansas City. I mean, we were on (Travel + Leisure’s) worst-dressed list!”
Snow’s a big fan of colorful, expressive clothing. She’s also an advocate for sharp tailoring, so she brings in a seamstress on Saturdays. MoVi customers can get their purchases tailored on the spot.
“Nothing makes me happier than when people walk out of here happy,” Snow says.
Sometimes, Snow has trouble sleeping on Friday nights because she’s so excited to spend Saturday at MoVi, a place where her lifelong passions for design, business and fashion intersect. Maybe some day, she says, she’ll have a fleet of mobile businesses or open a brick-and-mortar boutique.
“That’s the dream, but that’s the 5-year-dream.”