Co-owners Andrew Korba and Az Heatley source unique vintage band T-Shirts for collectors. OLIVIA REID PHOTOS

Band Culture With Lost Vessel Vintage

Tucked deep into 71 King St. N in Waterloo, Lost Vessel Vintage is bringing back the final decades of 20th-century pop-culture with its carefully-curated selection of nostalgic apparel. The store was first launched online by Az Heatley and Andrew Korba in 2018, high school friends and obsessive vintage apparel collectors.  

“We always imagined having our own shop one day,” said Heatley, “A place where we could just showcase everything we love … the name came very naturally. The idea was the store itself is a vessel, like a capsule of all these amazing pop-culture (items) that are kind of lost in time.”

Heatley and Korba began by pulling items from their own collections.

“Then we started keeping an eye out for stuff that was of higher value,” said Korba. “As we worked our way up, we picked up a better eye with more knowledge in the vintage game. That came over time.”

While the majority of the store’s inventory is second-hand, Lost Vessel’s vibe is more boutique than thrift; in 2021, that Marylin Manson concert shirt gathering dust in your parents’ basement for over 25 years could be worth hundreds of dollars. 

“We would love people to bring more stuff in … even if we have to pass, it’s nice to see what people have,” said Korba. “We want to find more stuff from local [sources].” They also encourage anyone interested in buying, selling or trading to get in touch via Instagram @lostvesselvintage

As to why original merch from the turn of this century has become so hot for collectors, it’s a bit complicated. One reason is that artists who aren’t household names in their heyday can become extremely fashionable decades later; think the Smiths, Joy Division, or Grace Jones. Both of LV’s founders cite a promotional shirt for smooth-R&B group Sade’s penultimate album Lovers Rock (2000) as one particular ‘Holy Grail’ of their merch collecting, unsurprising given the group’s tremendous influence on modern pop. 

“It’s not like Aerosmith, or something, where they had so many tours and produced so much merchandise that it’s all still circulating around,” said Korba. Elaborating on other factors that have contributed to this renewed interest in vintage merch, he spoke of the era’s aesthetical appeal: “Think of how unique it is. Vintage shirts — the way they’re made, the way they feel, the quality of them … people are starting to realize how much better vintage is than new [apparel].” 

Co-owner Az Heatley holds up one of their vintage finds. OLIVIA REID PHOTO

Outside of vintage pop-music merch, Lost Vessel’s inventory also reflects another of its founders’ shared interests: cult cinema, particular sci-fi and horror flicks. It’s amusing to think of a movie studio selling casual apparel to promote the existential nightmare of Jacob’s Ladder or the Jack Nicholson werewolf melodrama Wolf, but there’s the evidence hanging above the store’s register, apparently kept in excellent condition by collectors for all these years. 

With their storefront now open Lost Vessel joins a larger community of local vintage resellers, like Lustre & Oak and White Tiger Vintage, while bringing their own approach to the scene. 

“They have a bit of a different vibe than us, they don’t carry … rare band and movie shirts. We’re all unique in our way, which is nice”, said Korba. Heatley elaborates: “[Customers] can do all three stores in one day, like a whole circuit, with all different stock [in each one]. We’re friends with the owners of those stores, we do markets together. It’s friendly competition.”

Both founders have found the retail community they are now a part of to be an embracing one. They got started by organizing successful pop-up events throughout 2018 and 2019 combining art exhibition, music and vintage fashion. 

“We did a lot of local events before [the pandemic], and so many people we’re close with now we met through that. People we consider good friends,” said Korba. “We could talk about t-shirts for hours,” laughed Heatley.