Haley Dunigan, a senior fashion merchandising major from Flowery Branch, Georgia, poses for a portrait in the founder's memorial garden on the University of Georgia's north campus on Mar. 19, 2019. Haley is the owner and chief operating officer of VAUT, a new retail company intended to curate fashion trends. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

Haley Dunigan has been the owner and full-time operator of Athens-based fashion company Chokers and Charms since 2013. But now, Dunigan is branching out into the clothing sector with her new sustainable company, VAUT.  

VAUT launched March 2, and despite Dunigan’s success with her first company of five years she’s decided VAUT will be its own entity rather than a sister company.

Her mentor, Fab-rik’s CEO Dana Spinola, helped Dunigan achieve the innovative brand she’d always envisioned by inspiring Dunigan and sharing ideas with her.

Dunigan, a University of Georgia senior studying fashion merchandising from Flowery Branch, Georgia, didn’t plan to launch VAUT while still in school.

The morning of the launch, Dunigan was awake with the sunrise, pulling apart fabric and piecing it together. After hours of repurposing, Dunigan positioned the models and the fairytale of VAUT was photographed in the back alley of the Graduate Hotel in Athens.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Dunigan said. “I think it was a God thing. I woke up and was like, ‘I am going to launch this...’”


Statement pieces to blazers

VAUT is a vintage upcycled clothing brand that aims to function as an inventive center for everyone who wears it.

The models seen in the launch shoot and VAUT website sport the company’s blazers and tulle bows over upcycled sequin gowns. The models were hand-picked by Dunigan for their diversity beyond the typical model industry.

After graduating, Dunigan plans to put her companies front and center, branching out to more investors and eventually creating a brick-and-mortar storefront for VAUT.

“Haley comes from a cloth of strong women and men that have learned to navigate opportunities and just go for it with ideas,” Jill Coleman, the business development director for the global fashion company Alvanon and Dunigan’s aunt, said.

Dunigan’s main concern is not solely to get people on board with VAUT, but to get them on board with her brand.

“I’m branding me as a person,” Dunigan said. “I want people to buy into me because, [if] you buy a shirt, that’s great, but if you buy a shirt with a story, it means so much more.”

One of Dunigan’s fears is becoming “the next retailer,” and to combat this, she makes sure it’s all one-of-a-kind by carefully thrifting and upcycling high-end pieces.

From ‘coast to coast’

Dunigan takes no days off, responding to customer orders as they roll in from coast to coast. Because of her hectic schedule, she spent the evening of her launch holed up in her room, putting the final touches on the VAUT website.

Dunigan finds a passion to put her business before anything else, while navigating the constant ring of her cell phone and the steady influx of customer emails.

Dunigan has an incentive to become the best, said Leonardo Alfonso Serres, Dunigan’s longtime friend and a junior at Kennesaw State University studying interactive design.

“She creates such an entrepreneurial mindset and has stuck with it through thick and thin, and this is why she is the woman [she is] today,” Serres said.

Dunigan’s current plans are to expand VAUT without limits, and within the next year hopes to see “VAUT” written across a storefront.

“Everything trickles back to fashion,” Dunigan said. “I just want my store to be a fun place to experience fashion."

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