For Natalie Pierson, business success is not about the bottom line – it’s about sharing knowledge so that others can thrive in your footsteps.
Pierson rarely accepts a label for any part of her life. As a long-time entrepreneur, dance major, yoga instructor, and advocate for troubled youth, she believes in not limiting herself to one skill or passion. One label that she is happy to acknowledge, however, is community builder.
“I’m a very community-oriented person, so money doesn’t come first,” Pierson said. “I really just care about people getting a positive experience.”
Something for Everyone
Vagabond Village, Pierson’s one-of-a-kind small business brainchild, was born of her desire to bring something enriching and affirming to the Greater Mankato Area. A mashup between a vintage boutique, an art expo, and a teaching center, the Old Town store has something for everyone – which is exactly what Pierson intended.
“It’s become my personal clubhouse,” Pierson joked. “I just really want people to be able to be themselves.”
Pierson’s mission to help visitors find self-affirmation is the glue that binds Vagabond Village together. Half of the warehouse-like space is dedicated to vintage clothes, antique accessories and curiosities, and artwork to suit a variety of tastes. The other half forms what Pierson considers to be her “community practice space.” Yoga mats line up next to a punching bag, musical instruments are scattered here and there for visitors to use at will, and there is plenty of room for classes and other gatherings. Pierson invites anyone with a talent to come and share it with others or teach it in her store.
“If they want to charge something for it then we work something out,” Pierson said. “If they want to do it for free, I’m all about free!”
Pierson herself is hoping to teach a course in healing through movement. As someone who frequently works with troubled youth, she has noticed the power of activity to produce mental positivity.
“You use your body to work out things trapped inside your system,” Pierson explained. “It’s a very interesting concept.”
One major thread that Pierson runs through Vagabond Village is her business mentoring program. In addition to partnering with MVAC to help teach youth about commerce practices, Pierson takes on interns on an individual basis and shows them how to make their business idea a reality.
“Everyone has their own individual contracts,” Pierson explained. “You sign up for one day a week, for three hours.” Their reimbursement depends on their interests and needs. For some, Pierson logs their work hours toward travel and takes them with her to Philadelphia and Chicago when she makes purchases for her vintage line. For another intern who needed a cell phone, Pierson set up a plan in which the intern could work at Vagabond Village in exchange for a phone plan.
Other would-be entrepreneurs come to Pierson with their ideas for products and she helps them set their dreams in motion.
I feel like as long as I stay positive, there’s always a way …. The fun is sharing that knowledge with other people. That style of thinking always moves me forward and I find myself so blessed.Natalie Pierson
“I show them about price point marketing and what business would look like for them,” said Pierson. In addition, she gives them space in her store to market their wares and let them keep 100% of what they earned from sales.
I didn’t want to take commission. It just didn’t feel right,” Pierson explained. “I honestly believe that when people are doing their own work, they should get full credit for it.”
Pierson considers herself rewarded when she sees her protégés gain confidence in their skills and find creative ways to succeed. She is especially passionate about working with disadvantaged youth and encouraging them to believe in their personal talent.
“I have a lot of background in trauma struggles and I can say that the best thing you can do is work with your hands,” Pierson said. “There’s something very powerful and beautiful that happens. You go in directions you never expected. I had students come through who didn’t graduate from high school or were very suicidal, and now they own their own businesses and have done all these amazing things.”
A one-time teen runaway herself, Pierson is eager to provide her community at large with the acceptance and inspiration that she once lacked.
“For the foster kids I worked with, just giving them options and showing them they wouldn’t be judged, I started to see changes,” Pierson shared. “As a kid, I never thought that I had a mentor and I always thought people thought I was strange. I realized that I was actually very talented and had a lot to offer; I just wasn’t being given the opportunity to grow.”
An Eclectic Collection
Pierson has plenty of experience in practicing what she preaches when it comes to self-expression. The merchandise side of Vagabond Village is stuffed to the gills with unique, whimsical, and oddball vintage items to which Pierson feels personally connected.
“I just shop by what I like,” Pierson laughed. “I love history, I love stories, I love things that are quirky, I love era-friendly clothing. In my shop, my racks are subdivided by era. I just broke it up into themes, so right now I’m specializing in raves and glitter-glam parties. I’ve been playing with steam punk and renaissance style. It could be a JC Penney shirt, but if it has that kind of feeling, that’s what I pick up.”
Pierson hopes that her range of styles will encourage visitors to explore their own personalities by trying something new.
“I invite people to come in and maybe embrace something that’s not their norm,” Pierson said. “Let’s just have fun and be ourselves! If you like it, wear it!”
My grandpa always taught me that we should use what we have. That’s a cornerstone for me. How can we use what we have without purchasing anything else?Natalie Pierson
Pierson’s fascination with vintage also serves an eco-friendly purpose. Over the years, she’s helped several community members with estate sales. Her talent for this kind of business spread by word of mouth, and once more, she refused to take commission for her efforts. Instead, she accepts any pieces that her clients can’t or don’t want to sell, and re-purposes them in her store.
“Anything I can find that can be repurposed, I make sure that it goes to a place where it can be reused, rather than go to a landfill for unnecessary reasons,” Pierson said.
Thrift and re-purposing are essential tenets of Vagabond Village.
“My grandpa always taught me that we should use what we have,” said Pierson, who started Vagabond Village with only $500.00 in her pocket. “That’s a cornerstone for me. How can we use what we have without purchasing anything else? How can we use our assets?”
Partners and Events
This strengths-based thinking has allowed Pierson to see opportunities in unlikely places. She recently paired with Y Barbershop in North Mankato to sell classic vintage pieces, such as bowler hats, button-down vintage shirts, knickknacks, and furniture, that might appeal to the barbershop’s clientele.
“It just keeps evolving,” said Pierson of her business practice. “I always have a million ideas. I’m playing with a lot of different concepts that we can still do moving forward.”
Looking ahead, Pierson hopes to make Vagabond Village’s mission more heavily focused on events and community gatherings.
“In the very beginning it was mostly about asking: What does everybody want to do?” said Pierson. “I wanted to practice showing up and doing what we want to do and being the leaders we wanted to see.” Now that Vagabond Village is four years old, Pierson feels she has a better grasp of what the Mankato area wants and needs. She plans to expand on her already impressive range of events, from drum nights, to poetry slams, to self-published art magazine workshops, and continues to encourage her community to share their ideas.
“Your voice and feedback matter,” Pierson said. “If you have something that I’m not doing, let me know! I would love to be able to develop it!”
Despite concerns that the recent COVID-19 restrictions may negatively affect Vagabond Village, Pierson maintains the generosity-based, work-with-what-you-have mentality that has seen her through so many challenges.
“I feel like as long as I stay positive, there’s always a way,” said Pierson. “I’ve been building as I go and using the assets I’ve come across in the process. The fun is sharing that knowledge with other people. That style of thinking always moves me forward and I find myself so blessed.”
If You Visit
- Location: 732 N Riverfront Drive, Mankato
- Phone: (507) 317-5593
Vagabond Village’s commitment to community extends to keeping its shoppers healthy! Right now, Pierson and her helpers are offering curbside pickup, and payment with the app Venmo in order to be as contact-free as possible. Follow Vagabond Village’s daily social media posts for photos of available merchandise.
Pierson’s pop-up display at Y Barbers will also be available for social media browsing and curbside pickup once the barbershop is able to reopen for private appointments and for stop-in shopping once small business operations are reinstated. Stay tuned for more details!