The Pants King was born in 1912 in New Orleans after a caravan of gypsies swept him off the street. Eventually, he broke away to start his own caravan, “Le Pants King and the Traveling Spectacular,” from which he peddles his vintage clothing on Boston streets.
The Pants King is really Justin Pomerleau — a 24-year-old from Allston who created his character and start-up mobile clothing shop last August. Pomerleau peers into his stand-up mirror on the edge of Union Square as he finishes putting on eyeliner and transforming into The Pants King. Just over 5 feet tall, with messy blond hair, a small frame, and wearing a flower-printed vest and black cutoffs pants, he looks like a true gypsy.
The recent Massachusetts College of Art and Design graduate started the vintage shop two years after a house he and several students lived in caught fire and burned to the ground. Pomerleau lost all his belongings, including dozens of paintings and cameras he owned. “It made me reevaluate my life,” he says.
With the insurance money, Pomerleau launched Le Pants King, which became an outlet for his artistic creativity and allowed him to avoid working a 9-to-5 job — one of his life goals.
Pomerleau is just one example of recent college graduates who are finding nontraditional ways to earn a living and pay the rent as the job market rebounds slowly from the recession. A report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released this month indicates hope on the horizon as the unemployment rate for recent grads from a four-year institution was 6.8 percent in May 2012 compared with 11.1 percent in July 2011.
But since Pomerleau launched his venture last year, he hasn’t been too worried about the job market. His father, Edward, the owner of Sure Shift Transmissions in Brockton, describes his son as a “go-getter” and says he’s glad Justin decided to pursue his passion instead of coming to work for him. Besides, he adds, Justin is better with a paintbrush than a wrench.
The mechanic, however, did eagerly offer his skills to his son when Justin needed help bringing his sketches for the cart to life. For four months, five days a week, the father-son duo hammered and sawed away in the auto shop.
Painted olive green, the wooden cart resembles a piece of a caravan. T-shirts, brightly colored plaid button-downs, vests, and studded shorts splashed by paint (donated from a friend who’s a painter) dangle from a pole that runs through the roof. The 300-pound contraption attaches to Pomerleau’s red tricycle, which he pedals around town to Commonwealth Avenue, Newbury Street, and Central Square in Cambridge.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, he’s in Somerville, where he set up on the sidewalk outside a Rock and Roll Yard Sale. Here, he fits in with the vintage vendors selling clothing, jewelry, and records, but his gypsy act makes people uneasy in other areas.
“I like Harvard and Central Square, but I don’t do as well there,” Pomerleau says. “People in Cambridge are pretty hesitant. Unless I’m at an event, I feel like I have to break the ice with them.”
He adds that his outgoing 21-year-old sister Kelsey helped draw in customers. Before returning to Eckerd College in Florida, Kelsey volunteered as a Le Pants King model and flaunted her brother’s clothing on the street. “I like to wear dresses and wrap a belt around them with some cute strappy sandals or the boots he’s collected,” Kelsey says.
Pomerleau originally sold only vintage and secondhand items he found in Boston or during his travels to New York and Vermont. He’s since expanded his collection to pieces he sews or alters himself — like the donated painted jeans he studded. He classifies the style as “serious costume clothing.”
“I don’t really pin myself to the title as a vintage picker,” he says. “Every piece is so unique, but it’s also very playful. I try to keep everything lighthearted because vintage stuff gets very serious.”
The prices are more than reasonable, with $6 ties and $35 Italian shoes, and Pomerleau is willing to bargain. Le Pants King isn’t limited to clothing either.
Gillean Lorandeau, Justin’s oldest sister, jumped on her brother’s bandwagon and sells her line of handmade soaps branded Thru the Looking Glass. The odd-scented soaps, like “campfire” and “Matty’s freshly cut grass,” make sense on the cart. Lorandeau 29 of Taunton, says the business reflects her brother’s personality.
“He loves to talk to people, he’s very friendly, very charismatic. He likes to be out and about, and he travels a lot,” she says.
Family members say he always had an eye for art.
“He’s had a sketch book at his side since he could hold a pencil,” says Lorandeau.
Eventually, the artist, turned businessman, turned gypsy wants to have folk singers perform live outside his cart. He also dreams of forming a real traveling caravan that would include other carts with jewelry, pocket watches, and teas Pomerleau makes from his garden.
Le Pants King is just the first link to a chain, he says, eyeing the vendors in the square. “Eventually, we could take over this whole park.”