Photos and Story by Ken Amorosano
Round Top exudes a laid back southern charm one would imagine when touring the small towns of west Texas. Picture townsfolk sitting on the front porch sipping sweet tea as the day passes. Horses and longhorns graze on spring grass while neighbors wave at passers by. Nope. Stop. Not here.
Twice a year, this tiny Texas town of 92 residents floods with tens-of-thousands of “junkers” from all over the country; their cars line the highway as they seek out special treasures during two annual Antique Week celebrations. For nearly nine miles of Texas Highway 237, tents and buildings spring up on both sides of the road, offering everything from fine antiques to what many proudly consider, well, junk!
Housewives from Houston with late model pickups and luxury SUVs arrive with trailers attached to collect their big haul. Interior designers from the big cities swarm, collecting home décor treasures—once relegated to old barns and attics—to be put on display as statement pieces in their client’s modern homes.
For many, “junking” is a pastime. It’s just something people do. Think of it as a huge flea market…on steroids. Now add celebrations, a rebellious attitude, live music, fried chicken, a few beers, and a great pair of cowboy boots. Throw in an airstream trailer—road trip anyone?—and now you have Round Top Antiques Week.
One special spot that stands out along the highway, smack dab in the middle of Round Top, is the world headquarters for the pied pipers of the junk movement, Junk Gypsy. It’s a destination—almost a pilgrimage—for dedicated junkers who make these bi-annual quests a part of their permanent agenda.
Pulling up to the elaborate and countrified retail store that is just one part of the sprawling Junk Gypsy enterprise, you’ll first wonder…is there a party going on in there? Well, the answer is probably yes.
Junk Gypsy has not only created an international cult following of people who love to decorate in the funky and casual fashion of bold statements, amazing quotes and reclaimed treasures; they have become leaders and celebrants of a trend that is pure Texas, with a hint of a wilder and more gypsy-like lifestyle.
Live music plays on the front porch while customers sample Miranda Lambert’s new wine offering. Folks are sitting on the lawn, enjoying the festivities while a line at the cash register swirls out the front door.
Junk Gypsy is not just a brand. Yes, the name is on everything from TV shows to a line of teen artifacts for Pottery Barn, not to mention clothing lines, bed linens, a new cowboy boot line, and the now famous “Mama Tried” T-shirt that Miranda Lambert wore in her Kerosene video, but it’s more than products. Junk Gypsy is also the rebellious and independent personalities of its two amazingly driven leaders—Amie and Jolie Sikes—they are the Junk Gypsies.
For Amie Sikes, a petite powerball with curly blond hair who exudes exuberance and determination in everything she does, and Jolie Sikes, an unabated brunette with quick smarts and a penchant for creativity, color and fun, Junk Gypsy is a classic rags-to-riches story, only in this tale, the rags themselves turned out to be the riches.
With little more than $2, 000 and an old pickup truck, Amie and Joile left their big city careers behind to find a world that not only satisfied their desires for a business they could truly love, but a lifestyle full of fun, creativity, and family.
Playfully blaming their parents, Janie and Phillip, who have always been self employed, once the sisters committed, there was no looking back.
“It was mom’s idea to start going to flea markets to see if we could make a little bit of money while we worked on the big business idea, not realizing that the flea market was the big business idea,” Amie remembers.
From the beginning, Junk Gypsy has been all about taking things that are old and giving them a new life as something different.
“The first element of Junk Gypsy was junk,” says Jolie, thinking back to the beginning. “We were getting things out of dumpsters, off the side of the road. Big trash day was a score for junkers like us.”
“Our business model was to spend as little as possible up front, says Amie. “So we would just get in there and paint things and sand them—whatever we had to do to transform them in some way—and we would take those to flea markets and sell them.”
So for the first ten or so years, Junk Gypsy was for all intents and purposes, a road show. Traveling to flea markets, setting up the tent, decorating, buying, fixing, and selling. But there was something different about Junk Gypsy.
Unlike the staid and traditional antique and junk dealers, the Junk Gypsies were all about having fun. “We were playing music, doing crazy things, hanging crazy things from the top of the tent,” says Jolie. “We had disco balls and whatever it was, we were mixing wild things with even wilder things, and somehow it all worked, but it was all about fun for us.”
“We could have never planned for this business,” says Amie. “We got out on the road. It was empowering, it was liberating, and it was total freedom. What started out as a way to make some money to kind of survive ended up being this thing we didn’t want to let go of, and that’s how Junk Gypsy evolved.”
One phenomenon for which the Junk Gypsies are known is their bi-annual Junk-O-Rama Prom. What started as a few customers and fellow junkers playing dress-up for fun has turned into a cultural experience not to be missed when visiting the bi-annual Antiques Weeks.
“Back in the early days when Antiques Week was not near as busy, we were sitting around visiting with our junker friends and noticing all these tents with beautiful prom dresses hanging on these sad little hangers,” Jolie remembers. “We were just joking about how sorry these prom dresses looked—they had like one glory day—and now you couldn’t give them away—so we decided we are going to honor these prom dresses by putting them on and having a little party.”
That’s what we did and there were a few customers—maybe ten—and we drank sangria and we played music and we wore those dang prom dresses,” says Amie. “Then six months later we did it again. And six months after that and then the Today Show called and wanted to come down here and do a story on it. So we actually got a real band—everyone was dancing in the dirt and the rest is history.”
Expanding the Brand
At the same time the girls were creating Junk Gypsy, Junk Gypsy was creating the girls. In as much as the products they create have made the brand so successful, it is the personality and personal styles of Amie and Jolie that have thrust the company into a much broader arena.
The girls were always fond of writing quotes and decided to put a favorite on a T-shirt. It stated: “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
“Women really connected with that shirt,” Amie remembers. “It really spoke to who they were. It’s all about sisterhood but yet independence—breaking the rules a little bit—then we started designing a lot of shirts and a lot of quotes.”
And the business grew even more.
The Miranda Lambert Effect
It was during their early flea market years that a friend of Miranda Lambert came in the tent and started a conversation about how Miranda was a huge fan of Junk Gypsy. Offering their mutual admiration, Jolie found herself on the phone the next day with Miranda’s mom Bev. That conversation led to the now famous guns and wings logo Amie designed for the then budding country star which also became Lambert’s tattoo.
A great friendship ensued and the girls collaborated on a number of projects for Lambert including the “Mama Tried” T-shirt she wore in the ever-popular Kerosene video—and that now resides in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Subsequent projects included Miranda and Blake Shelton’s wedding, Bev Lambert’s Airstream, more T-shirt designs, the logo for Lambert’s all girl group, “Pistol Annies,” and Miranda’s tour bus interior.
Lambert’s “the Airstream song” was inspired by Junk Gypsy and the girls obliged by decorating Miranda’s own Airstream.
Television Comes A Calling
“TV production companies started calling us about 11 years ago,” remembers Jolie. “It was back in the early days of reality TV and most of them wanted a model of tension and conspiracies and confrontations, and we were just never very interested. That isn’t who we are or who we were going to pretend to be.”
It was only after they were approached by HGTV and a production company who said “we love you just the way you are,” that the girls committed to a show.
With three seasons under its belt on the HGTV and GAC network, Junk Gypsies follows Amie and Jolie as they take their independent spirit and unusual design philosophy to find junk, then use it to transform homes—and a few Airstream trailers.
Junk Gypsy World HQ
Scores of shoppers and fans flock to the large retail establishment year-round to purchase an array of products that spans everything from clothing and boot lines, to new and repurposed home décor items that customers cannot seem to get enough of.
A few years back, Pottery Barn Teen came upon the store and immediately made an offer.
“Pottery Barn walked into the store one day a couple of years ago and said ‘we have to do something with y’all.’ They didn’t even know what the store was,” Jolie recalls. “There was so many cars they thought it must be a concert or a really good restaurant or something. They pulled in to check it out and destiny took over.“
The Pottery Barn collection for teens includes a wide variety of bedroom décor items like signs that say “Dream Big” and “Blaze Your Own Trail,” guitar shaped jewelry organizers, bed spreads and quilts, pillows, a denim sofa and headboard, and their signature “Dreamership” crystal chandelier.
Boots are made for Gypsies
Junk Gypsy recently launched a new line of boots with the Lane Boots company.
“They came to us and asked us if we’d like to do it,” says Amie. “Honestly, it’s been a dream of mine and Jolie’s forever. We have been wearing boots our whole life. We eat, sleep, play, dance, go junking, work—we wear boots all the time.”
“Their design team made multiple trips down here to Round Top; we designed all the boots right here,” says Jolie. “What’s so cool is that we designed every detail of the boots from the type of toe, the type of heel, and the quality of leather. The shade, the type of stitching, the height of the shaft. We were very picky.”
Next in the line of uniquely branded design themes is Wander Inn, an eight-bedroom getaway complete with an interior one would only expect from the Junk Gypsy team.
“This place came up for sale next to the Junk Gypsy Store and it just had to be part of the story,” says Amie. “It really completes the whole Junk Gypsy experience.”
“Round Top in and of itself is an amazing, magical little town that we feel so lucky to be a part of, and our store is something that we dreamed about for so long,” Jolie injects. “Now we have our store that we are really proud of and that we work so hard in every day, and on the same property is the Wander Inn.”
“It all just feels good—it feels right,” offers Amie. “It feels like it was supposed to be part of the story, so I think that’s why it all made sense for us.”
Life at the Crossroads
Amie and Jolie will release Junk Gypsy, Designing a Life at the Crossroads of Wonder & Wander (Touchstone) in October 2016. The book encompasses the raucous ride the two sisters have taken since leaving the big city to pursue a life in the transformation of junk, into the wildly successful brand they call Junk Gypsy.
“The new book is basically everything Junk Gypsy,” says Amie. “It tells the entire Junk Gypsy story, it shows the projects we have worked on over the past 20 years, random DIYs in every chapter, dad’s biscuit recipe, our favorite road trip playlists—it just has a little bit of everything Junk Gypsy all rolled up in a ball and put into 240 pages.”
The girls admit it takes a village to run the enterprise. Parents Janie and Phillip, and Jolie’s husband Todd work full time right alongside a staff of dedicated employees including “Archie” Allen (pictured in this issue’s table of contents) who’s been part of the team for over ten years.
“We’ve never planned each step,”Amie reflects. “We let things happen as they are supposed to happen and we’ve let go of the reins and let Junk Gypsy chart its own course. Jolie adds, “We’ve always stuck to these three things: What stays true to us, what stays true to our family and what stays true to Junk Gypsy and our customers. As long as we are doing that, we are on the right path.”