SHARE
Photo by Nate Goins.
UPDATE: Morgan Mercantile’s five-year anniversary party was postponed due to inclement weather. The soiree will now take place 4-8pm Sat, May 4.

A local apparel retailer and designer is throwing a five-year-anniversary party 4-8 p.m. Saturday, and it’s a big deal because this apparel/design company is independently owned in a world of Amazon, Target, and Old Navy.

And it doesn’t exist only on a screen.

Located on South Main Street in SoMa between Panther City Tattoo and Tarantula Tiki, Morgan Mercantile began as something of a side hustle for the husband-and-wife team of co-owners Kala and Chance Morgan — Kala was working as general manager for a local restaurant while Chance was logging hours at a print shop by day and by night rocking as frontman for one of the biggest indie bands in North Texas, Burning Hotels.

aumt-300x250-gif

Five years later, and Morgan Mercantile will celebrate good times come on at the South Main MicroPark (105 S. Main St.) with a new seasonal line, a DJ, tattoo booth, free booze, and more. This dreams-do-come-true category of success is the result of a lot of hours, effort, and fortunate timing.

There’s also the matter of the Morgans’ vision, in which they design the kind of clothes they themselves would want to wear, which turn out to be wildly popular, because the kind of clothes they’d want to wear are inherently cool. Of course, that vision doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Per all those hours and effort, Chance was out whizzing around town in the shop’s van when I dropped by the store to chat, but Kala filled me in how they transformed their weekend pop-ups into a brand that’s turned into a recognizable part of contemporary Fort Worth culture.

“Chance started Morgan Mercantile in 2015,” Kala said. “We got married in October of that year, and he told me that summer that he wanted to branch out and do his own thing. He’d been working at Merch Haus, a print shop in Aledo. We got married, and two weeks later, he had everything he needed to start — the branding, the LLC, his clients — and he hit the ground running.”

Morgan Mercantile’s shirts then, as now, were Fort Worth-centric, their seasonal releases heavy on panthers, cacti, and other Cowtown- and Texas-specific graphics, printed in retro-referencing fonts on new old-stock vintage-style shirts. For three years, the Morgans made a name for their brand at pop-ups and other events until they got the idea that the demand for a brick-and-mortar store was there. Kala said they signed their lease on the South Main spot in 2018.

A brick-and-mortar location was “kind of like a little bit in the back of our minds, and then one of Chance’s vendors told him about a space that was opening. … It ended up being something that wasn’t going to work out, but that sparked our curiosity, like, ‘Hey, let’s look around.’ ”

Chance contacted local commercial real estate specialist Jordan Johnson for help in finding the right space.

“We looked at a few spots … that didn’t have the foot traffic we were looking for,” Kala said, “but then Jordan told [Chance] about a spot on South Main he had. Chance went to look at the spot, and he called me at work and said, ‘I’ve signed a lease.’ ”

At the time, Kala was GM at Barcadia, the long-shuttered arcade-themed bar and grill in the West 7th corridor. “In my head, I was like, ‘OK, I can probably run the bar and run the shop, no problem. I think I was a little cuckoo to think that, but then [Barcadia’s owner] called me and said, ‘Hey, I think we’re in trouble.’ ”

Due to a stack of owed bills and high rent, Barcadia was going to close.

“I think it was the universe saying that was the perfect opportunity to get out,” Kala said. “We closed Barcadia in December of 2018, got through the holidays, and started building [the Morgan Mercantile shop] in February of [2019] with [carpenter] Pat Adams. They worked together designing the space, and all of us put our effort into it, and in April, we opened.”

Apart from a couple of “wish we would have done that differently” lessons and the Quixotic quest to predict what designs and cuts people will clamor for, Kala said that their success has been pretty organic. With their clean, vintage-inspired graphics that lean into the Panther City part of Fort Worth’s heritage, the Morgans’ apparel has been a huge hit, especially with visitors.

“We get a lot of tourists, especially now that Fort Worth is getting a lot of press,” Kala said. “A lot of people from Dallas come by, too. So do people who are staying downtown for conventions. And for the eclipse, it was bonkers.”

The Morgans know what sells and know what looks good, and they are wary of chasing one-offs and flash-in-the-pan trends. “We’ve learned through the years … we want to stay in our lane. We’ve done some apparel for special events, but pretty much, we try to stick to our seasonal drops.”

Putting out quality merch designs that are eye-catching without gimmick or unnecessary flash is part of staying in one lane, and it’s also why the Morgans’ clients include Lone Star Beer, TX Whiskey, Billy Bob’s Texas, and Nickel City, among many others. The Morgans’ reach is subtle but all over the place. In the way that owning a JackDaw Folk Art print is kind of an unofficial “Fort Worth thing,” if you don’t have a Morgan Mercantile shirt or hat in your closet, you probably know someone who does. And you should probably invest in one pronto.

I asked Kala if she and Chance ever thought Morgan Mercantile would have that kind of impact in Fort Worth, or if they were just trying to make shirts people would like. “Obviously, there’s a dream or a hope that it would [resonate]. You do something like this, it’s taking a risk, hoping you can reach a few people. The first time I saw one of our T-shirts out in the wild was probably about a month after we opened, and I just tripped out. Looking back, it seems so silly, but I was at Target when I saw it, and it was someone I didn’t know, wearing one of our most simplistic designs. And I called Chance, and I was so giddy. I was like, ‘I’m looking at this girl in the produce department, and I’m freaking out because she’s wearing one!’ It felt so cool, and to this day, I still trip out when I see people walking down [West] Magnolia [Avenue], anywhere, wearing our shirts, so when someone comes in and tells me a story about how they were in London and saw someone wearing a Morgan Mercantile shirt … that feeling will never get old.”

No doubt Kala and Chance will be enjoying that feeling on Saturday — Morgan Mercantile is also releasing their spring and summer lines in conjunction with the party — as well as a well-earned good time.

“I thought it would be fun for the anniversary to be, you know, semi-themed, so there’s kind of a circus theme,” Kala said. “It’s not going to be fully in your face with clowns and shit.”

It’s the kind of party you hope you get to throw for your friends one day. As I looked around at the sunny, tasteful Texan aesthetic on display, it occurred to me that Morgan Mercantile is as good a representation of being from here as you could hope.

Morgan Mercantile’s Kala Morgan, with husband Chance Morgan: “When someone comes in and tells me a story about how they were in London and saw someone wearing a Morgan Mercantile shirt … that feeling will never get old.”
Photo by Nate Goins.

LEAVE A REPLY