“I got into fashion in the 70s, working at a local boutique and designing for various people,” he said. “I was involved with the saddleback jeans design.”
“Saddleback” jeans were a tight-fitting garment, popular at the time, which showed Gullivan his first taste of success.
“They were a big hit. I was 19 and making $30,000,” he said.
But the product, as usual, went quickly in and out of style.
“I thought that was it, and would be making money for the rest of my life,” Gullivan said. “But it was just like a band having one ‘hit.’ It didn’t last.”
So, he moved into the big leagues, taking a job as a buyer for an account with Levi-Strauss. When he saw an opening in the company itself, he took it, and continued to move toward the bigger and better.
“I immediately knew what I wanted to be,” he said. “I saw this guy, who I’m buying my jeans from, driving around in a brand new BMW. I was like ‘I want to do what you do.’”
Gullivan worked his way up to product manager and eventually landed a position doing trades and imports in the Orient, which ironically lead to his departure from the company and the advent of Ten Car Pile Up.
“I was away for weeks or months at a time. That’s why I got divorced,” he said. “Four kids, two ex-wives, and me in [an unstable] position in the garment industry. It was a bus wreck waiting to happen.”
Thus, the store and the name were born. Gullivan put his skills to work creating a unique vintage clothing store offering redesigns and garments available nowhere else. The apparel is collected from auctions and thrift shops, and then redesigned.
“When the store is empty I make a lot, do a lot of sewing,” he said. “We have one-of-a-kinds. People are paying a premium for the service, but it’s a better product.”
While not the bourgeoisie life that the young Shane Gullivan once dreamt of, it was a beneficial move in other ways.
“Is it a monetary success? No. But for me, it was a lifestyle choice,” he said.
After buying the space, Gullivan befriended several locals who frequented his store. They told him about having trouble finding venues willing to let them perform, and he decided to help.
“I remember hearing about the neighborhood kids not having a place to play any music,” he said. “So I approached my landlord about the place upstairs, which he wasn’t using for anything.”
The landlord was reluctant at first, citing some problems in the past with graffiti and things being broken, but Gullivan was eventually able to strike a deal for a “trial run.”
“They hadn’t rented the space out for like 20 years, and they shot me down a couple times, but finally agreed,” he said. As it turns out, the landlord was worried about nothing.
“It was great,” he said. “We had one show, ‘Wickersham’ was the band, it had a great turnout and not one thing got damaged.”
Following that, Gullivan made a deal for twelve shows the following year. The venue still has the original sign from that night – “If I find any @#$! On these walls, no more shows!” – displayed, and the shows still go on once a month.
“The whole reason I did it was for the kids who were too young to play at the bar,” he said. “It’s good for them, it’s good for me.”
The shows aren’t a real source of profit, but they have managed to generate recognition across the country.
“Kids come in from all over just ‘cause some band played here,” Gullivan said. “They might not buy anything [laughing], but they’ve heard the name.”
Being able to provide exclusive apparel and promote music is what makes Ten Car Pile Up such a personal success.
“I want more artistic happenings in Towson,” he said. “I see so many artists coming out with an art degree and no job.”
Gullivan, who has “no education to speak of,” exemplifies his own vision. After breaking into the fashion world, pulling himself up the ladder, and ultimately offering establishments for the advancement of music and clothing both, he concludes:
“You have to break out and do it, whatever it is. Some of the best performances here have been the youngest. And really, ‘fashion’ is something one adopts when they don’t have style. With this stuff, you can only have style, because it will never come into fashion. There’s only one of a kind.”