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She said her grandfather was a hobo, who owned a Ferris wheel he set up around San Antonio. Her parents, who are deceased, were artists, but she said her mother also worked as a prostitute and her father was a drug addict. The family was on food stamps, frequently homeless, and she and her brother ate out of dumpsters, she said.

Ms. Brown described the first dress she sewed at the age of 4, with her grandmother, made of chartreuse fabric with giant orange polka dots. “We sat at the machine and it came to life,” she said.

Her mother made and sold clothes too, out of a San Antonio shop she named Banana Funk N’ Junk. She took Ms. Brown with her to the ropa usadas in Nuevo Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, where used clothes come in big bales. “You cut them open and buy them by the pound,” Ms. Brown said. “We’d pick as a family and bring them home, and my mom would deconstruct them. She’d take slips and sew flannel sleeves on them.”

As Ms. Brown got older, she made her own clothes. In her 20s, while she was studying natural medicine at Hippocrates Wellness in West Palm Beach, Fla., she was at a mall and a woman ran after her to ask what she was wearing. Ms. Brown said the woman owned a store there and ended up buying all of the clothes she had brought with her.

“It left me with a pair of board shorts, a T-shirt with cumulus clouds on it and my Vans, so I wore that every day and washed it and laid it out in the sun,” she said. When she called Mr. Gray, at home in Texas, she brought up the idea of starting a business selling her clothes, but they decided it wasn’t the right time. (She and Mr. Gray met at a reggae concert in 1987, married in 2011, and have two Australian shepherds. Mr. Gray ran a retirement home before he and Ms. Brown founded Magnolia Pearl.)

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