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VINTAGEPALOOZA! In Conversation with Jena Beall and Donovan Levy of TrashxCloset

photo credit: Jay Gould of @wormholeworkshop

I met the owners of TrashxCloset and Electric Glare, Jena Beall and Donovan Levy, at the Manhattan Vintage Show last October. Their booth was right at the entrance of the venue so, of course, they were mobbed. That’s the price you pay for prime real estate, I guess. 

I stood on the sidelines for a while, waiting for the crowd to ease up long enough for an interview. When it finally did, the pair still had to trade off in shifts. One managed the hoard of shoppers while the other took hold of the microphone.

I repeated what had become my catch phrase for that weekend: “I’m gonna hand you the microphone. Just introduce yourself, the name of your shop and show me three of your favorite pieces.” Little did I know that their short Tik Tok would receive the highest engagement out of any of the interviews I filmed at the show.

It’s easy to see why. Jena and Donovan are incredibly friendly, gregarious and impossible to hate. They are the prototypical cool hipster type: long haired, tattooed boyfriend and gorgeous brunette girlfriend—  both with a grungy, vegan bakery type of vibe.

I was blown away by their booth. Their inventory ran the gamut between crisp, structured men’s workwear and fabulous 1930s and 40s gowns. It’s not that often in the vintage world that you find a shop with such a wide variety of inventory that doesn’t make huge sacrifices on quality. Everything just felt special.

A month after the Show, from our respective homes in Richmond and Baltimore, I sat down for another call with the couple.  This was our conversation:

Trash Closet's Studio Space in Baltimore via @theneview

KAITLIN: It hasn’t been too long since the Manhattan Vintage Show! What’ve you guys been up to?

DONOVAN: We have been working! We host a show in Baltimore called Vintagepalooza. So, the week after the Vintage Show, we hosted one here. Then we’ve been prepping for our next one, which is in February.

JENA: We also do buying appointments at our store, so we’ve been pretty busy with those!

KAITLIN: Oh cool! So you have a storage space that you do buying appointments at? Or is it a brick and mortar store?

DONOVAN: Somewhere in between! It’s an old bottle and cork factory that was converted into various artist spaces.

JENA: Very industrial.

DONOVAN: We rent a space out of there. It’s about a thousand square feet and we have all our racks set up in it.

JENA: When you walk in it, it’s like a store but we’re not necessarily a store front.

KAITLIN: I find that a lot of Vintage Stores these days are adopting that same model. You don’t have to pay the crazy high rents like you would with a traditional store, but you can still have that same in-person shopping experience. 

DONOVAN: Yeah, and we can make our own schedule.

JENA: We travel a lot for work. We’re always going to different vintage shows or on sourcing trips.

KAITLIN: How long have you guys been doing this?

DONOVAN: Uh… since college. So, that was in 2017?

JENA: Yeah, 2017.

DONOVAN: So what’s that? Seven years?

JENA: Woah, that’s crazy! [she laughs]

KAITLIN: Seven year itch!

[the group laughs]

KAITLIN: So, were TrashxCloset and Electric Glare two separate ventures that eventually meshed into one? How did that partnership come to be?

DONOVAN: Well, it originally started with us just kind of thrifting for fun. Then we found stuff that didn’t fit us but we still thought was cool. So, we started selling those pieces to our friends. Then, we made a Depop account as Trash Closet and just sort of started selling out of there. [turns towards Jena] When did Electric–

JENA: We had different niche items that we’d sell. We started out with T-shirts– we sold T-shirts for a long time–  but then we started branching out. I would always buy a lot of women’s wear just to wear myself, because I’ve always just collected vintage. We just kept finding stuff that I knew was good but we thought it’d be too confusing to sell the women’s wear on the same page as everything else. So, it’s under the same business, like, we both work on the backend of both “shops” they just have different “brands” on the outside.

KAITLIN: When did you make the jump from Depop to Instagram?

DONOVAN: We kind of did them both at the same time. It was kind of like…. we weren’t really selling anything on Instagram. We’d mostly just post our vintage finds, then Depop was where we really sold our stuff. So, we did that for a while. We were top sellers there for a bit. 

JENA: TrashxCloset was on Instagram for I think three years before we added Electric Glare?

DONOVAN: Yeah, yeah I think so.

KAITLIN: So, when did you guys get involved in the vintage shows?

[the pair laughs]

DONOVAN: Funny story! So, when we first made the two separate accounts (Trash Closet and Electric Glare) we also did that so we could keep the two brands separate from, like, a network perspective. We each had different friends, different groups we’d want to keep up with and I think both of our networks were selling at the Manhattan Show. So, we figured since both groups were doing it, it seemed like the place to be. So, we just kind of applied on a whim and had a good time. That was this past February, but we’ve always done local shows as well. We’ve hosted our own show since 2020 and we’ve also done the Baltimore Vintage Expo— Baltimore has a pretty vibrant vintage community.

JENA: Yeah! We decided at that point that we just wanted to sort of branch out, travel more and expand where we sell vintage.

KAITLIN: Are you from Baltimore?

DONOVAN: We’re based in Baltimore! Jena’s from Maryland but I’m more from the New York area.

JENA: We met while Donovan was in college at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), which is in Baltimore.

KAITLIN: Cool! So you sort of just set up camp there!

JENA: Yeah, yeah!

Jena and Donovan at the Manhattan Vintage Show via @trashxcloset

KAITLIN: So you were talking a little bit about niches. What are the vintage eras that inspire both of you guys?

DONOVAN: I like a wide range of things, especially with men’s wear. On one hand, I like really weird 1930s workwear— but not just weird, things with interesting details are really my favorite. But we also sell a lot of 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s. It doesn’t really matter the era because they’re things that are made to last. Really good quality is important to me. But in terms of niche, I like things with interesting details: fun pockets, cool silhouettes, interesting repairs, stuff like that. 

JENA: We have very similar tastes– because we sold men’s wear only for so long. So, I do like that certain kind of classic, American vintage. But for women’s wear, I specifically like 1930s sportswear. I like stuff that has a more grungy goth feel. Because I graduated high school in 2015, I was on Tumblr and was really influenced by that in my style. I also like 1950s– stuff that feels feminine but also a little grungy. So I’d say 1930s-1950s would be my favorites.

KAITLIN: Do you find you have to adjust your selling tactics when selling men’s wear versus women’s wear?

JENA: Oh, definitely. Especially in person. If I have a buyer that wants a 1930s denim jacket, they’re very different from someone who wants a 1930s gown/

KAITLIN: How so?

DONOVAN: It’s tough to say. I think, typically when someone is looking for a rare kind of vintage men’s wear, they’re already very educated on it. They know exactly what they’re looking for, but with women’s wear— not saying women aren’t educated about vintage—  but it’s much more common for someone to be attracted to a beautiful dress just because it’s beautiful and not because it fulfills a specific niche that they’re obsessed with. Because some men’s wear, to the untrained eye, can look very boring. You’d have to know what you’re looking at to understand its value. Whereas with women’s wear, it can be much flashier: an extreme silhouette, dynamic design, it has much more hanger appeal.

JENA: I also think that women and femme people just like to shop more. I don’t want to generalize, but just from my experience in a retail environment, that’s what I see. Although, we have seen that change even from when we first started selling vintage! Men seem much more interested in developing personal style. I don’t know if this is because of Tik Tok or more people posting fashion post-pandemic, but it’s something I’ve noticed. But yeah, I think with women’s wear, if they like how it looks, that’s enough, they don’t really need to understand it to see the value.

KAITLIN: I think that’s really interesting. I’d say, even in the last couple of years, the landscape of selling things online has changed drastically. Do you feel a pressure to develop a sort of platform or internet personality to back your brand?

DONOVAN: I feel like we did.

JENA: Yeah we have phases where we feel more pressure.

DONOVAN: This time last year, we definitely felt a lot of pressure to be like: okay, we post at this time and we post X amount of times per week but now, I think we’ve kind of gotten to a point where– and I think going to shows has kind of helped us– where we save the better stuff for the shows so then it’s kind of like, people who regularly shop with us know we’re holding great stuff that we’re going to bring to shows. So, long story short: we used to, but now we’re at a point where we don’t feel the need to post so often.

JENA: We go through phases. Most of our followers, I would guess, are coming from Instagram. But we can’t really decide if we want to keep our page as almost like a showcase to show the type of things we’d be bringing to vintage shows or if we should be selling directly to people on Instagram. I also feel like it kind of stifles creativity because we do sell so much in person.

DONOVAN: We haven’t been selling at larger shows for very long. February of 2023 is when we started, so our main goal for this year was to really branch out, meet people from out of state, and do a lot more stuff in the real world instead of online. The Manhattan Vintage Show really opened some doors for us, especially coming from Baltimore. It’s totally different selling in NYC, New York people are much more willing to spend a lot of money on clothes. I have a friend who also sells vintage, and he thinks it’s because you have to walk more in New York– walk to the grocery store, walk to work, see people. You’re not always in your car, so you feel more pressure to look good and will be willing to spend more on clothes. 

KAITLIN: How do you think working at a Vintage Store has affected your personal style?

DONOVAN: We dress pretty cool! [he laughs]

JENA: It is great, because if I want to wear something wild and crazy one time, I can. I feel like Cher in Clueless, with just this gigantic closet.

KAITLIN: Because you technically don’t have to buy it! You’re just selling it!

JENA: It’s funny because I feel like when we first started selling vintage, because we were bringing in so much stuff into our closets, I almost felt like I lost my personal sense of style— just because I came across way more clothing than the average person would ever see. But now I try to, every season, go through my closet and filter out what I actually wear and what I don’t. Also, all our friends who sell vintage just dress so cool. That’s been a pretty cool part of it– cooler than all the clothes—  is just being able to connect with other people who like the same thing and are also interested in Fashion. It’s really inspiring to be able to talk about clothing.

DONOVAN: I think I’ve always had a silhouette that I like. So, it's been fun to find different pieces that fit into that mold, but have more interesting details or colors or fabrics. So, in many ways,  I feel like I dress the same, just more elevated. I think it’s fun to watch Jena because she really plays with fashion. One time she’ll be very feminine and then the next she’ll be more masculine.

JENA: Yeah, I do love that. Because I love men’s workwear and really structured clothing but I also love a bias cut 1930s gown. I love to switch it up.

KAITLIN: I’m really curious what it looks like Behind the Scenes of your vintage store. Is this your full-time job?

JENA: Yeah! This is our full-time job! It wasn’t always that way, Donovan went full-time while I was still part-time for a while. Right after lockdown in 2020 is when we both went full time.

KAITLIN: What did that jump feel like?

JENA: It was really fun! But it’s also like… we’re in a relationship, so having to be conscious of working with someone you’re in a relationship with, working with creative people and trying to be successful, it required a lot of conversations, but it was great.

KAITLIN: I think that’s a lucky position to be in! If I was working with my husband, I’d kill him!

[the group laughs]

JENA: Well it hasn’t always been easy! I won’t pretend it’s perfect. But we’re really aligned with what we want and how we want to do it, so we’re lucky in that respect.

DONOVAN: Also, when we were more online based, we did everything out of our second bedroom, which was tough. But we realized that we were quickly outgrowing that. So, last October we opened our studio and that’s been super helpful in separating work from life. 

JENA: It also gives us more space to explore different avenues.

You can find Jena and Donovan at @trashxcloset and @electricglare on Instagram. 

The next Vintagepalooza is going to be on February 10th, 2024 at 301 W 29th St, Baltimore MD. For more information please visit @vintagepalooza_ on Instagram


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