Meet Michelene Auguste, the owner of Dem, a vintage boutique on New York’s Lower East Side. A native of Trinidad, Michelene has created an ever-changing space that showcases Caribbean talent. Her favorite vintage finds are supported by hand-painted totes and Trinidadian extras that, together, create a warm, charming store. Polaroids of Trinidadian locals are taped to an exposed brick wall. A conch shell sits next to a series of vintage clutches and two photos of Michelene’s grandmother are subtly on display - one on the cover of a Golden Heritage magazine shows her wearing a crop top and skirt set, a silhouette combination we love, and the second on a calendar in the store’s dressing room.
Similarly inspired by our grandmother and hoping to showcase Caribbean talent, we sat down with Michelene, wearing our Poof Dress in Orange Hibiscus, to discuss vintage clothing, Trinidad and how taking old things and making them new again isn’t something she thinks about, but her way of life. Stop by Dem at 113 Division Street, New York, NY.
Congratulations on the opening of Dem!
Where did the idea for Dem come from and, once you had the idea, what was the process to open?
I’ve been working on Dem for about 3 years. Dem isn’t just a vintage store, but a platform to showcase Caribbean talent and creatives, a form of storytelling, a small piece of my personal and cultural heritage. Curating the store was a lot of fun. It feels like home. Getting all the pieces from Trinidad was a bit of a challenge, but very exciting to have everyone involved. I want to treat the space as an evolving installation, a curatorial project, a living thing that is constantly moving and growing.
What is it that draws you to vintage clothing?
The search. I love finding unique pieces. It’s very important for me to express myself and my individuality no matter what I am doing, even if I’m digging through a trunk of old clothes in some junk shop. I put in so much time searching and curating the clothing and objects in Dem because I want the store to have a point of view. I want people to find something that they know was hunted for. The collection in Dem is a collection of time, of things gathered over time. My time and my energy are all over these pieces, especially the ones I rework and, of course, the pieces my husband, Jordan Sullivan, creates with me.
Have you been a vintage lover your whole life?
I honestly didn’t know about vintage clothing until I left Trinidad. Most of my clothes were second hand from cousins and friends. It was not until I started traveling as a model that I got into collecting vintage. I lived in London for 3 years and I loved the style there.
I started thrifting between London and Paris when I was between modeling jobs. Now, I travel a lot with my husband and we make it a point to find vintage. He is an artist and uses a lot of found materials in his work, so we sort of have this unspoken bond over turning trash into treasure.
How has Trinidad, or the Caribbean more broadly, impacted Dem and your life in the city?
Growing up in the Caribbean is something I cherish. My upbringing was tough at times and I am humbled by the life I was born into. My life outside of Trinidad feels like a dream and I definitely don’t take a single thing for granted. Also having Caribbean parents, “they don’t make joke,” which is a saying in Trinidad meaning we don’t mess around. There’s no room for you to waste time or be lazy especially when you are given the opportunities that I have been given. As a model, I have seen the world and it’s been beautiful, but the fashion world can be very superficial. My upbringing grounds me. I didn’t grow up with the things I have now and I don’t forget that. I would also say coming from a very multicultural country to America as a black woman was a bit of a culture shock. Being treated a different way because of the color of my skin was something I never experienced or had to think about growing up in the Caribbean. This has made me even stronger and more determined to make change and assert myself here.
As a relaunch, Coco Shop is very interested in the idea of taking something old and making it new again. As a vintage store, Dem seems to relish in the same concept. How does renewal play a role at Dem? Is it something you think about often?
Growing up in Trinidad, renewal was a way of life and survival, so it wasn’t something I thought about really, it just happened. It is what I am used to. In my childhood, there was no wasting of food, water, books, things, clothes. Everything that could be reused was being reused. It was a way of life. I’ve tried to keep that way of life with me here in New York and in all my travels. Through Dem, I want to promote sustainable lifestyles and, for now, we are doing that by selling vintage.
Running your own business can be grueling. Is there anything that makes you personally feel renewed, refreshed and ready to take on what's next?
Coffee...haha. Honestly, disconnecting from technology as much as I can, being with my family and friends and going home. Trinidad is always a very good reset for me. Home forces me to slow down.