Who hasn’t dug into their parents’ closets to unearth clothing? The hunt is thrilling. Pulling out a pair of pedal pushers that your mom swears she was teased for, paired with a denim jacket from your dad that’s just tattered and worn enough to make you feel like the coolest person in the world. Meanwhile, our parents are shaking their heads as they learn that trends really do come back around. That’s the goal with the Vintage Black Expo.
The expo will return to the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center Saturday for its second-ever event, which has expanded its footprint and will include styling sessions and panels in addition to fashion shows.
Tightfisted Fashion owner Zakiya Shivers created and produced the event, and her business is one of the sponsors. She defines Black vintage as clothing that’s worn, loved and made popular by Black people. She wants the expo to create a community of appreciation around it. “It’s going to be a really focused event on Black vintage fashion — heavy on the vintage fashion,” Shivers said.
The expo, which takes place on the first and second floor of the museum, will feature 20 vendors from around the region who will host styling sessions and educational panels about vintage clothing. Shivers views the event as similar to a conference — an opportunity for brands to position themselves as experts in the field — so she made sure to be selective with the vendor process. “What’s always really troubling,” she said, “is when you go to events, you see this great business and [then] they’re not there [available] anymore because they themselves have not really cultivated the business part of it to stay around so that people can continue to find them.”
Shivers has done a lot of work herself to grow her business from its beginnings in a dorm room. Like a lot of innovators, she started reselling items to make some money. At the University of Maryland, Shivers threw for the track and field team and stayed on campus during breaks. “I was a jock,” she said. In between semesters, people would leave their things with her to do with as she pleased.
She mostly sold accessories at the beginning, like “things I wore to the club one time,” she said. That became Tightfisted Fashion, which expanded to online and storefront sales in 2012. It is now a wholly internet enterprise, as Shivers closed the brick-and-mortar store in October 2022. “My business is growing up, too,” she said.
Shivers is inspired by fashion icons such as Patti LaBelle and Grace Jones because they are “people who really set these benchmarks and set the tone for how the community’s going to dress and style.” Ankara, a dyed, patterned cotton fabric from West Africa, is a personal favorite for Shivers. “I do not own a single plain white T-shirt, but my staple looks a little different than yours. But do I have Ankara? Absolutely!” she laughed.
Shivers encourages attendees to think outside staples, too, and to “bring that challenge piece so you can see how to style it” in one of the available sessions.
Since the inaugural expo, Shivers has made many tweaks to address feedback she solicited before and after the event. This year will have two fashion shows, there will be more men’s clothing and she will cater more specifically to the clientele, who she believes are more in the 50 to 60 years old age range.
The goal of the expo is to leave visitors feeling educated and stylish. Shivers is hopeful that even just learning basic care for vintage pieces can empower people to keep their clothing for longer. Her advice? “Go back to what people used back in the day before all of these corrosive chemicals: baking soda and vinegar.”
As the event continues to grow, Shivers wants to add more opportunities for the expo, ideally putting on one seasonally instead of just annually. She looks forward to seeing the unique, head-turning looks at Eubie Blake on Saturday. “This is an opportunity to show off and enjoy what you have,” she said.