An Exclusive Interview With Celebrity Shareen Mitchell
Written and Photographed By: Amina Touray
Model: Geena Lorenzo
Shareen Vintage, also described as a “secret society of women, ” occupies a huge warehouse located in downtown Los Angeles. It has a “no boys allowed” policy and is there to serve any young woman who is looking for vintage pieces and bridal dresses. When stepping into the store you will be overwhelmed with the vast amount of square footage that is full of fascinating vintage garments. With beautiful antique furniture, bridal books and comfortable couches and beds to sit on, it is impossible not to feel welcomed as you wander along the endless racks of vintage pieces that span multiple decades.
Store owner Shareen Mitchell opens up about how it all began; from her time at Vogue Magazine and Elite Model Management to becoming a spiritual woman of God. Like a caring and nurturing sister, Shareen has created a community in her vintage shop that encourages and inspires women from all around the world.
Before we sit down, Shareen opens up a book and scrolls through the pages. She stops at a page and shows a photo of Beyoncé wearing one of her bridal pieces. I’m in awe, and curious to know how this vintage place blew up to be so huge and successful. Shareen talks about her successful years as an actress, about her internationally renowned reality show Dresscue Me, her bridal collection and all the season-less vintage pieces that you don’t want to miss out on!
Q: Shareen, could you please tell us a little about yourself, your history and how you started with vintage?
Shareen Mitchell: I worked in fashion. When I first got out of college, I worked for Mademoiselle Magazine and for Vogue in the fashion departments in New York. I worked as a national scout after that for Elite Models New York, and then I worked in Paris for Elite. I left the fashion business altogether to become an actress. I did a lot of work for almost 13 years, and then at the 13th year I stopped being able to get work. I just couldn’t book a job. I went into debt because I used my credit cards to get by. I began getting terrified because I couldn’t support myself, and I became so afraid that I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to work and what I was going to do. Later I met a woman who encouraged me to give up credit card debt. She took my credit cards from me, and that changed everything because it made me have to work because I couldn’t use plastic. I like to say that there is no God in plastic. When you use credit you don’t have to have a relationship with other people in order to learn and grow and to be of service. I had to start being of service to others. For one year, I babysat and cleaned houses. I was babysitting for five different families. I was exhausted and cried every day.
Q: And that was completely different from what you were used to?
SM: Yes, I had such an A-class life. It had always worked out for me, and suddenly I was so humbled. And in that year I think I learned a lot of valuable lessons about service to others and helping women. I really opened up my heart, and it helped me notice that I had been very selfish. Then there was a spiritual component to what happened to my life. Basically, I gave up my opinion about what my life should be for a complete unknown, with the faith that someone called God would love me enough to help me. Two weeks later I had a vision of taking vintage and making it into fashion and selling it at the flea market. A month later I was at the flea market in a booth.
Q: At Fairfax?
SM: Yes at Fairfax, the Melrose Trading Booth. Within two months, you couldn’t get in my booth. Girls were waiting in line when I got through. It was a revolution. It was 2004 and fashion was changing very quickly.
Q: Was vintage popular?
SM: Not in the beginning. Vintage was like the creative French nerd girl. In 2004, vintage began to be popular with the hipster fashionista. I had worked at Mademoiselle as a stylist/assistant, and I had worked at Vogue doing bookings. I was exposed to so much. I had worked for modeling agencies and had lived in Paris, then I was an actress. I knew how to create character and how to talk to women. And I had so much wealth of experience, but I didn’t know how I was going to use it all together. Only the genius of God could have come up with this. So within another few months I met a person who offered me a warehouse to use. I used this person’s warehouse and boom. I was written about in The New York Times, Nylon Magazine and LA Weekly. It was a warehouse in the middle of nowhere and girls were coming out of the woodwork to visit.
Q: Wow, that’s amazing! So that just came after you surrendered?
SM: Yes, because I had no choice. Everything I had tried was not working. Now I live my life. I don’t think about tomorrow. I don’t want for tomorrow and I don’t make plans for tomorrow because nothing I can come up with is going to be better than what God brings me. And I don’t think about it because it is more important that I be in the moment, be where he wants me right now. Talking, celebrating, encouraging, helping, protecting, nurturing, inspiring. Tomorrow usually works out when you live your days fully, one moment at a time, tomorrow happens. But if you are today thinking about tomorrow then you miss the process. And we’ve struggled. This company has been through ups and downs. It’s been a very difficult economy. But in every single year I get through, and I thank God. And sometimes people say, “Wow, this must be so stressful for you.” And I say, “I never worry.”
Q: And you’re doing this all by yourself?
SM: I have a production team. They produce our collection for me. I do the designing, and they do the cutting and sewing.
Q: Yes, because you design dresses as well. Describe that?
SM: My collection isn’t seasonal, it’s season-less. It’s also not trend driven. It’s classical, so it’s forever. I am usually working on three or four dresses a month.
Q: What inspires you?
SM: I’m inspired by movie stars, goddesses and princesses. I’m inspired by my clients.
Q: That’s beautiful. And you had a reality show correct?
SM: I did, and that was another blessing.
Q: How did that happen and come about?
SM: How did it happen? Here it was 2009; the economy was tanking. I was nervous, I didn’t know what was going to happen. A producer walks in the door and said, “There is a reality show in you.” She takes me to a meeting, takes me to another meeting, and then I got a contract. And next thing I know I was at a meeting with some other producers and I ended up with this wonderful show with Discovery on Planet Green. We did eight episodes and they aired in 2011.
Q: And it was showing your work?
SM: Everything I do with the clients. How I dress them, how I re-work, how I rebuild things. At the time I didn’t have the collection, I was just starting it (again). And at the end of 2011, the show got sold in ten international markets. Now we have fans all over the world, and it saved my company that way. 2011, 2012 and 2013 it helped us so much.
Q: So you are recognized when you go out? Do people know “Shareen?”
SM: I think people come here and think, “Oh my God, it’s her from the show.” In LA people recognize me because I have such wide group of female clients. I was at a dinner on a first date the other night, and there was a client (laughing). It was great, I love it! I know them all, they’re like little sisters, and so you know it’s always fun for me. When people from Europe come here, they come because they saw it on the show. It’s been a blessing too and has helped us a lot. The other thing that’s been a really amazing part of this company has been that I talk a lot about entrepreneurship to young women. They ask me how I grew this business and what happened, and the most important thing is to listen to your clients. Let them inform you, let them tell you what they need and what they want. If you pay attention, they will keep your company young, and they will keep it growing. Two years ago they began asking me, “Please make my wedding dress, Shareen.” As usual I resisted, and then I gave in, and I made a couple of wedding dresses.
Q: Yes, now you have a bridal collection?
SM: And now I have a bridal collection. If I didn’t have a bridal collection, if I hadn’t done it, we’d be out of business.
Q: Can you tell us more about the bridal collection? How it all happened?
SM: The first few girls that asked me for wedding dresses didn’t have a lot of money. So I was taking old vintage dresses and cutting them up, and one of them was photographed by a stylist. It went on Pinterest and it went viral. I got letters from around the world. I was writing to everybody that I was so sorry, that I didn’t have it and that I sold it. And then one day I woke up and said, “I have to make the dress!” So I made the dress, and then I made about seven different varieties of the dress. Within a number of months I began by taking all of my collection and turning it into white dresses. Now, this is our second season and we are booked solid with brides.
Q: That’s a blessing.
SM: It was a blessing. Another one.
Q: And you have a shop in New York too?
SM: I do. I have a wonderful manager who runs the store for me. Her name is Tori, and she has two assistants. I go in once a month.
Q: Is it as big as this one?
SM: Not at all. It’s very small – 1, 800 square feet. This is 6, 600 square feet. It’s New York; it’s very expensive to rent there. Their rent is the same as this, and it’s tiny. I go once a month and sometimes I stay for five days, sometimes I stay for ten days. I work with brides, and I see my staff and check in with everybody. Sometimes I also shop fabric there; New York has beautiful fabrics.
Q: Would you say that the vintage trends in Los Angeles and New York are different?
SM: The girls in New York and the girls in Los Angeles are very different. My LA clients are much more courageous in the way they express themselves. LA girls are very willing to stand out. They want to be looked at. It’s a town of actresses, models, writers and creative individuals who want to celebrate their originality, and they want everyone to know that they are not like anybody else. New York is more of a town where women are much more protective of their identities because you are on the street a lot, and so there is more of a uniform in New York. Also, I hate to put it this way, but I think most young women working in New York are working in slightly more high stressed professional environments because it’s very expensive to live there. I don’t have as many artists shopping with me in New York as I do young professional women. So they take how they spend very seriously because the cost of living is so high. They’re very cautious how they spend and then they buy things that are much more useful in a general way, whereas in LA girls are much more theatrical.
Q: What is vintage?
SM: Vintage is any garment that’s twenty years old or older. Before that it’s used clothing, that’s what you find in a thrift store.
Q: Besides the fact that this shop has become very successful, what makes it different from any other vintage shop?
SM: It’s a very personal place. When women come in here, they get a lot of hands-on service, and I’ve created a community here. It’s not just a store. I think that it’s one environment that allows women to be very playful and free. It allows them to create a sense of community with their friends and with women that they don’t know. I’m not interested in just selling dresses. I’m interested in touching hearts. I want to inspire people. It’s by nurturing through talking and discussing issues of hope, issues of faith, issues of possibility and encouraging people’s potential. I’ve been through a lot. I know it’s not easy to be a young woman. And I think it’s especially challenging to have to dress for these big moments of your life, especially when you’re on a budget. And I’ve always been committed to keeping things affordable. So it’s kind of a combination of feeling safe, and listened to. That makes people come back.
1721 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012 | 323.276.6226