WHAT WE LOVE: Vintage shop with a great collection of art tees, cheeky sweaters, Gucci loafers, and good Leviʼs.
WHO: Former model and vintage afficionado Kathleen Sorbara.
WHERE: The Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
What makes Chickee’s Vintage so unique? My shop is a cozy hideout for me, my friends, and my customers away from the crazy world that is New York City. Itʼs like a clubhouse and I love it. The back room of the shop is like a little living room and people come by throughout the day to hang and chat. The thing that I crave most is human connection, and I feel I have created a space where people feel welcome and safe to do that, while shopping for their new favorite vintage finds
Why did you choose the name Chickee’s Vintage? Chickee was my nickname growing up. When I moved to New York I decided that people would start calling me by my real name, Kathleen, so naming the store Chickeeʼs Vintage was a way of having “Chickee” live on.
What is Chickee’s Vintage best known for? Cheeky sweaters, Vintage 501s, vintage art museum tees, Gucci loafers, and 1980s/1990s designer slacks.
Where do you source so many great vintage finds? I source everything for the store from my travels all over the world! I book trips pretty spontaneously and traveling is a great excuse to source new unique items for the store. We also carry a small selection of contemporary designers that are local/sustainably made.
Who are your customers? We have customers from all walks of life, all over the world: beautiful women who were born in the 1950s trying on the dresses we carry from that era, to teens sneaking away to Brooklyn trying to find that vintage pair of Leviʼs that their friends will lust over back home, to boyfriends that come in and find a good art tee or pair of selvedge denim while their girlfriends are trying pieces on in the fitting room.
How has the internet impacted your business? I was so anti-internet when I first opened. I mean, I am a vintage chick! I appreciate old principles. I opened the store because I think connecting with customers in real life is ideal, and Iʼm not a huge online shopper personally. Fit is important to me, talking to a salesperson about what Iʼm purchasing is important to me. But! From a business standpoint it was suggested that we start posting more on Instagram, and it has affected sales drastically. Weʼre starting to see the beginnings of a cult following, which is crazy and amazing. We have girls that camp out on our Instagram looking for Gucci loafers in their size or an old museum tee picturing their favorite artist.
Kathleen Sorbara, Shopkeeper at Chickee’s Vintage
Who inspires you? My friends, my customers, my siblings, strangers on the street, Frank Ocean, Alan Watts, Georgia OʼKeefe.
What inspires you? Iʼm inspired by everything! Right now Iʼve been listening to these lo-fi mixes on Soulection radio by Sasha Marie and they put me in such a sexy creative mood. Sheʼs figured out a way to take songs that are completely unrelated to each other and make them flow together. I like to think thatʼs what Iʼm doing with the shop. I love to watch interviews on YouTube where artists talk about their craft, and figure out ways to relate that information to what Iʼm doing. I really see the shop as my little art project. But really, Iʼm inspired by everything— good conversations, good smells, good music, good art, good food. Iʼve gotten really into pinball lately. I seek out the big and the small beauties that life offers, and I think my store and my vintage finds reflect that.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I…. Well, I was a model for a really long time. 12 years. Growing up in the fashion industry and meeting eccentric creatives taught me everything I know about style and taste.
Why did you open Chickee’s Vintage? I opened my shop because I was really unhappy modeling and I wanted to take myself more seriously— and doing that meant pursuing the thing I was most passionate about while simultaneously letting go of this really crazy job that I had grown out of.
Did you have prior retail experience? I started selling my clothes on the side of the street— and then was fortunate enough to sell my clothes in a space with my vintage mentor, Kevin Jacob, in his vintage store for 2 years. Before he opened his store, he was at Ralph Lauren for 15 years under Doug Bihlmaier, so I definitely know what I know from Kevin. How to date Leviʼs, where to source items, how to look at a button on a shirt to tell which era itʼs from— there isnʼt really a textbook or a college course on vintage, youʼve got to go to flea markets and ask questions and really humble yourself to find out the things you need to find out.
Your favorite thing about owning an independent shop? I really feel that Iʼm doing what Iʼm supposed to be doing. Iʼm working my ass off doing something I love, something I think Iʼm really good at. Iʼve found my passion, and Iʼve figured out a way to make a business out of it. I think thereʼs a lot of people that never get to experience that and I am really happy that I get to.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Donʼt be afraid to ask questions. Let go of your ego. Get an accountant. Iʼm sure you know a lot, thatʼs why you want to open a shop, but you donʼt know everything.
What are your favorite local independent businesses? The Great Eros, BODE, all the local independent NYC movie theaters like Film Forum or Angelika… support your local businesses god damnit!! some of my favorite breakfast spots are Shopsinʼs, B&H Dairy, Peter Pan Donuts. I know New York will always change but I am a nostalgia fiend — I love finding places that remind me of a time that existed before I did, before Zara and Sephora and Everlane did.
What are your most precious possessions? My chartreuse Chanel bag that I found on eBay, my gold jewelry that Iʼve collected throughout my travels, and all of my old photos from my childhood, as well as my own photos that Iʼve taken throughout my travels.
What are your favorite Instagram Accounts @casey_frey_ @babaramdass @mothfood @mistermort @tihngs @servideo @staceymark @arnold_daniel @landgallery @calvinroyaliii @skylarbrandt @sopranosstyle @nardwuar
I wish I could… meditate more.
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“The future of retail is sustainability! Fashion specifically is one of the biggest industries contributing to global gas emissions.. more than the aviation and shipping industries combined. Thatʼs fact. Slowly we are seeing more sustainable young designers being introduced in the fashion industry and I think thatʼs a great start. Moving forward we have to figure out ways to be even more sustainable if we want to survive as a species. I donʼt know if retail is the answer to that, I think something bigger needs to happen on a standardized level, but the beauty of retail and having a small business is that I can directly impact my community with the message that Iʼm putting out there. Iʼm a big believer in the idea that if you want to see change in the world, you have to start with yourself before anything else. Itʼs cool to have a store to be able to affect change on a bit of a bigger scale than just my close friends and family. The shop is right in the middle of Williamsburg, so we get a lot of first-time-vintage-shopping customers. Iʼm happy to promote vintage and sustainability to people that havenʼt shopped vintage or even thought about their environmental footprint before. Iʼm also happy to have created a space that maybe feels like a little bit of an oasis from the chaotic world weʼre living in, on our phones and in reality. Iʼm hopeful that there will be more retail out there with a similar message, and at the risk of sounding like a crazy hippy, I really just want everyone to be happy. I donʼt think happiness is centered in retail, but maybe we can figure out ways to inspire change in people by bringing our communities together, and I think small local businesses and retail might play a part in that solution”
135 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn