Conversations With Vintage Dealer Desiree Venn Frederic

All of my senses were immediately hit as I walked through the large industrial doors. They've not only merchandised a creative space they've curated an experience.
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photo credit: Samson Binitu

When you walk into a boutique or any space for that matter, ideally what are you met with? Well, I didn't realize what my dream experience was until I walked into NOMAD YARD COLLECTIV in Washington D.C. All of my senses were immediately hit as I walked through the large industrial doors. They've not only merchandised a creative space they've curated an experience.

I sat down with one half of the duo responsible for cultivating this space, Desiree Venn Frederic. Widely known on social media under the alias XoDvf for her love of vintage, natural beauty and most notably the experience of people of color through this life journey. Through our interaction I learned so much about this woman, her spirit, what drives her and what has been the catalyst for her to create such an inviting and beautiful space in NOMAD YARD COLLECTIV.

What conversation do you want to start around vintage?
When you speak of vintage you speak of eras, things and people. Things didn't create themselves, people did and people used them, they were functional. These things also added an aesthetic value on a day to day. Everything is about a conversation or exploration for me. I value conversation because that is the only way we learn. Discussion is the only way we can see the united thread through all things.

Vintage matters beyond clothes for me. It's the conversation of our existence. It has to reflect all of us. Though I grew up here, I came here when I was 7 from another country. I had a relatively expansive view of the world. I knew there were other cultures and I knew that there was a thread of similarity in many of those cultures. My family is Creole. We are descendants of Maroons and enslaved Africans in America from South Carolina who went back to Freetown in Sierra Leone.

Whenever I speak of vintage, especially here in D.C., it is always relegated to Americana, which is only one segment of vintage, one piece of the larger puzzle. I say that I specialize in world vintage. Considering D.C. is a global city where we interface with people from every diaspora the conversation of vintage should be all-inclusive. Society continually says we are moving in this direction but we keep having the conversation around one section of the world, it's a contradiction. It frustrates me because it says to me that you don't want to acknowledge my ancestry and heritage, which in turn says that you don't want to acknowledge me. I am the person to say that you don't have to acknowledge me because I will acknowledge me. When I speak of "me" and people of color I speak of the world. I am changing the conversation to be focused on us rather than focusing on external factors, more positive manifests from these types of conversations.

What has your experience been serving various consumers in D.C.?
I find that many are accustomed to that museum culture, where they come to look and admire. I value that because there is education happening. But I have to sell them on many of the pieces found here especially because a lot of the pieces are cultural and not directly tied to Americana. As soon as the door opens, I just feed and educate. Customers are then able to interface with the items differently because they have a better understanding of why the pieces were created, why they were worn, who wore them etc.

The space is impeccably curated, what is your process for merchandising?
The store is a collaborative. I have a brand consultancy agency, old|new collectiv, that supports vintage businesses in developing brand identity and securing PR. It's a matter of building brands for small businesses and supporting them as they scale and grow. Having clients allowed me to create this space and envision what it should be. The model here is that we work with other small businesses to merchandise the space. It is a collective of ten business owners and four artists. What you see are the collections from different people, with different backgrounds and different cultural understandings. The partners are mostly local with only three being from out of state. We wanted this to be mainly a space housing the items of local businesses because it is important that we support the local economy.

My partner Tara and I curate. We work to merchandise the entire space together. Everything is intentional. Everything that you see here is for sale, the lighting, the plant life, everything.

As an entrepreneur and creative, what has this process of opening this space been like for you?
The process I can say has been easy. I use the word "easy" because none of this has been my doing. I can't take any credit for it. I firmly believe that everything happens in a divine order and is reflective of where you are in your life. If you are ready for something things will just come to you. This is something that I've wanted since I was 14 when I started collecting vintage. I envisioned myself to be that old lady with a big fro and some large oversized Kaftan selling people old stuff and here I am [mind you, Desiree said this while dawning a fro and Kaftan, seems like she manifested just what she intended to].

I've taken multiple paths to get here. I've paid heavily in tears, suffering and worry. So when this came about it was like a gift. I had passed through whatever phases were necessary for me to receive this. I think that whenever you're given an opportunity to serve your community it is a gift. Not everyone is afforded it and you have to be responsible with it. You have to be a positive force when given these opportunities even in your lowest moments and you have to be honest with your community. Authenticity is key.

What gave you the courage to open your own space?
Courage has come from my journey. The last seven years of my life have not been a crystal staircase. It has forced me out of a mold and has challenged me. As you know, I am an immigrant. I came here when I was 7 after a routine visit to see my mother when she decided to keep me here instead of sending me back to Sierra Leone. From the time I was seven until my early twenties I was not contacted by the government. In 2006 administration changed immigration policy so literally overnight I became an undocumented immigrant. It shifted my entire life. I couldn't work, I couldn't travel, I couldn't bloody breath. My very existence was criminalized. The process to resolution became a seven- year journey. I received a letter stating that I need to leave this country on my own or I will be deported in 4 months. I typed a letter saying that I am not going to leave because I felt like I belonged here. I started fighting my case and kept fighting. In January 2013 the journey came to an end but it took a dark turn first. I was actually detained for six months for which two of those months I was kept in solitary confinement. Whatever fears I had existing in my being died during that process. There was something in my spirit that told me this would be temporary. I knew that I had to survive it. My life couldn't end there. Anything that I was hesitant to do before that process is now null and void. I am no longer fearful of anything.

We all want easy lives but I know that I wasn't brought here to have an easy life. However, I was made to have a purposeful life.

The journeys that I've walked, even the experience of being detained, has allowed me to re-familiarize myself with people whose situations are not too far from mine, people who come from differing backgrounds, whose stories are not too distant from mine. I knew that my life had to continue because of the people that I came in contact with during my detainment, many whose stories are more severe than mine. After that event came to an end and I came home there was nothing I wasn't grateful for. It comes down to that gratitude and contentment in the moment for me in this phase of my life.

For a deeper dive into the stories of like-minded creatives visit

Desiree Venn Frederic & NOMAD YARD COLLECTIV