Aunty Dana’s is an op shop the sits in 128 the Radical Social Centre. The shop raises money and provides a community for takatāpui, trans, and intersex people. Salient News Editor sat down with Kerry Donovan Brown, the manager, and Lola Elle Bellamy-Hill, a devoted volunteer.
Taylor: First of all I’m just curious about the organisation as a whole. How did this op-shop take off?
Kerry: 128 the Radical Social Centre has been occupying this building for maybe 15 years. The history of this place could be written in a book, which would be wonderful if anyone was able to compile those stories. In terms of Aunty Dana’s, the shop is a collective of Gender Minorities of Aotearoa. It’s the vision of Ahi Wi-Hongi, the national coordinator for gender minorities: an op-shop that would raise money for takatapui, trans, and intersex people.
T: Could you tell me how this op-shop differs from others in Wellington?
K: A really beautiful thing for me is that we deliberately keep prices really low. Even if a really beautiful garment comes in that other op-shops might put on TradeMe or really put the price up. We will deliberately keep our prices really, really low because we want these beautiful things to be available for whoever comes in.
Another thing that sets the shop apart I guess is that we don’t display the clothes as existing within the gender binary. You might notice that on this middle rack there are items that you would see in other shops categorised as male or female. They are just categorised by short sleeve or long sleeve or whether they are open at the front or the back. Growing up, I felt really ashamed sometimes if I drifted into the wrong section of Farmers or something. I think part of the warmth of the store and this space is that wherever you go, you’re accommodated.
Lola: Definitely, the only thing that you missed out for me is that there is a strong familial sense in this establishment. I remember my first shift here; there was a couple, an Indian woman and a bunch of other people, and the entire rest of the afternoon was just us trying on clothes. I was like “Yo that shit looks super bomb on you”. It’s a very strong sense of family even though you don’t know these people. It thinks that’s really fun and very distinctive. That’s very different from the American vintage shops on Cuba or even like the op-shops in Newtown. I think that’s a very different experience that we offer.
T: Have there been any challenges for the op-shop?
K: Because we were specifically inviting takatapui, trans, and intersex people, we are dealing with a community of people that often are traumatised and often are generationally traumatised. What I mean is we didn’t want to do a conventional system for rostering, and we wanted the roster to be kind of flexible. Lola is amazing, she comes in consistently every, but other people have genuine difficulties, whether that is a neurological difference, whether that is trauma or anxiety. And those are the most important people to get in [to the shop].
T: The touch of tea is so lovely, sort of like a motif in this building.
K: That’s part of the culture in 128, it’s not unique to Aunty Dana’s. Part of the kaupapa of 128 is to be accommodating as possible to everyone, especially those who are marginalised. There’s a really nice amount of social opportunities for LGBTQIA+ youth, but there aren’t very many social spaces outside of bar scenes, for older people. For a lot of youth groups, the cut off is between 26-30. So having space to host a regular social event for people advanced in age has been so lovely.
T: Could you tell me about a positive experience or memory you’ve had in this op-shop?
K: When you start considering gender identity, this whole beautiful world opens up. And cross-dressing is a way of expressing that. People who might identify as trans or even as nonbinary but they enjoy dressing up in clothes that don’t conventionally belong to their body. There have been a couple of occasions where I’ve been here, and we’ve had visitors quietly looking around, and will collect a bunch of clothes and sort of sheepishly ask, “Can I try these on?” and I’m like “honey, of course, it is!”
One particular person said to me, “Thank you so much, I haven’t ever been able to do this before”. That was a really tender moment for me. That expressing themselves in this way trying on these beautiful garments hadn’t been done in the light of day before. When you’re here and you witness someone cross through a threshold…
L: It’s like watching a supernova explode behind someone’s eyes. It’s astronomical and very spiritual in a sense.
K: I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but Lola is let’s say ten years younger than me,
L: More like 30 but go off…
K: Its just so staggering for me to see rangatahi who — their bravery and their spunk, they’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting. With their vividness, getting out into the world and being themselves is really staggering for me, someone who was really ashamed and afraid to express myself at 21. That’s something I am constantly moved by.
T: What is the best item you’ve found in the store?
K: The Patron Saint, and namesake, Aunty Dana, is this incredible trans women who passed away a few months ago. She was a revolutionary; she really fought for the causes of love and joy. She left pretty much all of her worldly belongings to the shop… there are a few items of Dana’s that I was able to inherit. Including this (Kerry touches their hand to the scintillating jewel around their neck).
L: I’m a low-key brand hoe. So when I saw those Lonely pants on the rack, I was like, “bitch that’s like $200 savings. I’m taking that. They’re thick, dark green corduroy with a patch on the waistline that says ‘it’s all in his kiss,’ and your girl is a romantic hoe, so she was like ‘it’s gotta be\'”.
K: I hate snobbery when it comes to fashion. I think the best part of fashion is doing what you like and what makes you feel good.
L: Confirmed. No Supreme fuck-boys in here.