It started in her grandmother’s closet. There, Najah Na’Imah had her first encounter with 1950s fashion — she became enamored with the calf-bearing, A-line skirts, cinched waists and satin gloves.

More than twenty years after her first foray through her grandmother’s clothing, Na’Imah buys and resells vintage clothes from her Highland Park loft, as well as on Etsy and pop-up stores nationwide.
Norah’s Vintage Loft, named after her daughter, has been catering to nostalgic closets since 2012 — first with a brick-and-mortar shop in Downtown Detroit. Foot traffic was heavy, and Na’Imah said many came by to “see the spectacle.”

Na’Imah’s prides her business for being more than fabric deep.

“For me, vintage is a lifestyle,” Na’Imah said. “Me as a woman, I don’t have just a store. I’m a mother, I have three children. I love cooking and taking care of my home, and I like to keep those traditions and always be that type of woman, wife and mother that takes care of their home.”

The vintage lifestyle is different for every girl according to Na’Imah.

“There are so many different layers of vintage and vintage people,” Na’Imah said. “I have girls who everything they wear is from the 50s, from their head to their toes. But then there are girls who like to mix it up and have their own style.”

Current fashion styles include a high-waisted, A-line skirt with rainbow squiggles from the 1970s; a rose-print dress from the 1950s; an itty-bitty, 1940s skirted polka dot swimsuit; and, to top it off, hats with dramatic feathers or brooding veils.

Na’Imah said the downtown location wasn’t quite right. Though the social aspect of pop-in customers looking to talk vintage was fun, her current business operations allow her to be on the road and reach a national audience, while remaining rooted in Detroit.

“Norah’s began in and will always be Detroit-based,” Na’Imah said. “I do business in Highland Park, Ferndale, Hamtramck, Chicago, Atlanta and wherever else my business takes me.”

Rather than being open seven days a week, Na’Imah opens her loft to customers by appointment only. She customizes the loft to fit an incoming customer’s preferences — from color schemes clothing eras.

“I decorate or ‘stage’ the studio depending on the client or my mood,” she said. “I like personalizing, knowing what people like. It’s a good experience.”

Na’Imah’s vintage wares wasn’t the first desicion. Her primary goal was to open a business in Detroit.

“I’m from Detroit, born and raised,” she said. “Detroit has always been the underdog and I wanted to be a part of its revitalization.”

In the spirit of accelerating this revitalization, Na’Imah’s business will support a Highland Park non-profit called Liquid Flow Media Arts Center once it is open.

According to its website, the Center’s mission is “to provide a safe space for people to create, learn, innovate, network and grow” by extending numerous services to community members who have limited access to technology, business and art.

Norah’s Vintage Loft caters to the artistic portion of this mission by providing 80s and 90s clothes for artists to use in their work. This is valuable, Na’Imah said, because much of the growth and development in Detroit is generated by artists.

This growth, Na’Imah said, has been both quick and positive.

“Everytime I go out my door, I see something different,” Na’Imah said “Abandoned buildings are starting to be torn down. Sometimes I don’t even know where I am because I don’t see that abandoned building that should have been taken down 20 years ago.”

Still, amid these opportunities, Na’Imah has noticed a new crop of Detroiters in her native city. She said most of the walk-in customers at her downtown location were suburbanites or curious tourists, rather than those from the neighborhoods.

Na’Imah also said Detroit has attracted opportunists — those who come because they think it’s a place where they can “make it.” Na’Imah said their mentality is much different than that of people like her, who have been in Detroit over three decades, witnessing and helping the city through its best and worst moments.

“You have these new people come in (and) they feel like they can push the old people out,” Na’Imah said.

For Na’Imah’s leopard-print gloves and collared frocks, things are looking up. One of her hand-picked dresses will be worn by a character in the seventh season of AMC drama show “Mad Men,” and she’s recently found vintage dresses to buy and resell from her favorite Greek couture designer.

Where exactly does Na’Imah search for these fashionable, nostalgic clothes? “It’s a secret,” she said.

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