Tennessee Thomas is the epitome of a cool girl, not just because of her musical talent and new ’60s inspired fashion line, but because she is bringing her community together and shedding light on pertinent social issues.
Thomas started her music career as a founding member and drummer for the indie band, The Like, which she was a part of for 10 years. She then relocated to New York City, became a DJ and, what began as a two-week pop-up shop called “The Deep End Club,” soon turned into something much larger.
When she moved to New York five years ago, The Occupy Wall Street movement was at the forefront of the political climate. She joined a group of like-minded artists and became involved in activism by way of think tanks, town hall meetings and organized music shows.
“After years of going to parties where everyone is standing around with their drinks, but not really talking about anything, it was really exciting to be in a community where everyone was allowed to talk about important matters,” Thomas said.
For as long as she could remember, Thomas loved ad busters, youth uprising and rebellion. She had a keen admiration for the ’60s style, really looking towards Vivienne Westwood’s clubhouse for all the punk kids (where the Sex Pistols originated from) for inspiration. She had been collecting books about ’60s boutiques for a while and loved the idea of blending music, fashion and politics and so, the Deep End Club was born—a shop located in the heart of the East Village of Manhattan. Inside, the shop is adorned with protest memorabilia, cardboard cut outs of Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and Gloria Steinem, murals on the walls with paper mache displays, old TV sets and kaleidoscope glasses.
“I had to say yes and I had nothing at the time,” she said. Her friends asked her what she was going to sell and she said, “It wasn’t about that, I had a vision of the conversations that would take place and it very quickly became that. Everyone welled it into being. The shop was a very collaborative process.”
Thomas sells T-shirts with the phrase “Give a Damn,” which has become the staple slogan of the shop and a driving force for the activism. The pieces have a mod feel with black velvet materials and ivory silk trimmings. She recently shot her own lookbook with pal Alexa Chung, inspired by Eddie Sedwick.
Thomas credited the power of social media to the success of her shop. “I feel so connected to my neighborhood in a way that I never thought I would or I never have before. It’s almost like the time before TV,” she said. The Deep End Club has done clean ups for Earth Day, knocked on 3,000 doors and hosted a slew of activist meetings.
Much like ’60s counterculture and spiritual awakening in pop culture, Thomas mentioned the importance of using art as a platform to talk about human rights issues and to bring people together.
“If you look at what the Beatles did—getting the attention of their entire generation and turning them on to spirituality—they took responsibility and really utilized their platform for a greater good,” Thomas said. “It’s important to remember you can relieve pain and fear just by bringing people together and having fun.”
What is your favorite protest song?
“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
“Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
“Imagine” by John Lennon
Advice you’d give yourself as a teenager?
“Don’t be scared.”
What are you most proud of?
“Helping to build a community.”
Favorite NYC venue?
“Blue Stockings (an activist bookshop in the Lower Eastside).”
Words and images by Hayley Hill