Shopify traveled to Tulsa to tell the stories of merchants who are reinventing Black Wall Street for the ecommerce age. Read the rest of the series here.
If you’ve spent time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you’ve likely come across Trey Thaxton’s work—satin bomber jackets, cropped hoodies, and vintage-style tees emblazoned with phrases like “Greenwood Ave” and “Black Wall Street” in large block type—sported by the city’s residents. Trey is one of the growing number of Black entrepreneurs who runs a successful business out of Tulsa.
While Trey grew up in Tulsa, he was never taught about certain aspects of the city’s legacy as a student. When he finally learned about the rise and downfall of the Greenwood neighborhood, a.k.a. Black Wall Street, he felt a drive to share that story. And as a designer with his own creative agency, he decided to do it through clothes.
He now runs the popular brand 19&21 and uses merch sales to produce his Greenwood Ave. web series that sheds a light on Black entrepreneurs in Tulsa a hundred years ago and the new ones thriving today.
Since launching three years ago as a digital storefront, 19&21 has expanded into a physical pop-up space that Trey and his brother designed and built at Tulsa’s Mother Road Market. When Trey thinks of what’s next, he imagines a future where Greenwood Ave. is synonymous with Black entrepreneurship around the world. Below, he talks to Shopify about his mission and what it means to think globally while acting locally.
ON LAUNCHING A MISSION-CENTERED APPAREL LINE
"I never heard about Black Wall Street or Greenwood until after I graduated. Now, being a little older and being a Black entrepreneur in Tulsa, that entrepreneurial spirit of Greenwood is just so tangible. How could I not do something to help share the story?
One way to do that was through clothes. My background’s in branding, designing, and advertising. That’s what I went to school for, and it’s what I’ve done for almost 20 years now. I thought to myself What if we redesign the logos of the shops that were on Greenwood Avenue and use those to make vintage t-shirts to start dialogue? I launched it during Black History Month of 2019, and that went over really well.
Then I thought, How do we keep the story going after Black History Month? That’s really what led to the video series, so we can tell these stories year-round about people who are not just honoring history, but are making history today."
ON USING HIS SMALL BUSINESS TO SUPPORT OTHER SMALL BUSINESSES
"Greenwood Ave. is the brand, and then 19&21 is the store. I figured if I did the store, I could not only have Greenwood Ave.–brand clothes, but one day, if we ever had a brick-and-mortar, I could carry other Black-owned apparel brands.
At our pop-up, we actually have candles from Black-owned candle makers. We have barbecue sauce from local makers, and we have a revolving door of other Black-owned products so we can promote for people who don’t have their own shop or are just getting started. We also give 10% of all proceeds to Common Good.
So I’m able to honor the history, and we’re able to give back to the community. We’re able to share stories. The clothes create revenue, but all the revenue we put right back into the video series to again, uplift other people. For me, it’s hard work and heart work at the same time."
ON STAYING GRATEFUL AND HUMBLE
"When I see someone wearing 19&21, it definitely brings a smile to my face. I’ll never, ever take it for granted. It was something that was in my head, and these fingers were able to bring it to life. To me, the embodiment of creativity is taking an ethereal idea and then bringing it to the physical space. So having someone spend their hard earned money for a jacket, that means a lot.
It makes me want to continue to do it. I’ve gotten emails from teachers in schools that say, 'Hey, I saw your video. I'll play this in school,' or, 'I wore your jacket and my kids all love it.' That’s huge for me."
ON SCALING THE MESSAGE OF GREENWOOD AVENUE
"My wife’s a therapist, so we talk a lot about healing and dealing with trauma. I'm a 'suck it up' kind of guy, so I can move on. But I know for a lot of people, even 101 years later, that it’s still a point of contention. I've heard of families who literally don’t bring it up in the house or can’t talk about it. It really is a traumatic thing that people still need healing from.
People should know this isn’t just Black history. This is America’s history. We need to start that conversation.
Digital is our focus currently. As for a brick-and-mortar space on Greenwood, we actually partner with a couple companies there that carry our merch.
For right now, we’re working on a print piece—a coffee table book that’ll come out quarterly. That magazine has features in LA, the UK, Chicago, Baltimore, and of course, Texas and Oklahoma. It really expands the idea that Greenwood Avenue is not just here. Our goal is to do a subscription to that and launch a podcast the following year. We’re working on an app component as well, so that is still being developed."
ON THE FUTURE OF BLACK WALL STREET
"It’s not a place, it’s not dirt, it’s not buildings. It’s a spirit that exists anywhere that people are realizing ideas and bringing visions to life and collaborating to make their lives better. That’s what Greenwood Ave. is to me. We support things that are grown in Tulsa, but really the brand for me is making Greenwood Ave. synonymous with Black entrepreneurship around the world.
Black Wall Street is digital and worldwide now. That means it can never be destroyed again, because it lives inside of all of us. You can’t stop it. All we can do is continue to light the fire in the next generation. Light the flame for our brothers and sisters next to us and have each other’s backs."
This interview has been condensed and edited.