The Back Pocket Opens This Week in the Old City

The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024

New businesses continue to pop up in and around downtown and one of the newest is The Back Pocket at 105 West Jackson, just down the stairs from Lox Salon. Partners and co-owners Natalie Sakaan and Javier Killefer will officially welcome customers this Friday. The shop features vintage clothing and clothing made with re-purposed fabrics. It will also be a working space as Javier develops new creations.

With his father in the military, Javier grew up in lots of different places, but his father grew up in Knoxville and this was the city they would visit when they went “home.” His mother is from Spain and the two met when Javier’s father was based there. He moved to Knoxville for good in 2016, working at Tomato Head for a few years before switching to Public House where he continues to tend bar.

About two years ago I started sewing. When my grandmother passed away, I inherited her sewing machine (which you can see in the photos here and in the shop). I started making small pieces like bags and bucket hats and got really into it. Now I take blankets and quilts, or whatever I can find at estate sales and turn them into hoodies and new clothes.

The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024

As he started making small clothing items and then moved into larger pieces, his friends wanted to buy them from him, he began making more, and the business took off. He enjoys his job at Public House for the change of pace, but this has quickly become his main job. “I kind of fell into it . . . I’ve always been a person who likes to tinker, and I’ve always had a strong sense of my personal fashion and once I realized I could make my own clothes, it became my new favorite thing to do.”

Natalie is originally from Memphis, while her father is from Syria and her mother is from Poland. Her parents met while her father attended college in Poland with a friend who happened to have a Syrian father and a Polish mother. Her Dad’s great-uncle moved to Memphis, forming a connection there and eventually he moved there, as well. Natalie moved to Knoxville in 2014 to attend UT and the family expected she would enter the medical field as had most of her family (her mother is an ER physician, her brother is a doctor, her father went to medical school). She completed a pre-med degree, but it never felt like her path.

Some of her sense of fashion and caring about style came from her mother. “My mom’s a Barbie. She’s so stylish. She’s blonde-haired and blue eyed. She is the person who sets her clothes out the night before she goes to her Clinical Pharmacist job. She was my first glimpse of caring about style and I started doing the same thing, wearing heeled booties to eighth grade. She always cared about “how can I express myself through clothing?”

Knowing that she was “more aesthetically inclined” and “cared about art and the creative part of myself.” Her family never tried to overpower her artistic bent and she said they’ve come to accept her alternate path. After bartending for a bit, she met and worked with Brooke Phillips (Brooke Phillips Design, Alchemy Cigar Lounge) who she says helped her understand that she could be successful on her own path. “I owe her so much. She’s shaped my vision for design.” Eventually Natalie branched out on her own, starting Natalie Sakaan Curations, doing smaller jobs and then designed the Blom Shop on Broadway and out west. She continues to do “design styling” even as she opens the new store.

The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024

The love for both wardrobe and interiors is what I wanted to bring to this space. I wanted to do it all through second-hand means. I think we’ve done away with quality and a lot of beauty in clothing. I wanted to restore that and combine both my world for interiors and curating vintage. Sustainable fashion.

The two met in 2022. She sometimes worked at a table in Public House, so they’d met there, and they had seen each other at vintage markets. In early 2023 when he showed up at a market with a hat he’d made as a gift for her, the two soon became a couple.

Javier was being encouraged by Natalie and others to bring his sewn goods to markets and the two began showing his work and her vintage clothing together. They started doing a lot of Markets in 2023. It was a lot of work. During Big Ears, at the encouragement of Rebecca Ridner, Javier and Natalie joined a pop-up to the space they are now moving into, and it was an incredible success and by May 1, just a few weeks later, they’d signed a lease for the spot. “It’s been perfect.”

The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024
The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024

The shop features both men’s and women’s clothing and she anticipates expanding her men’s wear. Natalie looks for well-made, timeless pieces, as well as funky pieces that will be for a range of personalities. She also has a selection of shoes and boots, and she is particularly fond of boots. Javier’s clothing, whether hoodies or bomber jackets are gender neutral. The thread that runs through it is that his work is made entirely from upcycled fabric and hers is all vintage. As Javier says, they both enjoy seeing people dress with intention. “It impacts every part of your life,” Natalie said.

The two are concerned about the negative environmental impact of the fashion industry. He passionately recounts finding pieces with a story, maybe a damaged piece that will be discarded, or another piece that has already been refurbished once and giving it a new life and allowing someone else to add to its story. Natalie, “Taking something that people didn’t see value in anymore and making it valuable is such a beautiful thing.”

The name, “Back Pocket” has a fun backstory. Just after signing the lease the two sat on the patio behind Public House and said aloud, “We haven’t even thought of what we’re going to name it.” They got quiet as they thought and into that silence, over the Public House sound system, came the song “Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck. They felt like it fit their basement, hidden away spot and spoke to fashion. The two swore it happened just that way within 30 seconds. They burst out laughing and knew they had their name.

Co-owners Javier Killefer and Natalie Sakaan, The Back Pocket, 105 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, May 2024

Natalie said, “Every little part of the store has felt like it has fallen in our laps.”

The store will open this Friday during First Friday and Rhinestone Fest. Regular hours will be noon to 6:00 pm, Thursday through Sunday, allowing for him to sew and her to restock on the other days (as well as work their other jobs). They also may use the space for workshops or classes. You can follow them on Instagram. Feel free to message them there with requests for commissioning a piece by Javier from an old fabric you would like to see repurposed, selling vintage pieces to them, or for a personal appointment for styling or wardrobe consultations.