Taking Fashion by Storm
by Jennifer Longdon
Photos by Johanna Huckeba
At the corner of Southern and Mill avenues in Tempe sits Rocket a Go~Go, a store known for unique, 50s-inspired clothing with a twist. The store is part Elvis, part Elvira; vintage rock ‘n’ roll with skulls and bats. It’s a cacophony that makes sense to those who enjoy loud fashion. Presiding over it all is Stormy Love, a blue-haired sprite with big plans. Rocket a Go~Go was opened in 2011 by Stormy’s mother-in-law, Roseana. Stormy joined as co-owner nine months later. Together, they are in the middle of a remodel and expansion as they plan for their fifth anniversary.
The store, which started as a resale shop, now carries Love’s own line of purses and dresses, as well as an eclectic collection of new and “pre-loved” clothing, jewelry and home décor by local artists. Love works with local fashion houses to create designs that are manufactured in the U.S. Her Rockabilly swing dresses with sassy tulle petticoats have been worn as bridesmaids’ dresses. People have used the store as a location for photoshoots, and local bands find just the right vibe as they search for stage clothes. As we tour the store, Love pulls a black yoke-waist halter dress created by a local designer from the rack. She shows off the silver embellishments along the straps and demure silver skull at the décolletage that she added, one of the collaborative pieces in the store.
It hasn’t always been sunny for Stormy Love, who identifies as having both physical and psychiatric disabilities. Her mother shares a genetic disability that causes spasms, pain and increasing limits in function. Love accommodates her physical disability in the workplace with “perches” scattered about the store: A funky pedestal chair shaped like a hand, a sturdy bench that displays shoes and an open spot on the cash-wrap where she can lean or sit when her hip suddenly ceases to bear her weight while still serving her clients. “Even in very candid photos, I look posed.” She laughs, “I always stand with my hand on my hip to push back against the pain or with my knee popped out to support my back. I carry my purse in the crook of my bent elbow because my shoulder can’t take the weight of a bag.”
Finding fashion that fit her disability was a challenge. “I found that Crocs makes wedges that I can stand in all day and not hurt my back. My own fashion challenges with my disability have inspired us to be more conscious for our shoppers. Our staff is trained to be sensitive to disability. For example, they consider which dresses you can wear best if you use a wheelchair and which shoes might work for a particular disability or body type.”
Inside the store, all of the racks are on wheels so they can be moved as needed to ensure access. Rocket a Go~Go has wide dressing rooms that can fit a person using a wheelchair and is addressing the width of the fitting room doors during their remodeling.
Love describes her psychiatric disability as manic-depression and anxiety which she has learned to manage over the years. She no longer hides her disability and talks openly about the years that she self-harmed. “Self-harm was not about suicide, it was about controlling my body with a disability.” It has been more than 10 years since she last self-harmed. “Youth who self-harm are not acting out. They need help overcoming behaviors.”
Due to her own experience with disability and her passion for equality, she has partnered with Ability360 to become an employer/mentor for youth with disability. The program (see sidebar) will start with résumé coaching and mock interviews and culminate in job shadowing and a potential internship. Her mentees will learn much, as Love has an eye to the future with plans for store expansion and adding more of her own lines including jewelry and housewares. Disability is a part of Love’s lived experience, simply a part of who she is. She counsels her staff and the youth that she mentors on self-acceptance.
“Don’t try to hide what your body and your mind are doing. It’s an important part of who you are.”Stormy Love
Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.