Ginger Root on U Street NW is owned by Kristen Swenson, top row right and bottom row left; and Erin Derge, top right left and bottom row right. (Luis Gomez Photos)
Borderstan welcomes a new contributor, Mary El Pearce, who will be writing about small businesses in Borderstan. She also blogs about being a single girl in DC on her site, Cupcakes and Shoes. By day she works in public affairs, and the rest of her time is spent scouring Miss Pixie’s for vintage finds, indulging her sweet tooth at CakeLove and riding her bicycle around the neighborhood with her dog, Noli, in tow.
From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at email@example.com.
In this economy, you might think it’s crazy to start a business. The numbers show that only 50 percent of small businesses in the United States will make it after five years. On the other hand, 50 percent of small businesses survive, and that brings in an even larger percentage of new jobs and revenue to communities.
This may not be an enticing option for a lot of us Washingtonians, who are accustomed to the security of our government jobs, not to mention the illusion that each of us are saving (or at least impacting) the world with our super-impressive titles. But even here in DC, where power ties and sensible haircuts are non-negotiable staples to reach the next rung of the career ladder, some people are breaking the rules of fiscal conservatism, taking momentous risks, and starting businesses in a bad economy and a traditionally uptight city.
Profiles on Small Businesses
Twice a month I’ll be profiling these small business crusaders in hopes that you’ll not only visit them, but that you’ll be inspired by their drive, vision and courage. DC isn’t just about politics anymore — it’s about becoming something bigger than you were before you came here, and small business owners know this better than most.
Ginger Root Design
This week’s profile is on two ladies from the Midwest who have an affinity for local designs and vintage silhouettes and are teaching Washingtonians how to pull it off. They’ve passed the one-year mark as of September, and business is booming in their tiny U Street basement space. Owners and designers Kristen Swenson and Erin Derge “love to repurpose and show people how eco-friendly can be classy.” Whether it be a “Lady Tie” or custom made jewelry, Ginger Root’s style will make you reconsider doing all your shopping at Ann Taylor.
Borderstan: How did the two of you meet and get into business together?
Swenson: We met in Minnesota at sewing school and became friends. I moved to DC with my now husband in September 2009 and worked as a waitress. A month later I took on a second job as the in-house seamstress at Treasury Vintage, and by November I started my own tailoring business (under the name of ReVamp) out of my apartment in the Shaw neighborhood. Three months later I needed an additional tailor and called up Erin in Minnesota. By the end of the conversation, Erin agreed to move out to DC within the month. We very quickly became busy with new customers and discovered our niche of repurposing old, forgotten items from people’s closets into their new “favorite” items.
Derge: After two months, it became clear we had outgrown our apartment-based tailoring shop. Once we both let it slip that we each had dreams of opening our own store, we accidentally set the bar a little higher. Very shortly thereafter, we found the perfect space and realized there was the slightest possibility of having our own store – the catch? We had to transform the space in six weeks… while still tailoring 60 hours a week each! So, though it was obviously a little crazy, we went for it, and thus Ginger Root Design was born.
Borderstan: How did you get into fashion design?
Derge: We both come from sewing backgrounds and both really enjoy fashion, so I guess it was more of a natural progression over the years. I think the disappointment of shopping in normal stores, whether it be poor fit or bad quality items, has inspired the extra attention to detail in our designs. We knew that we could do better and maintain a cool aesthetic.
Borderstan: Why did you bring your business to DC?
Swenson: The question we were faced with was why not? Life brought us both to DC, and there is a great community here that loves to shop locally and supports unique, eco-friendly goods. We can’t really explain it, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Borderstan: What special meaning does “Ginger Root” hold for you?
Swenson: When we decided to open the store, we wanted to make sure it could be a home for our tailoring and clothing design and also a place to showcase up-and-coming local artists. The store became Ginger Root Design – two redheads getting back to the roots of handmade.
Borderstan: What challenges have you faced being a small business on in Borderstan?
Derge: I think our biggest challenge was that there weren’t enough hours in the day for us. When we first opened, we both did everything – we were the tailors, the designers, the seamstresses, the receptionists, the marketers, the shop girls and the owners of the business. We didn’t realize it was impossible to do all of that indefinitely and not break down. So, in order to preserve our sanity, we had to hire people. Now we have a good start at building our team. We have been faced with many learning experiences, some of which can be scary, but you just keep moving forward.
Borderstan: How do you see Ginger Root growing in the current market?
Swenson: As we continue to build out our sewing team, we would love to be more accessible in the tailoring community and revamp more people’s closets. We’ve had a waiting list for our tailoring ever since we opened in September 2010, and we would love to help more people shop their closets and rework what they already have. Once we have the people, we would love to expand.
Borderstan: Do you have any advice for other local fashion designers?
Derge: Keep designing, and wear your stuff, because you are your best calling card. DC has a great momentum right now where people have a hunger for local design, so just keep doing what you love.
Borderstan: What words of encouragement can you give to someone considering starting a small business?
Swenson: Don’t expect it be easy, but don’t let that discourage you!
- Ginger Root Design, 1530 U Street NW, Basement
- Hours: Noon-7 pm Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; and 1-6 pm Sunday.
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 567-7668
- Twitter @gingerrootdc and Facebook.