This Friday, it’s the guys’ turn for a spin in the fashion spotlight. Ginger Root Design is hosting a Men’s Night Out on Friday, March 15, from 7 until 10 pm.
As far as fashion goes, the U Street design shop and vintage fashion store will have bow ties by local artists, two different vintage vendors, an influx of new designs from Ginger Root’s in-house line and men’s accessories.
The evening will also have whiskey and PBR, snacks, bow tie tutorials, free suit measurements and pocket square folding demos.
The popular consignment shop, Buffalo Exchange, established roots in the nation’s capital and opened its doors in Logan Circle on Saturday.
Home to trend-setting hipsters and preppy fashionistas, alike, the independent and privately held company sells gently used designer label items for cash and/or exchanges. (Read: Bring in last year’s Sevens and leave with either cash or a new pair of boots.)
The Logan Circle storefront is the 50th location for the Arizona-based business. Buffalo Exchange is at 1318 14th Street NW.
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.
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!
Still haven’t bought a Christmas gift? Remember to check out these posts from Borderstan writers with great tips on local stores:
- Filter’s 4 Steps to Making a Great Cup of French Press Coffee (coffee gifts)
- New Year’s Eve is Coming: Still Looking for the Perfect Outfit? (lots of boutiques listed)
- Local Options: Alejandra’s Gift Guide for the Food Lover in Your Life (including food and cook books)
- BorderStyle: 6 Best Clothing Gifts Under $100 for Guys (several boutiques carry men’s clothing including Redeem, Rue 14 and Universal Gear, all on 14th Street NW and Ginger Root on U Street NW)
Coming midweek: Holiday party shoes and handbags from Laura… and jewelry and accessories from Eliza… and recommendations on where to get everything locally.
Go in your closet and take a peek. If it looks like most of the streets of our fair city at this time of year, you’ve got it packed to the brim with grays and blacks. But our local boutiques are stocked with cute colors, fabrics and textures. So this holiday season, say buh-bye to the Little Black Dress… and helllllo color!
I stopped in at Lettie Gooch recently for a chat with Kenya Rennie, the store’s manager, who agreed with my opinion about the “LBD.” What is she loving this season? Longer hemlines and lace, the explosion of jewel tones (such as cobalt), and lots of nude tones. I gave her a few situations formerly covered by the LBD territory, and asked her to give us some ideas on what to wear.
Some of Kate’s favorite local boutiques: Some other local boutique favorites of mine include Caramel, Muleh, rue14, Current Boutique and Redeem. I think of it as a fashion win-win: A new dress and supporting local business while I’m at it.
Kate: You’ve got a work crush, who is the definition of hotness, and you want to be noticed at next week’s holiday party. But you don’t want to get put on notice by your boss for an inapprop wardrobe malfunction. What’s a girl to wear?
Kenya: I would choose one of our latest arrivals from Beth Bowley. a dress that combines one of the hottest trends of the season (lace) with one of winter’s coolest colors (cobalt). The silhouette is conservative, but the lace adds a hint of peak-a-boo flirtyness — perfect for getting your flirt on while still scoring points with the boss.
Kate: You’ve been invited to a house party. You’re single and ready to mingle. Dress?
Kenya: I’d go with the comfy lace overlay dress from Weston Wear. It’s so versatile, dressed up with glittering jewelry and pumps. Or, dressed down with flat boots and an edgy blazer… perfect for going a first date from a love connection started at that party, too.
Now you know: “A little black dress is an evening or cocktail dress, cut simply and often quite short. Fashion historians ascribe the origins of the little black dress to the 1920s designs of Coco Chanel, intended to be long-lasting, versatile, affordable, accessible… Its ubiquity is such that it is often simply referred to as the “LBD.” (Wikipedia)
Kate: What about a family holiday dinner at your beau’s home, where you want to make nice with grandma, but not look like her?
Kenya: You’ll please everyone, even grandma, with an elegant frock from Darling. Channel Audrey Hepburn in this classic number that sports a jeweled collar and pockets.
Kate: Any final ideas for us, Kenya?
Kenya: We’ve got great tops and sweaters to add sparkle to those dresses, or to repurpose them for another occasion. Grab a sequined sweater or cardigan by Darling, or a sparkling top by Collective Concepts or Fate.
Back to Kate…
And thanks to Kenya’s excellent taste and styling, I purchased this little cutie by Eva Franco for my holiday festivities, along with some awesome dangly earrings.
Go give Lettie Gooch or one of our other local boutiques a visit and find your own LBD alternative. Some other local boutique favorites of mine include Caramel, Muleh, rue14, Current Boutique and Redeem. I think of it as a fashion win-win; a new dress, and supporting local business while I’m at it.
What’s your favorite local place to pick up new threads?
J’Adore Rue 14.
Greetings, Borderstanis. I’m sure many of you have been to Rue 14, a lovely clothing boutique nestled in the heart of Borderstan 14th Street just above S). If you haven’t yet, I’m going to give you several reasons why you should. And if you have dropped by, I’m going to give you even more reasons why you need to go back. (See Rue 14 Style: Forward Thinking from Cecile Oreste, October 2010.)
As much as we love the District, can we all agree that D.C. is not most customer-service oriented city? I call it the “CVS effect,” which somehow trickles into restaurants, clothing stores, bars, coffee shops, etc. I certainly know that I’ve walked out of many an establishment wondering why my sunny disposition was met with indifference and/or mild scorn — not to mention outright incompetence.
Lucky for us, Rue 14 has none of that. You’ll find that folks there are friendly, attentive and knowledgeable, i.e. the holy trinity when it comes to consumerism. The boutique is run by Jiwon and her husband, Andrew, both of whom have quite a pedigree in fashion (so they totally know what they’re talking about). On their staff is Jeff, who has a savant-esque knowledge of denim. He’s the District’s premiere Denimologist. (No, that isn’t a word, but it needs to be).