The Reader reports that bricks-and-mortars-gone-online-only boutique Language has vaporized completely.
By Beth Dugan
Etsy.com, the premier online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade, has exploded in popularity in the last few years. Since their launch in June 2005, more than 100,000 sellers from around the world have opened up Etsy shops. Etsy makes it easy to explore the Chicago sellers with a “Shop Local” feature, and there are hundreds of talented and entrepreneurial Chicagoans out there, making their crafts, photography and artwork available online.
The Chicago-based Etsy stores cover the gamut from vintage resellers to custom-tailored dressmakers and crafters and artists of every ilk in between. Many times, an Etsy shop is the best way to start selling handmade goods without the expense of a physical store, or the trouble of traveling to craft shows every weekend. For 24-year-old Chicagoan Allie Mundigler, who runs Elizabeth Wren Vintage, it filled a gap she had in her life. “I found myself with a bit of time between jobs and decided to combine my love of vintage items, especially clothing, and my prior fashion experiences.” Elizabeth Wren Vintage has a sister store run by Mundigler’s mother, Kathi, which sells handmade scarves, bags and jewelry.
Many times, Etsy is the first step for young designers to take when getting their retail legs under them, and exploring a wider audience. Chicago’s fashion scene is definitely burgeoning, but can still be daunting and cost-prohibitive to break into with a retail location. Designer Lydia Krupinski, who designs and sells her fun, colorful and eco-friendly creations at Pierogi Picinic (pictured) on Etsy says, “I opened my online indie eco-biz this past summer after being badgered by friends and family to take my designs to the masses. I decided to start things out on Etsy since it is the Mecca of handmade goods. People who shop and sell on Etsy are dedicated to supporting independent small businesses that are often run out of home-based studios, like my own.”
Handmade creations, shopping locally and even businesses that use environmentally sustainable and “green” practices are also an important part of Etsy’s culture. Krupinski is not alone as an eco-friendly seller, and the idea of shopping locally is picking up steam. She explains, “The most important aspect of my business is to promote a truly sustainable lifestyle by providing people with fun and urban fashions that are created, packaged and shipped using 100-percent recycled materials.”
Etsy is also a great way to connect to Chicago visual artists without having to deal with gallery prices or attitude. Laura Berger is one such artist, and she is selling her work at her own Etsy store, Laura George. Berger opened her store on a whim, but found many benefits. “It’s an enormous network of like-minded sellers and shoppers, so that fosters a sense of community. Supporting and promoting independent artists is obviously the biggest pro,” says Berger. Krupinski gushes, “What I love most about Etsy is that it brings together unique individuals from around the world to support a common cause. Etsy users form a unique and tight-knit online community that is changing the way people shop.”
Etsy’s search engine makes it easy to find sellers in Chicago, artists who work in a particular medium, items of a particular color or palette, or those centered on a specific subject—including a large number of t-shirts, jewelry, knit goods, posters and even purses that are focused on our new president. Most of the artists and sellers are willing to work with customers on custom orders, rush shipping or other things that are more difficult to arrange when dealing with larger retailers.
Chicago is teeming with talented, imaginative and energetic artists and creative people. Etsy has become a place to shift through them in a friendly, organized and user-friendly way and find exactly what you are looking for. The next time you need a fuzzy yellow sweater to go with that pencil skirt, or are looking for just the perfect thing to hang over the new sofa you picked up, check out the Chicago artists featured on Etsy and see if you can keep those dollars local and the Chicago artists supported while finding exactly what you are looking for.
Shrink, a new Chicago-based online boutique, is throwing its stylish fedora into the online ring with the recent launch of its new Web site. Featuring men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, Shrink focuses on clothing with an urban aesthetic, with goods that carry elements of streetwear, sportswear and ready-to-wear, with each piece standing out on any Chicago street for being hip, edgy and utterly unique. The brainchild of brother-sister team Kenneth Carney and Nicole Briggs, the name comes from the idea of shrinking down the unnecessary merchandise and providing only the best, and Shrink does just that. Women will find baby-doll tops from Converse by John Varvatos, a jersey hooded dress from Eros, retro-printed tees by SWNDL and red leopard-print leggings with purple stripes by Brian Lichtenberg that bring a dose of Prince in his “Purple Rain” days. Guys can check out attire ranging from dressy to laid-back, with a classic white button-down from Ulterior Motive, and a wide array of tees from Eio, Baroke and Cake.
“We did online because we feel it is the wave of the future and retail,” Briggs says. “It was a cost-effective way to test our market.” Though the Web makes Shrink a global company, Briggs and Carney shout-out to Shrink’s hometown, as visitors are treated to tunes by local Chicago artists as they surf the site, and a blog keeps track of the best gallery openings, parties and events around our city—fitting, as any streetwear aficionado would attest that the streetwear style is as much about camaraderie as it is about the head-to-toe look. Shrink offers amenities such as free shipping with a $100 purchase, reasonable price points and customer alerts when a new product or line drops into the ever-evolving repertoire. After all, online boutiques have to stay as competitive as their brick-and-mortar counterparts do. (Molly Each)
Visit Shrink at shrinkboutique.com
NOTE: The Phli store is now closed but continues online and as a brand.
5210 S. Harper, (773)493-7454, phliworldwide.com [ratings]
Goods: Sneakers for men and women. Designers: In-house line Phli. Alife, Nike, K Swiss. Owner: Dave Jess, the brains behind local streetwear brand Phli, opened his shop five years ago. Vibe: Manager Jay describes the shop as an “Urban Gap.” Price Range: Shoes ring in at anywhere from $65-$350. The Look: Hip-hoppin’, no stoppin’. The Phli guy is looking casual yet hot, with all eyes turned to the super sweet, hard-to-find kicks on his feet. Shopper’s Perks: The stock here caters to a variety of sizes. “Some guys come in here looking for a 5X shirt; and some of the skateboarders come in looking for a medium shirt,” Jay says. “We have a range of people.”
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2008