loftlike studio feels like it belongs in L.A. Murals adorn the
wide-open space, which is filled with work tables, sewing machines and
racks of the company’s popular high-end children’s streetwear. A
poster of rapper Drake is taped to a wall. It’s übercool.
Definitely not Gymboree.
Kardashian helped (theMINIclassy) get out of Milwaukee," says
Andrea Dotzauer, who is co-founder and lead designer with her partner,
Michelle Lopez. "Now we’re starting to see support here,
because people are starting to see this cool thing happening here in
(fashion scene) is coming around," Lopez adds.
Whitney Teska, founders of Orchard Street Apparel
Over the past
few years, the city’s fashion fault lines have been grinding. A
largely failed attempt at establishing a fashion district, rivalries
between designers over the quality of their collections, and debates
over the sustainability of a style scene — especially here in the
frugal Midwest — haven’t derailed the efforts of Milwaukee’s
fashion-centric crowd. But the friction has helped to shape its
from the quake isn’t a force into the dernier cri — it’s an
acknowledgment of the prevailing Midwest aesthetic, and the
determination to build businesses that are rooted in acumen and
homegrown pride. It essentially comes down to what works, and what
A couture brand
may be perceived as persnickety, for example, an indulgence reserved
only for special occasions. A ready-to-wear or a T-shirt brand, on the
other hand, is more likely to flourish.
studio of Orchard Street Apparel.
There is perhaps
no greater example of this than T-shirt company Milwaukee Home. In
four short years, its now ubiquitous logo — a large square with the
eponymous words emblazoned in the middle — has become the city’s
cult brand of sorts, having evolved into partnerships with local
artists, sports franchises and colleges. People in every corner of the
city have gravitated toward the shirts’ simple message.
is my ‘home,’ and I think that (over) the last couple of years,
people have actually took pride in that, whereas before people were
like: ‘I want to leave the city; this place has nothing going on,’"
explains Melissa Thornton, the brand’s founder. "Now as a
collective, the younger generation has really grasped on to wanting to
create something here and put Milwaukee on the map."
had moved back to Milwaukee after living and working as a graphic
designer in Florida, says the birth of the brand happened by accident.
"I saw how
much the city had changed in the time that I was gone, and I created a
shirt for me and my friend because this was where my home is,"
she says of the company’s origin. "I thought it would be cool
to see my design out there — I never thought of it as a
however, Thornton’s apartment was stacked with boxes, and she found
herself selling the tees from the back of her car and in local bars.
After being let go from an ad agency, she turned her focus to building
the business full time.
think of myself as a fashion designer," Thornton says. "I
think I’m more of a brand builder. I’m one of those simple
Midwestern girls. I know what I like. It’s not Hollywood."
want to be here as long as the ‘I Love New York’ stuff has
lasted," she adds. "We’ve never had that."
Thornton, founder of Milwaukee Home
It may not be
Hollywood, but other fashion retailers, such as Lizzibeth, a chic
boutique on Menomonee Street, are speaking to a growing demand to snag
high fashion right here in the city. At just 28 years old, owner Lizzi
Weasler is her market — millennial women who have a penchant for
smartphones, social networks and online shopping. But her Midwest
business ethic is what took her shop successfully offline.
In addition to
the store, Lizzibeth hosts private shopping parties and events.
Weasler’s strategy is twofold: She gets to network with customers
and manipulate her business to meet their needs. It was all part of
Weasler’s solid and strategic business plan.
Lizzibeth as a business, not a hobby," say Weasler. "We’re
not New York, but there’s great potential from Milwaukee’s
boutiques and shoppers. The direction is going more toward local
designers and makers."
|The Barn Owl
owner and fashion stylist of The Barn Owl in downtown Delafield, is a
millenial like Weasler, but Keppeler’s target demographic skews much
broader — and it’s her understanding of this nuance that’s
allowed The Barn Owl to thrive for the last two years. "I cater
not only to someone who might be my age, but my mom’s age as
well," she says, referencing the various age groups living in
Lake Country. "When I go to buying shows in Chicago or work with
online vendors, I’m not shopping for myself. I’m shopping for my
The result is a
carefully curated mix of fashion apparel and home decor pieces
handpicked by Keppeler. Supporting the community that supports her is
still kept top of mind, so Keppeler stocks items crafted by Milwaukee
area artisans, including the Oconomowoc-based Tammy Spice Jewelry,
Rachel Keppeler Designs and Cloud Nine Soap Co. of Hartland,
throughout her store.
Steph Davies was
a jewelry designer, bouncing between part-time retail jobs before she
took a chance and launched The Waxwing, a local arts and crafts
boutique recently reopened on North Avenue. The store features her
designs, and the work of more than 150 artists — mostly from the
surrounding area and the Great Lakes. She says the support of the
community has been invaluable.
think about the big-box stores," she says. "People are a
little more invested (in handmade items), rather than Kohl’s just
putting stock out. We know that Target is convenient, but there is a
difference in services, product and quality here. Watching the arts
community grow is empowering."
Though the shop
focuses on handmade items, Davies tries to keep prices below $50 —
in line with the city’s frugal shopping behavior. Unsurprisingly,
Davies says her most popular items tend to be those that surround a
love of the city.
seen a revolution happening here in Milwaukee," she says.
centered on state and city pride seem to be a successful thread for
Orchard Street Apparel in St. Francis too. Husband-and-wife team
Whitney and Julie Teska run the 12,000-square-foot screen printing
company, which began in Whitney’s basement eight years ago. Similar
to Milwaukee Home, Orchard Street Apparel started with T-shirts sold
through word of mouth. And similar to Weasler, the Teskas created a
serious business plan; the couple even won a business competition
still very DIY in the beginning," says Julie.
our bills and reinvest back into the company until we built it up —
we didn’t take out any loans," adds Whitney.
The Teskas say
they owe their success to partnerships with many local businesses,
including artists, ad agencies, restaurants and corporations, such as
Roundy’s. Having that foundation allowed them to branch off into
creating their own brand, which is now moving across the country,
thanks to social networking and their website.
has advantages like a big city, but it’s also accessible," says
Whitney. "It makes you feel connected."
Julie says it
would have been nearly impossible to make the same impact in places
business community is extremely supportive of one another," she
says. "That’s the spirit of Milwaukee." M