Mallory McConnell Colby decided to buy a sewing machine
in 2016, she had no thought of turning her new hobby
into a side hustle.
“It was kind of a project hatched out of boredom, because my daughter
started school,” says McConnell Colby, who works as an assistant manager
at Odd Duck in Bay View and often doesn’t start work until 2 p.m. “I
just wanted a project.”
McConnell Colby soon began making custom clothing for herself and a few
friends. On a whim, she applied to the Milwaukee holiday craft fair
Hover Craft and was selected as a vendor. Out of the hundreds of makers
that apply, only a fraction are admitted, McConnell Colby notes.
“I got in and it was like, ‘I guess I’m doing this now!’” she says.
Less than two years later, McConnell Colby’s pastime has evolved into a
bona fide business. Today, she operates Elder Tree Goods, selling
eco-friendly apparel in her online shop, on Instagram, at local craft
fairs and wholesale to Milwaukee boutique Orange and Blue Co. Her
flagship piece is a linen T-shirt with a reversible neckline — a scoop
neck on one side, a crew neck on the other.
“I like pieces to be as versatile as possible — something you could wear
multiple ways, something you could wear with a pencil skirt or jeans,”
McConnell Colby notes.
She sources her material from a family-owned organic fabric wholesaler
based in Texas. She also prides herself on putting her scraps to good
use, saving leftover fabric to make pocket squares.
Most of McConnell Colby’s pieces are made with linen. “It’s such an
incredible fabric, and it’s super versatile,” she explains. “You can get
lightweight, tissue-thin linen or something sturdier, like what a
pantsuit is made out of.”
pre-shrunk linen pieces are also machine washable, which, McConnell
Colby says, makes them more accessible to the average buyer.
Whitney Schaefer, owner of Orange and Blue Co., says the versatility of
Elder Tree tees is one reason she was eager to stock Elder Tree Goods
products in her Brewers Hill boutique.
“I love the simple line and shape of her pieces,” Schaefer says. “It’s a
great staple for summer. The linen is light and comfortable to wear.”
McConnell Colby also takes custom orders. Prices range from about $50
for a sleeveless tank to $100 for a custom dress, depending on the
Looking ahead, McConnell Colby plans to continue selling at local craft
fairs, including the last NEWaukee Night Market of the season on Sept.
12. She also plans to expand her wholesale operation and continue
partnering with local shops interested in selling Elder Tree apparel.
Someday, she adds, she might even consider a foray into children’s
apparel. In the meantime, she creates custom pieces for her daughter.
“Sometimes I’ll just
take her to JOANN [fabric store] and say, ‘Pick out something you like,
and I’ll make a dress for you,’” McConnell Colby says. “She thinks
that’s pretty cool.”