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taking fashion to the streets

style

Date
November 2014

Interview by
Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by
Michael Matti

By now, everyone’s heard of food trucks, the roving restaurants that pop up at various locations around the city to dish out their fare. Well, these savvy and stylish entrepreneurs took that business model and ran, or rather rolled, with the idea, creating Seattle’s own fleet of fashion trucks and tents.

Cellar Door Mercantile

Owners: Justin Allan & Adam Spencer
Years in business: four

Justin AllanReflections magazine: Where did you get the idea to use this modality to sell your products?
Cellar Door Mercantile: When we first had the idea to open Cellar Door Mercantile in 2009, our original conception included a brick-and-mortar retail store. But as we worked on our business plan, we realized we didn’t have the capital, resources or experience to be successful. We also knew that an online-only store would be a challenge; we knew we needed to get our items in front of people to make the biggest splash.

So we took a step back and considered our options. We’ve been fans of the Fremont Sunday Market for years; when Adam lived in Fremont, we would visit often. So we decided to start small: instead of trying to fill a 2,000-square-foot storefront, we realized we could easily fill a 100-square-foot tent. We also realized that this would provide the opportunity to concentrate on producing, manufacturing and featuring solely our own designs. 

Thus was born the idea of the mobile mercantile—an intimate retail environment that we can take to street markets and craft/artisan fairs. 

RM: What made you go the handmade route versus mass-producing T-shirts?
CDM: Again, this has a lot to do with the scale at which we operate. We are both artists and enjoy the hands-on experience of working directly with materials. We knew that we wanted to print the shirts and paper goods ourselves, but were constrained by the capital costs of purchasing all the equipment as well as by the size of our home office and studio—a 650-square-foot condo we own on First Hill. 
When we first started manufacturing goods, this scale worked well. There were challenges and it took a lot of trial and error, but Adam is an expert at efficiency in small spaces. Even as we’ve grown, this small-batch, hands-on approach continues to work well. 

At some point, we hope to move to a larger studio, if only to make production more efficient. But I think that we will always take a personal approach to the manufacture of our goods. It allows us ultimate control of the quality and is a source of pride to know that we’ve personally touched and inspected every item. 

Adam SpencerRM: Why do you think there is a resurgence for handmade goods these days?
CDM: We think that the modern consumer is getting tired of the mindless stuff that is available at big-box stores. Not only is the quality inferior and the item disposable, but it’s not the least bit personal. Consumers are tired of having little emotional attachment to something as personal as the clothes they wear—not to mention no connection with the manufacturer. 

We’ve found that people are very excited to talk to us about our designs, particularly if they have an attachment to or anecdote about the animal, pattern, or design on the shirt or poster. They build a relationship with us, and the item is imbued with more meaning. In talking with fellow artisans, we’ve found they all have similar stories. In short, we think it is because consumers want a more personal connection to the items they buy and the people who manufacture them. 

RM: What’s the inspiration for the aesthetic of your products?
CDM: As practicing artists, we have established personal styles that we’ve developed after years of experimenting and exploring individually. Our designs for Cellar Door are always a collaboration between the two of us, and our aesthetic is a result of smashing our two personal styles together. 
One feature that remains constant in our designs is a sense of humor. Sometimes it is a clever visual pun, sometimes a fun turn of phrase. Humor and irreverence are important to us—there just isn’t enough of it in the design and apparel industries; people take themselves far too seriously. 

RM: Where did you get your design training/talents?
CDM: We both grew up as artistic, creative kids—doodling, drawing, painting. We both went to Cornish College of the Arts; Justin dropped out in 1993 and Adam graduated in 2006.
After dropping out of Cornish, Justin fiddled about on his own, concentrating on painting. He started digital design in the early 2000s, when he had a brief, flirting desire to work as a web designer. He learned digital and graphic design largely through trial and error and reading far too many Adobe software manuals. 

RM: What’s in store for the future of Cellar Door Mercantile?
CDM: We hope to open a brick-and-mortar storefront within the next three to five years—a space that will feature handcrafted and artisan-made goods, a gallery space for emerging artists and a print studio. Until that day, we will continue to produce great designs, grow our wholesale business and find new places to bring our mobile mercantile.

RM: What are the best ways for people to shop your goods?
CDM: Seattle-area folks can visit us nearly every week at the Fremont Sunday Market—we are there weekly March through December.

In the summer (June–August) we can also be found at the Waterfront Arts Market, located at Waterfront Part. Fans of craft markets should keep their eyes peeled as we often make appearances at Urban Craft Uprising (Seattle) and Crafty Wonderland (Portland). We can also be found online at etsy.com/shop/cellardoormercantile.

Closet Space

Owners: Rosie Itti

Rosie IttiReflections magazine:  Where did you get the idea to use this modality to sell your products?
Rosie Itti: I wanted to start my own online boutique and have different businesses around town host my pop-ups, where I sold merchandise for specific events. After a few months, I wondered what it would be like to sell out of a truck instead. I did my research and found the American Mobile Retail Association, where I later became the Chapter Ambassador for the Pacific Northwest.

RM: What inspired you to include handmade items in your inventory?
RI: My goal with Closet Space was to sell unique finds that I would wear myself. Handmade treasures inspire creativity and innovation. I am constantly blown away by all the handmade designers I discover.

RM: What’s the inspiration for the aesthetic of your business?
RI: I’m inspired by travel, love and history. All these things are incorporated into my business, from the maps that decorate the interior of my truck to my business model of being a traveling boutique.

RM: Where did you get your fashion/styling talent?
RI: I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and have worked in the fashion industry ever since. My experience came from a broad range of wholesale work, trend forecasting, corporate selling and even working at the small boutique in my hometown, where I now have my own brick-and -mortar shop.

RM: What’s in store for the future of Closet Space?
RI: I’d like to see Closet Space take over another city—whether that’s having the truck down south or opening a brick- and-mortar shop in Seattle as well. With a bigger playing field, I would be able to travel to find even more unique treasures for my customers.

RM: What are the best ways for people to shop your goods?
RI: Shoppers can find my pop-up schedule on my website at shopclosetspace.com or visit me on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townsend where my brick-and-mortar shop is. But I’m also able to ship anything that customers find through my social media accounts.

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