Makers and Wizard of Oddz in Tremont

Video footage by Jasmine Conkle

by Elisabeth Weems

On Friday, April 8th, the Tremont neighborhood held its monthly ArtWalk (now Walkabout Tremont) to showcase and celebrate local art and artists. Residents and visitors enjoyed pop-up shops, delicious dining and the grand opening of two unique boutiques in one building: Jennifer Marks’ Makers, and Megan Baechle’s The Wizard of Oddz. The Tremonster had the chance to interview both entrepreneurs during the grand opening of their sister shops.

Jennifer Marks, owner of Makers

Tremonster:  How does your partnership with the Wizard of Oddz aid in the development of both of these boutiques – and what does it mean to have each other’s support?

Marks: I was in Bad Girl Ventures* and met a lot of really amazing women.  As women entrepreneurs, we have an uphill battle:  our access to funds, our access to patrons…we really struggle.  We’re here to support each other, and what I found out was these amazing, amazing women have these great business ideas, but they’re being steered toward three-year leases – very expensive leases – triple net terms, and things like that.  We were very fortunate to be able to offer a space for another female entrepreneur who is starting her venture, which was Megan and Wizard of Oddz.  We’re here.  We’re invested in the community.  We want to work with the community – we do fundraisers and we donate to the local charities – that’s what is important to me.  At the end of the day, I need to feel good about what I’m doing.

Tremonster:  How does your previous experience with fashion influence your selection of clothing and merchandise?

Marks: I spent a couple years as a buyer for a major department store, and I saw the ills of fashion, and I understand in the world about 20 percent of the entire world’s population works in some way in the fashion industry – that’s producing, selling, supporting any of those industries.  But 80 percent of those people live in poverty.  What I’m going to do is make sure that anything that I offer is going to better people.  It’s bettering the person that I’m working directly with, so it’s not just benefiting the end user, but it’s benefiting the life of the person that’s produced it.  That’s the biggest thing, for me, is to make sure we’re thoughtful in every choice we make with our pieces.

Tremonster:  Why is it important to give back to community and to create something positive for those creating and wearing the clothes?

Marks: Especially after my experience of working for a department store and being a buyer, going into the factories in Southeast Asia and experiencing that for myself – that has informed how I make decisions and how I make purchases.  We all work very, very hard for our money, and I think, if the general public was able to see where their money is actually going, I think they would make very different choices.  I try to help and encourage by supporting those community-based businesses, by supporting those mom and pop businesses, and also being myself a mom and pop business.

Tremonster:  Why is it important to establish that local flavor with your boutique?

Marks: I think it’s all about community.  We want to be connected.  The world is moving so fast, so fast – so, having that connection by having a boutique we reinforce – we do have a website (makersstyle.com), we do have social media (facebook.com/makerscle), but it really comes back to that personal connection.

Tremonster:  How do you do that?  What is that process like?

Marks: It’s a process of getting to know, and asking a lot of questions…the boutique is interesting because it’s not your typical boutique. I actually want to get to know you.  In getting to know my customers, I can better help them solve their problems, and find pieces that she’s going to reach into her closet, day after day, and put those pieces on and look great, and feel great, rather than just filling that closet with more pieces.  I think what I want to create is a pleasant experience. A lot of women come to me and tell me that they don’t like shopping, or they struggle to shop and find those pieces that really fit and work for them.  I like to say I offer thoughtful clothing for the well-dressed woman.  What I mean by ‘thoughtful clothing’ is that I work with female designers from the United States, Canada and abroad, to find clothing that works for every woman in her life.  We try to find styles that fit her life, her body, and her style. We don’t follow the traditional fashion trends.  We don’t work with ‘fast fashion’ – we refer to it as ‘slow fashion.’  It’s a little more thoughtful.  The clothing is of a different quality, it’s much higher quality. We have investment pieces that are going to take you from nine to five and from five to nine, and into your weekends, and off to vacation.

*Bad Girl Ventures is a non-profit organization that provides female entrepreneurs with business development courses and access to capital.  For more information, call 216.759.4575 or visit www.badgirlventures.com.

Megan Baechle, owner of The Wizard of Oddz

Tremonster:  Why is it important to remember the past through artifacts?

Baechle:  We like the saying, “We don’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been,” but for me personally, I think that each one of these pieces really tells a story in and of itself.  In addition to that, a lot of the pieces that I sell are items that people personally connect with because they remind them of something from their childhood, they remember something a family member had – they induce that nostalgia.  This goes along with our culture and environment that encourages positivity and happy thoughts.  That’s the reason a lot of folks are interested in these things…because it connects with something.  If they’re of a younger generation, it reminds them of something or someone that they loved.  I love to watch that connection in people’s eyes when they find something that induces that nostalgia for them.

Tremonster:  How does it make you feel when you see that connection, that nostalgia?

Baechle:  It makes me feel very happy.  I mean, when you come across something – a toy or a book, or something you had when you were a kid, it brings about a coziness…that sort of warmness.  One of my favorite stories:  I was doing an artisan show outside in the fall, and I had this cookie jar – it was a white poodle, and it had a big, yellow bow on its head.  It was very kitsch; it was very…um…it takes a certain kind of person to appreciate a cookie jar like this.  This woman came running – really, sprinting – over to this cookie jar, and she just immediately started crying.  I asked her if she was okay, and she said that her father had bought that cookie jar for her in the early 60s as a wedding gift.  He had passed a few years before, and someone had knocked it off of her counter and it had shattered.  So, they – for two years – had been trying to find this cookie jar on Ebay, looking everywhere, and they couldn’t find it.  That was the cookie jar.  A simple item like that can induce so much emotion.  To see that connection, and to see that joy in people when something reminds them of a warm memory, is the best part about doing this job.

Tremonster:  This is a very unique collection.  How would you describe the overall feel?

Baechle:  Well, this is The Wizard of Oddz, so everything in here is usually weird, bizarre, funky, odd.  I don’t think there’s a method to my madness.  The pieces that I pick are just things that speak to me because they are strange, or different, or they engender/promote conversation.  They’re statement pieces.  If somebody walks into your house and sees that, they’re going to talk about it because it’s bizarre.  I don’t like things that…you walk into a big box store and everybody on your block has the same thing.  I like pieces that suit an individual’s personal taste and style, and can strum up conversation at a party – get the conversation going – because they’re going to talk about how weird something is, and hopefully that leads into a larger conversation.

Tremonster:  Where do you get most of your artifacts?

Baechle:  I do a lot of treasure hunting.  So, I’m digging through flea markets, estate sales, auctions…people who know what I’m doing now, and they have relatives who have passed, or are down-sizing, and they’ll call me in to sift through, in a lot of cases, a life’s worth of stuff that’s just accumulated.  I dig things out of attics and basements and crawl spaces and…kind of everywhere.  Every piece that’s in this store has been hand-selected, found by me or someone that speaks to me and that I think will speak to other people.  So, here and there…all over the place.

Tremonster:  What are some of the benefits to having this partnership with Makers, next door?

Baechle:  When we first decided to open these stores, that wasn’t even something that we had thought about.  There was a door that divided these two spaces, and we were originally planning to be two separate entities.  Shortly before we opened, I said, “Why is there a door here?  Why are we closing this off?  We took it down, and now we love to encourage customers to mosey between; cross-promote each other, and it’s been really great, logistically of course, because when either of us is not here, we can keep both sides of the store open.  Financially, we’re starting a solid business, but a lot of times you can not afford to hire an employee, so if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.  There’s no vacation days when you are your own boss.  So logistically, it’s going really great.  In addition to that, sometimes it’s an emotional train wreck as a new business owner, as an entrepreneur.  You have good days and bad days.  Having somebody here who is going through that experience in the same way at the same time…and having somebody else to come and lean on when you’re having the rougher days has been really great.  Being able to support each other and understand, because we’re going through the same thing, has been one of the most rewarding pieces about partnering on this space together.

Tremonster:  Why is that relationship between women entrepreneurs importanant?

Baechle:  I think that…women are just…they operate differently.  We’re very emotionally involved – especially women entrepreneurs.  In the program that we went through – Bad Girl Ventures* – every woman that was there was doing something that she had a personal passion about.  This wasn’t just a venture because they think it will be profitable.  Every business that we had was something that we personally cared about.  It’s almost – you have to remove yourself, because…if somebody comes into the store and doesn’t like a piece that I’ve worked on or finished, it almost hurts your feelings a little bit.  If somebody comes into Jenn’s store and looks at the clothing that she’s hand-selected, the merchandise that she wants to carry, and they’re like, “This is all ugly; I hate it.”  It personally affects you a little bit.  So, it’s nice for women to understand that and be able to support each other, and know how emotionally invested and passionate we are.  Even though our interests are different, we know exactly what that feels like, regardless of what our area of interest is.  That’s really important.

Tremonster:  How does it feel to be hosting your own grand opening?

Baechle:  I’m just very, very excited.  It was really hard for me to figure out if this was something that I could turn from a hobby, and something I loved, into something that I could actually make a living at.  If I can do it, really, anybody can do it.  Trust me.  I just love that this is a testament:  if there’s something that you love and something you want to do, you can find a way to make it happen.  You can do it.  I’m living proof.  It may be small – it may be a small store, but you’ve got to start somewhere…and I’m happy.  Every day, I get to come here and I’m happy.  You can’t really ask for more than that.

*Bad Girl Ventures is a non-profit organization that provides female entrepreneurs with business development courses and access to capital.  For more information, call 216.759.4575 or visit www.badgirlventures.com.

As Cleveland welcomes the spring, neighborhoods including Tremont will continue to celebrate the talents and successes of their community members. Be sure to mark your calendars for Friday, June 10, to enjoy food, fashion and art at the reinvented Tremont ArtWalk: Walkabout Tremont .

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