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Coworking for Fashionistas: Two designers open "Showroom"

Last year, local fashion designers Jen Chilstrom and Kimberly Jurek set out to take their Kjurek clothing line in a new direction. “We talked about how to create a sustainable future for our design work and what we needed to be successful and stay relevant,” Chilstrom says.

For starters, they needed a professional place to do business. Until then, they’d been working out of their homes. But when they stumbled upon an 805-square-foot storefront space on Lake Street, it got them thinking beyond their two-person operation.

Today, they’re launching a place called Showroom in the Lyn-Lake building at 615 W. Lake Street, in the space that once housed Uptown Girl and Heavenly Soles, while a May 31 grand opening is in the works. Showroom, which has a clean, industrial look, aims to showcase the work of local, independent fashion, jewelry, furniture and accessory designers and visual artists. 

Coworking, Cooperating, Designing

But unlike other more traditional venues, Showroom operates on a cooperative business model, offering its designer/artist-members a mailing address along with space to exhibit, sell, and produce their work, and collect full retail profits, according to Chilstrom. As in a co-working space or a cooperative, members, who pay a monthly fee to offset rent and other shared costs, can feed off of each other creatively. Similarly, for clients and other shoppers, Showroom is a one-stop shop for all kinds of artisan-made goods.

That speaks to Showroom’s mission, “to elevate the professionalism of independent designers, where a lot of good people are able to cooperate under one roof,” Chilstrom says.  “We want the designers to have opportunities to grow their business and [their] work to be something that inspires the community.”

Besides a gallery and retail area, Showroom has an area for meeting with clients and a lofted workspace that can be used for production purposes; it can also house a DJ or a band for events. Showroom will also host trunk shows, workshops, and private shopping parties, among other things. “It’s a professional place to meet with clients, or someone could come in and buy a bridal dress or find a painting that could go in an office,” says Chilstrom.

Chilstrom and Jurek staff the space, and soon they hope to bring on a part-time tailor and a stylist. They’re also exploring health care options for members, she says.  

This is something she wished she’d had when she started designing, says Chilstrom. Many designers work out of their homes, and few have dedicated space for meeting clients or customers in person. A retail space “drives people to feel compelled to see and touch the products and hear stories about them.”

Additionally, Showroom’s highly visible location on Lake Street is ideal, neighboring such like-minded businesses as Hair Police, Wax Kitten, Midwest Makeup Supply and Tatus by Koré.    

A Democratic Business Model    

The pair's concept is unique in that it draws from the principles of a cooperative and the large-group decision-making resource, Dotmocracy, according to Chilstrom. For example, when Showroom put together its contracts and store guidelines, “We gave everyone an opportunity to develop them with us,” she says.   

Going forward, Showroom will host bimonthly meetings with its members, to discuss development, events, collaborations, and more. “We have a diverse group of designers and advisors who are also lawyers and marketing professionals, and are connected in various ways to fashion or community in nonprofit or coop settings,” she says.   

Other than a similar setup in Cleveland, “There’s nothing else like this,” she says, adding, “We’re excited to see how it works and how we can keep on growing and be better.”

So far, 13 members have signed on as members of Showroom, many who are already established in their respective areas. That makes it “a venture more than a risk,” she says.

Building on Predecessors

More broadly, Showroom builds on the work of MN Fashion, Twin Cities Design Collective and Cliché, says Jurek, who started out in fashion nearly a decade ago.

She credits those groups with creating a support structure for new designers. These days, she also notices a greater desire from designers “to be successful and really venture out and make a living."

That came in handy as Jurek and Chilstrom developed the Showroom concept. They “spent time picking the brains of so many talented, driven, enthusiastic designers in our community,” she says. “It gives us hope--there are so many kindred spirits out there.” On a personal level, “I have loved getting connected with our community and feel inspired by each and every designer who is working independently,” Jurek says.

"A Rising Tide Floats All Boats"

Clay Beardshear, a furniture designer who owns Live Oak Ironworks, got connected with Showroom through his experience with Boneshaker Books. He’s an owner of the collectively owned and volunteer-run bookstore in Seward.

As such, Beardshear, a resident of South Minneapolis, is in a position to be a mentor at the Showroom, which he sees as a place that will help people “get up and running and stay fast and creative.”

He also built a couple of the Showroom’s nesting tables, which are made out of wood and metal.  

About the Showroom’s concept, he says, “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’m a big believer in ‘a rising tide floats all boats.’

“I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way,” he says, adding, “It’s great to give a lot of people who don’t normally have it a space to be represented.” The Twin Cities is a good setting for craftspeople, but most craft-market events are one-offs, so, “To have a place like this all year-round is huge,” he says.

The Power of Serendipity

Showroom member Tessa Druley launched her clothing line, Tessa Louise, which specializes in knitwear, a year ago. Usually, she works from home, which is within walking distance of Showroom. Going into a storefront space for the first time “makes it all the more exciting for me,” she says, adding, “It’s nerve-wracking, too.”   

Jurek had approached her about Showroom. “It’s a little bit of serendipity that Kimberly saw my stuff and liked it and was interested in talking to me about it,” she says.  

Right away, Druley was interested in the chance to align herself with other successful local designers. She likes the idea of “helping one another to become more successful, business-wise and creatively, by talking to one another,” she says. “It’s a group effort. To me that’s the biggest selling point.”

Beyond that, it’s a good opportunity in that “The exposure is fantastic and it’s a chance to be more visible,” she adds.

Anna Pratt is Development Editor of The Line.

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