When Milwaukee hosts events like Art vs. Craft and the Indie Fashion Market, they are always a huge hit. Shoppers flock from around the city and the suburbs to get a look at what Milwaukee's independent designers have been up to and leave with bags full of one-of-a-kind items.
The problem is, these events come but once a year, leaving people who desire handmade and locally-designed clothing few choices.
Sparrow Collective Gallery picked up where Fasten left off last year, offering Bay Viewers an outlet for Milwaukee-made products, and this March Project M will be Riverwest's answer to the DIY craft movement.
Owners Bree Rose Bower and Kelly Strosser, both designers in their early 20s, are opening a boutique at 801 E. Center St. that they hope will be a new home for Milwaukee's emerging fashion artists.
The two met at the Indie Fashion Market, hosted by Fashion Ninja's Areka Ikler, and both received such a good response selling their wares at the East Side's Green Market over the summer, they knew they had a solid local market. The only thing missing was a permanent selling source, and this is the basis on which Project M was founded.
"Milwaukeeans have no other way of accessing some of this stuff unless they do a lot of online shopping, so we're trying to bring those unique designers to Project M so they have a permanent outlet," says Bower.
The mission of Project M is two-fold, she says. "We want to bring Milwaukeeans these unique products, and at the same time we want to provide a network for the designers and be able to say to them, 'Here's what's selling and here's what's not selling,' and really just be that common ground for them."
Bower and Strosser say they plan to host fashion shows and designer meet-and-greets in an attempt to unify the area's independent clothing makers.
"Obviously, not everyone has a storefront, so we find it so important to come together and network," says Strosser.
Project M will feature women's apparel and accessories from Milwaukee and Midwestwen designers, including lines from both the owners. With her label Rosefly, Bower produces mostly women's fashion from 100 percent recycled and reclaimed materials. She recently interned at Fashion Ninja. Strosser's label, Des Arbres, features women's ware as well in the form of tops, dresses and accessories.
The goal, they say, is to feature about 20 designers. Their business plan also includes men's ware, though they admit to having a hard time finding designers who make it. "It doesn't mean we're straying away from it; if anything, it's made us more determined. So, we might not have any when we open in March, but we will eventually because there is definitely a demand for it."
The store is set up similar to an art gallery. The owners don't offer consignment not buy pieces outright; rather their artists pay them a monthly fee and keep 100 percent of what they sell. Because there's no boutique markup, Project M is able to keep its prices lower.
"We've talked to people -- fashionistas, and our friends -- who want something unique and handmade but end up going to the mall or Urban Outfitters and they're not necessarily happy to spend the money and support these huge corporations, but they feel like they don't have many other options and that's what we're trying to bring," says Bower. "Project M is for those people."
So, don't expect typical boutique prices here. Everything is priced under $100, with the average price points between $20 and $50.
"We don't want people turning away because they can't afford it. We just want to give people something unique, handmade and in their price range."
Everything in the store is for sale, including all the displays, which encourages the owners to keep things perpetually fresh and new, including different designers every month.
Project M opens March 1. Hours are Tuesday though Saturday, 12 to 7 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 5 p.m.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”