The Rapidian

From artist to entrepreneur: Three South Division business owners

Avenue for the Arts Intern, Madison May sat down during a busy First Friday: The Market event to chat with the three female entrepreneurs behind Have Company, Parliament the Boutique and Woosah Outfitters.
Elyse Welcher of Parliament the Boutique

Elyse Welcher of Parliament the Boutique /Adam Bird Photography

Find out more about Parliament the Boutique, Have Company and the opening of Woosah Outfitters here!

While out and about this summer be sure to visit all three Avenue for the Arts locations.

Woosah opens their doors on June 27.

Parliament will be holding their biggest pop up event of the year at Founders Fest.

Have Company will have a Quince and Co. Yarn preview on June 22nd along with classes and workshops, ranging from a fiber installation to preserving plant medicine.

Erica Lang outside of the new Woosah Outfitters store, opening June 27

Erica Lang outside of the new Woosah Outfitters store, opening June 27 /Avenue for the Arts

Marlee Grace Hanson of Have Company and guests during First Fridays:The Market

Marlee Grace Hanson of Have Company and guests during First Fridays:The Market /Avenue for the Arts

When launching a creative career, building a business can seem overwhelming. Madison May, our current intern for the Avenue for the Arts and a self-proclaimed plant lover, printmaker and fiber freak wanted to learn more about being a creative entrepreneur. She sat down to chat with three female entrepreneurs, all with businesses on South Division in the Avenue for the Arts, who have launched successful companies before the age of 30.

Erica Lang, owner and creative genius of Woosah Outfitters, is a powerhorse who advocates being present and building relationships with nature.

“Woosag is all about promoting living with the present and being in the present through connecting with nature. Artwork shares that connection and viewpoint that hopefully inspires people to connect with nature.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Lang started building her printshop in an Avenue storefront. Woosah Outfitters will officially open its doors on June 27. 

Lang has been busy sending out incentives to the supporters who helped to surpass her goal of $15,000 and raising a total of $20,500. Along with building display essentials for her storefront and fitting rooms, recently she’s been collaborating with Abbey Blodgett on an illustration for a metal sculpture for Founders Brewing, she carved a woodcut for a tee shirt for New Belgium Brewing and painted murals for Velo City Cycles and the soon to be opened Harmony Hall

“When I moved here I walked into Reb’s Shop, Sanctuary Folk Art, and I thought, wow, he does this for a living! I have to have a shop here one day," she says. "I also looked to Elyse and Jacob of Parliament. That showed me you are never too young to have a shop.”

Elyse Welcher, founder of Little Wings Designs, runs the shop across the street and Parliament the Boutique along with fiance Jacob Vroon and her long time friend Megan Roach. Started in April of 2013, Parliament the Boutique specializes in leatherwork and fibers, currently offering an array of work from ten artists. Alongside their brick and mortar storefront, Roach, Vroon and Welcher travel to regional shows to sell their work.

“This summer is so busy! We will be traveling to great shows including Fulton Street Artists Market, Founders Fest, Electric Forest and Renegade Craft Fair,“ says Roach.

Friends since high school, Welcher and Roach have grown their collective, sharing an interest in natural dyes and fibers. Welcher says they draw on the Grand Rapids fashion community.

“We do a lot of natural dye work," she says. " We call it farm punk. The Grand Rapids look is somewhere between hippy, punk and farmer with vintage flare.”

Roach says her journey in fibers arts started in college.

“I bought a sewing machine and started to sew my own clothes," she says. "This lead to a growing interest in the complexity behind crocheting, knitting and natural dyeing and has ultimately lead me to weaving. “

Have Company’s founder Marlee Grace Hanson also shares a love of fibers. After a recently funded Kiva loan, Have Company is expanding their inventory to carry Quince and Co. Yarn.

“I definitely identify as a fiber artist," says Grace Hanson. "Currently I am creating a handmade wardrobe, whether that’s knitting or sewing it myself.”

Have Company opened in July of 2013 and now currently exhibits what Hanson calls “things my friends make,” with 50 artists selling everything from zines to handmade clothing. When asked why she wanted to start her own business, Hanson’s response was in tune with the other two owners.

“I wanted to be my own boss," she says, "and set my own rules. I have a vision that I want to share with people.”

Building a business while continuing to make creative work isn’t easy and each business owner utilized local resources to start their business. While all three mentioned Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), Lang sought out local letterpress shop and resource center Dinderbeck to help her in the transition to finding a storefront after her recent graduation from the printmaking department at Kendall College of Art and Design.

Dinderbeck housed my business for a year," she says. "I knew I wanted to be on the Avenue since The Market was the first event Woosah ever did. I needed to be able to get to know my customers, face to face. I needed to represent what I did in my own environment. Dinderbeck was an amazing space to utilize while I made the leap into store owner." All three agree that having a supportive community is important and that using word of mouth to build a business is essential.

“Having a connection to the Avenues’ long term residents and artists builds long term relationships and supports a sense of entrepreneurship," Welcher notes.

Creative entrepreneurs are invited to, check out The Avenue for the Art’s Break it Down. Doing Business classes beginning on July 15. With a focus on practical business skills and strategies for creatives, Break it Down. Doing Business will break out of the mold of a traditional small business model and refresh creative entrepreneurship skills. This hands-on session series will take an indepth look at current business practices, envisioning a healthier balance between business and creative output. Based on new curriculum developed in conjunction with Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Artist Cohort begins on July 15 and concludes September 27. There are a limited number of seats available and registration can be found here.

The Avenue for the Arts is a neighborhood title for the South Division commercial corridor. We are residential, commercial and nonprofit groups working together in a creative community. We are residents in Heartside and active participants in shaping change in our neighborhood. In 2005, we chose the Avenue for the Arts as a title to represent our commercial corridor and the projects and events that we create. Because the Avenue is powered by volunteers, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Learning Lab participant Madison May for her contribution to this piece. Madison is a printmaker studying at Kendall College of Art and Design. Apart from her studies, she works for the Fed Galleries and Michaels Arts and Crafts. In her spare time she loves to garden and make paper. She also loves cats and keeps getting more on accident...sort of.

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