Monday, September 22, 2008

QUESTIONS FOR CRAFTERS MTL: Headquarters Galerie and Boutique

Interview by Pamela Grimaud

Angie & Tyson

Headquarters Galerie and Boutique is located in Montreal's Gay Village and it's hard to describe how many wonderful things are on display and up for grabs - after paying, of course - in this Amherst Street box o' treats. HQ is the joint labour of love of transplanted Winnipeggers Angie Johnson and Tyson Bodnarchuk, who also craft and create any number of fantastic works independently, too. Under Norwegian Wood, Angie uses vintage fabrics, trims and buttons with modern textiles to create a collection of clothing, jewelry and home accessories. (It was Angie's fireplace log cushions and owls that caught my eye at this summer's Pomme-Pomme Craft and Zine Fair). Tyson not only makes art that can be showcased on your wall or shelf, but worn on your feet or over your arm in the form of handpainted vintage shoes and purses. Angie and Tyson have two dogs Spidey and Mary, and although I wasn't lucky enough to make Spidey's acquaintance, Mary graciously licked my foot numerous times throughout my visit.

Angie, please tell me a bit about yourself...I know you studied art and fashion in Winnipeg, and worked in the fashion industry here in Montreal. I'm curious about what drew you to the fashion industry, then prompted you to break away to pursue your particular take on it. And beyond that, how was Headquarters born?

Whew, that is a a big question! I'll attack it point by point...

Regarding what drew me to the fashion industry, I don't think I can pin it down to one thing, because I've wanted to do it from such a young age. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that my mom sewed for herself, myself and my sister a lot when I was young, so I always looked at making clothing as something very accessible, something that anyone could do it seemed. My grandmothers were also very talented with sewing, crocheting, etc. so I was pretty much surrounded women who were making their own clothing.

So those are the humble beginnings, and it just continued to grow from there. When I was 16 my mom encouraged me to start selling my designs on consignment in some local boutiques. I remember her driving me down to meet with some of them to show my samples and sketches, I wasn't even old enough to drive alone yet! So I started selling in some boutiques, and it just kind of took off. I continued doing that throughout my high school years with a few fashion shows thrown in for fun, then went to the University of Manitoba in the faculty of Human Ecology, focusing on Clothing & Textiles, while still selling my designs in small boutiques. While still in University I got a job at the Silver Jeans head office in Winnipeg, and was lucky enough to work in the design office and was able to learn a lot and get some work experience. I worked there for 2 years in University, then 2 years after I graduated. Then I met Tyson and all hell broke loose. Tyson was moving to Montreal, and I had always wanted to move to Montreal, so we decided to move together. Five years later, we're still here.

I quickly found a job as an assistant designer here in Montreal, and then had an opportunity to work at another company as the head designer, so decided to move on. In April of this year [the line I was working on] shut down , at which point I got laid off. Luckily the owner and I worked together closely, and he warned me about this change in advance so I had some time to think about what I wanted to do. I decided that this was the perfect kick in the butt to start supporting myself off of my own designs, so that's just what I did.

Going back in time 3 years, though is the beginning of the Headquarters story. because we planned the store, applied for grants, got our funding in place and did other preparatory things for a whole year before opening it. Tyson was working summers as a landscaper, breaking his back, and we started talking about other options for him, and opening our own store/gallery was something we had each thought about a lot. We decided we needed to stop talking about it, and start working on it, so we did. It took a lot of work writing the business plan, applying for grants, researching suppliers, etc. but I don't think we would still be here if we hadn't planned it out well. We did not have a truckload of cash to burn when starting out this venture (still don't!) so we had to be really sure about where every penny was going.


Besides a delightful (truly) environment to showcase independent crafters and artists, what did you and Tyson hope to achieve in creating Headquarters? While chatting you mentioned a couple of things that struck me; that it's a place that someone with a sewing question can feel free to stop by with, and that you want to offer a range of pricepoints to render the store as accessible as possible. Can you expand on that?

Our main goal was to try to create the kind of place that the 16 year old "me" would have loved to sell stuff in, and the 16 year old Tyson would have loved to check out art in. We wanted to be that shop that some person would talk about 10 years from now as one of the places that helped and supported them when they were just starting out. We also wanted to be known amongst shoppers as a place to find REALLY special handmade goods and have a great shopping experience, for them to be able to ask us about a seller, and for us to know all about them, what they're inspired by, why they make their items a certain way, what techniques they use, etc. A really personable, one on one shopping experience, that is very rare to find nowadays.

We also were very cautious in not making the store elitist in any way. If someone doesn't really know the difference between handmade and mass produced, or has never heard of certain artists, no problem, we can help you figure it out if you want. The pricing is also an important part of this. Since we're designers as well, we understand that as a small business owner you can't offer rock bottom prices for your goods, and you shouldn't have to. We believe in fair pricing that reflects the work the designer put into it. But we also didn't want the store to only have high priced items, no matter how fairly priced they were. So it was very important for us to source out people who were making goods at all price points, so we wouldn't have any poor students, young people with limited budgets, or poor artists for that matter, coming in our store and feeling alienated, like they couldn't afford anything. Bringing in the vintage shoes, belts, jewelry and purses was one of the ways we were able to have some lower priced items in the beginning, but slowly we've built up a roster of cute items by indie designers that are more affordable, mostly due to them using a more affordable technique or material.

How does the function of your "bricks and mortar" location compare with your Etsy site? And how do you not go nuts trying to balance the two, along with your blog? You're even prepping for the One of a Kind Show in T.O. I'm already a bit tired just writing about all this.

Well, it's definitely a juggling act, and I am very happy I'm working on Norwegian Wood and the store full time now. We also have a vintage Etsy site to sell clothing (we don't sell vintage clothing in the store, as I feel it would hurt the indie designers) and Tyson has an Etsy site to sell his paintings and shoes. We kind of split it up between the two of us: Tyson handles the stores daily functions and creates his art, while I help out with finding designers, in-store displays and sourcing the vintage stuff, and then Norwegian Wood is what is taking up a a lot of my time now. The B&M store is definitely our main priority, and takes up the most time. The blog is something I started before we opened the store to help keep people updated, since we didn't have a website. It was a pleasant surprise for me, I've always enjoyed writing, and discovered that I really liked blogging (planning the posts, finding the images, doing mini-photoshoots) so I've kept it up.


The HQ gallery, located downstairs from the shop, is very open and serene. The current exhibition, "In the Shadows of Metropolis - Particles of a Changing China" (photos by Toby Andris Cayouette) is excellent, too. How does the gallery figure into the what you are trying to achieve within the community?

The gallery is kind of a funny animal. When we were planning on opening, we wanted to have a gallery because Tyson is an artist, and we both really enjoy art in all forms. We knew having a gallery and making any money off of it is a very difficult thing, so we kind of always thought of it as a service to the community, and selfishly a service to ourselves, because we wanted to be able to see a lot of awesome art, and bring in some artists that we were really excited about. We love having the gallery and get our breath taken away monthly every time a new exhibition is set up, even though putting on monthly shows is a huge amount of work. I think that everyone loosens up a bit when they come down to an opening exhibition and sees the store in a different light, not just as a place of consumerism, but as a place of creativity, which is our goal in the end.

You feature so many wonderful artists, crafters and designers, many of which, though not all, are local. How did you discover their work? Or, how did they find you? What are some of the challenges of featuring the work of so many individuals?

In the beginning we had to find each and every one of them, since obviously no one had heard of us. Luckily for us we have a lot of creative friends, so that was part of it. Other than that I did a lot of online research (on Etsy, and Cut+Paste) as well as finding people through various blogs (design*sponge, decor8, Apartment Therapy). Nowadays we get a lot of applications, and I will contact people I see online who have something really special to offer.

There are a lot of challenges to featuring the work of so many different people... a lot. First of all, you're dealing with creative people, who often work on their own time schedules. I'd say Tyson has more problems with the artists than the designers for some reason. Secondly, you're mostly dealing with people who are not doing this as their main source of income, so they have lots of things that get in the way, like, you know, jobs. So we don't have the reliable flow of products that most stores dealing with large companies would have, so that's a challenge. We work with well over 100 suppliers, probably actually verging on 200 by now, so without [our inventory system designed by a friend who is a computer genius], we would be royally lost. The last challenge is finding shelf space for everyone without the store looking like a mess. This is my territory, not so much Tyson’s, and thinking of new display ideas is a constant concern of mine. If we had a store twice as big, I'm sure it would still be packed.


Although Montreal is jam-packed with creative, crafty types it does not yet share, say, Toronto's reputation as a hotbed of craft. What is your experience, pros and cons, regarding running a business, specifically a craft-related one, in this town?

Well, I'd have to say our biggest issue all comes down to the dreaded dollars and cents. Montreal is a lovely town, with lovely people, but not a lot of them have money to burn. Montreal has a lot of creativity and cheap rents, which makes it the ideal place for artists to live. Unfortunately as a store owner we have a lot of customers who love our store, but who just don't have a large enough disposable income to support a lot of their fellow artists as much as people do in a town like T.O. You're also dealing with the fact that with so many people being creative, a lot of them make stuff themselves, and just don't buy as much stuff in general. It's a weird situation.

Any hopes and plans for the future of Headquarters? Will Mary, for instance, take on a larger managerial role?

We always have big plans, some are long term, others not so much. We try to take things in small steps though, as it's very easy to get overwhelmed with all the things that need to be done. Our plans for this fall are:

- Make a sign for the outside of the building (currently we have window signage, but we need something that can be seen from farther away)
- Make a display box for the inside window so we can do better window displays
- re-arrange the indoor displays to make room for more jewelry
- kick butt at the One of a Kind show

Long term plans
- possibly move to a bigger space, or a better location. Usually the two don't go together unfortunately, but we're keeping our eyes open!
- refine and improve the product selection in the store
- further develop and grow our online vintage selection
- bring in some really great artists for solo exhibitions
- get an e-commerce site up and running. We tried to do that this spring, but it didn't really work out. We're going to give it another go though!


What's your favourite flavour of ice cream? How about Tyson - what's his favourite? (I'd like to interject here that it's very hard to find a good pistachio ice cream, but that's neither here nor there).

Hands down pistachio for me, and I agree it's hard to find a good one (it's not supposed to be lime green!). The one at the ice cream place by Atwater market is great, as well as this place on St. Denis, just after Duluth. Tyson goes nuts for candy cane ice-cream, which is practically impossible to find, thus driving me nuts as well.


After thirteen years in the United States and one brutally expensive master's degree from New York University, Pamela Grimaud returned to her beloved Montreal, where she works as a costume historian, college instructor, researcher, independent lecturer and writer. She is currently reading everything she can get her hands on regarding the field of ethical fashion, is a fervent admirer of all things crafty and considers herself a junior knitter. She blogs about all kinds of things at Oh, Little Bird!


Blogger angelune said...

wow, that place looks amazing!

10:11 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ecommerce is one word that has uncannily boosted the economies of all, the first world, the second world and the third world countries. Though the trend of buying and selling through the electronic media, predominantly through the net, is a trend that has seen the upswing in the developed countries, the technicalities involved with it like making an ecommerce solution, is something that the firms in the developed countries hire from the poorer countries, thus giving a boost to the latter’s economy. Unfortunately, the benefits yielded by fields like ecommerce are yet to reach the grass root levels especially in the third world countries.

3:39 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this store! Also the photos are beautiful. Who took them?

11:31 a.m.  

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