by: Leanne Palmer
In 2008, my husband died of cancer and the global economy melted down. These two things, personal and global, happened more or less simultaneously. Afterwards, I felt that I needed to start something new. Over the next few years, I founded Quotidienne, an online shop selling clothing for the art of everyday life. The process has been challenging and rewarding, an ongoing learning process.
I have always been interested in how clothing helps us express personal style. As the recession wore on, I saw old business models failing, and new ones springing up. I live in Portland, Oregon, where almost everyone I know has their own business, but it took me a couple of years to build up the confidence and research to start the shop. Once I did, I had to learn everything from scratch, though my background in visual art gave me head start on photography and styling.
I was profoundly influenced by writer Bruce Sterling’s Viridian Design project. Sterling wrote:“Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.”
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most.”
Quotidienne is about restoring the items in our everyday wardrobes to their place among the “monarchs of objects.” Instead of fast fashion, I offer clothing and accessories that are meant to last for years, made by people who love what they do.
Beauty is everything. I’ve learned that to reach people I need to emphasize the beauty of the products, and show that customers are investing in wearable art. I tend to want to focus on the educational part of sustainable and ethical fashion, but that can come off as preachy and negative if I’m not careful. I consider it part of the shop’s mission to show people the benefits of “buying better,” but I am still learning how best to communicate that to my customers.
I rely on thorough Internet research to find the designers I work with, and I’ve learned through experience the importance of developing relationships with the designers. We each need to prove that we can follow through on our responsibilities to each other. I need to show them that I will pay on time and represent their work well. They need to demonstrate that they can deliver what they promise with consistent quality.
These aspects of running the shop are challenging, but they are also what I love about it. Showcasing designers who love what they do is important to me. I also love selling beautiful, minimalist things that can be worn every day. This is the easy part.
The hardest part of the business is unquestionably the financial aspect. I never expected running a business to be easy, but it’s even more difficult than I anticipated. I drive a 22-year-old car (and hope every day it will keep going), I live very simply, and I work another part-time job to help pay the bills while the shop gets established. It’s not unusual for me to work 15-hour days.
The other hard part is “selling.” I don’t believe in persuading people to spend as much money as possible on something they may not even want. However, as a shop owner, I do have to convince customers that I am offering something beautiful that they will love and use on a regular basis. I try to show them the long-term value of the items in my collection. I like business author Seth Godin’s approach, and recommend that aspiring business owners read his work.
Despite the challenges, I love running Quotidienne. The “Fashion Cycle” makes no sense anymore. The pressure to have new collections every season is hard for the designers, financially difficult for small boutiques like mine, and encourages waste. Going forward, I want to help develop a community that can meld the everyday with a bit of luxury and even romanticism. I think it can be done, but it requires us to change our mindset as consumers.
Leanne Palmer is the founder and owner of Quotidienne, an online boutique selling clothing for the art of everyday life. We provide a tightly-edited, well-crafted collection with a minimalist and slightly quirky take, made by people who love what they do. Everything in the shop has been chosen with thought, carefully selected to work together seamlessly but also mix well with your existing wardrobe. Instead of a closet stuffed with fast fashion, we want you to have a wardrobe of quality things you love and wear with pleasure.