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Young Ohio Entrepreneurs Strut Down a Changing Fashion Runway

Caroline Dengel features clothes on-the-go, and recently she opened a small shop in a recycled steel shipping container
Caroline Dengel features clothes on-the-go, and recently she opened a small shop in a recycled steel shipping container

Nate DeMars didn’t know anything about selling men’s clothing, but the Ohio State business graduate looked around OSU and figured there was a huge market.

NATE DeMARS: I saw, certain days of the year, you’ve got thousands of guys who all put on a suit and trudge off to the student union on career fair day.

Given the transient nature of students, DeMars figured he could cater to that market with a temporary or “pop-up store”. So, he found a small space on campus and set-up what’s become a very successful shop, called Pursuit.

NATE DeMARS: There’s a million places you can buy a suit, and the people that we’re really going head-to-head with are big national retailers with mammoth retail spaces. Being a little more innovative with our retail delivery is a way to show this isn’t your grandfather’s suit store.

Pop-up shops are just one example of how young entrepreneurs are changing the face of fashion retailing. Columbus-based business consultant Chris Boring says an even bigger trend is selling clothes on the web.

CHRIS BORING: What amazes me is e-commerce grows every year, it seems, by 15-20%. I think retailers are just getting a lot better at displaying and delivering their products from their websites.

DCB: That’s the path that Valerie Mayen’s taking. The Cleveland designer made a big splash nationally in 2010 as a contestant on the popular fashion design program, “Project Runway”.

SOUND: Clip from the program

Mayen opened her local shop, called “Yellow Cake”, in the west side Gordon Square district almost five years ago, to much acclaim. But, there’s been a decline in foot traffic more recently, so she’s shutting down the store to move fulltime on the web.

VALERIE MAYEN: We are kind of done with the retail portion, because it’s just not for us anymore --- it’s not sustainable, it’s not affordable. People are shopping more on-line or thrift stores, and retail is quickly going the way of the internet.

Another person looking to sew-up the local fashion market is Caroline Dengel, who has a family history in the business.

CAROLINE DENGEL: My grandma actually worked in a garment sewing factory downtown, all through the 50s and 60s.

Dengel says she’s had good success selling clothes on the web. But, she’s probably better known for a mobile boutique that she calls “Wandering Wardrobe”. Definitely not your grandmother’s clothing store.

CAROLINE DENGEL: I got the idea from a couple different trucks out in Los Angeles and San Diego. My big thing is, I couldn’t commit to a storefront location, or a neighborhood here in Cleveland. I wanted to do all the different neighborhoods --- Ohio City, Tremont, Lakewood….

And now, she does just that in the spring, summer and fall, hitting festivals and other community gatherings. Each morning, she stocks the truck with dresses and jewelry based on responses she gets from customers on Facebook and Instagram, keeping her selection sharp.

CAROLINE DENGEL: If you’re a small business owner, you have to be on social media. You have to have a website, you have to make it accessible for mobile or you’re losing a lot of business.

Nate DeMars launched his own “Suitmobile” about a year ago, which allows him to personally touch a growing off-campus clientele of young professionals that he might not be able to reach on the web or in his store.

NATE DeMARS: So, we see all three of those channels as being important to us. I think the fancy buzz word is “omni-channel retail”.

DeMars says he’s just trying to cover his bases in a new world of fashion marketing. Oh, and that temporary “pop-up store” where he started his business is now permanent. And he’s looking to expand.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.