By Samantha West The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Amy O'Connor says the idea for "Harmony Vintage" came about when she was out thrift shopping with her friend. During that shopping trip, O'Connor had picked out a handful of clothes that she liked but wouldn't necessarily wear herself. The thing is, she had a feeling that SOMEONE would want to wear them. IDEA BORN!
The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
Amy O'Connor was raised to be the kind of woman who scavenges the racks of estate sales and secondhand stores like Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul in search of "hidden treasure" -- or a perfectly curated outfit.
"My parents both worked in education, so thrifting was the norm for us. It was just what we did when we wanted new things," O'Connor said. "And now it just kind of comes naturally. It's almost kind of a hobby in that you find treasures and they're unique and they become yours."
Still, the 33-year-old Eau Claire resident had never considered making a business of it -- that is, until recently.
On Thursday, O'Connor launched Harmony Vintage, a line of colorful vintage and "pre-loved" clothing housed at Red's Mercantile in Eau Claire.
It all started, O'Connor said, while she was out thrift shopping with her friend Becca Cooke, the owner of Red's and founder of Red Letter Grant. After awhile, O'Connor had picked out a handful of clothes that she liked but wouldn't necessarily wear herself. She suggested Cooke sell the items in her store.
But Cooke, who founded Red Letter Grant -- a nonprofit that aims to support and empower female entrepreneurs through grants and small business workshops -- had other ideas.
"In her very Becca way, she said 'Hmm. Let's explore this a little bit more,'" O'Connor recalled, laughing with Cooke at the memory.
O'Connor had never owned her own business, but it was always something she wanted to try. She graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2008 with a degree in organizational communication and sociology, but had spent much of her time in the business world. While living in the Twin Cities, she worked in the nonprofit world.
Upon hearing about a revitalization of art and small businesses in Eau Claire, O'Connor and her husband decided to return to the city in 2016. O'Connor managed The Informalist and also helped launch Pablo Center at the Confluence as patron relations manager.
After that gig came to a close, O'Connor wasn't sure what was next. Over the next few weeks, O'Connor and Cooke talked about a future in Eau Claire and how she could be part of the revitalization that drew her back.
Eventually, the two landed on the idea of a vintage line completely curated by O'Connor that would be hosted by Red's. And Harmony Vintage was born.
"We had a small vintage section here for the last year and a half, and so it's fun to have somebody specifically focused on curating that," Cooke said. "And, it's really great to work with someone like Amy and help her start something in a way that's less risky. ... I think it's a good steppingstone to get her where she wants to be with this. I'm really excited."
"To be able to do something that's fully my own and to be supported by a woman who I really respect and look up to and consider my friend -- it's the perfect blend of everything," O'Connor said.
The kick-off line, O'Connor said, is a collection reflective of all kinds of styles and aesthetics with something for everybody. Some of the blouses, sweaters, skirts and jeans are from thrift shops O'Connor visited while traveling with her husband. Others are family heirlooms of sorts, O'Connor said, turning to a clothing rack behind her and grabbing a red two-piece suit that belonged to her husband's great grandmother in the 1950s as an example.
"That's the thing with vintage and resale," O'Connor said. "You don't have to bend to a certain aesthetic with a collection, and everyone can find something to suit their own style."
But it's not just about the clothes for O'Connor. Glancing around Red's and at her racks of clothing, O'Connor said it's surreal to take part in the "changing and renewing" in Eau Claire that drew her and her husband back to their college town in the first place.
"It's so cool that downtown is what it is -- that it's so supportive of small business," O'Connor said. "It's fun to be part of the reason we wanted to be here."