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Common Thread: Island artisans weave a new path
Common Thread is a kaleidoscope of color. Silk scarves — in pinks, purples and oranges — hang on the wall. Felted animals, whimsical in their ornate dresses, shoes and hats, adorn a pedestal. Women’s clothes, some made from recycled fabrics, sport ribbons and polka-dots, bees and flowers.
Now six months old, this small retail outlet — a collective owned and managed by 14 women — is already drawing friends and followers.
“Just the variety is amazing,” Tanya Roberts said last Friday evening, when the shop was open for Vashon’s monthly gallery cruise. “There’s always something fascinating.”
“And the colors,” added her friend Jeannine Mercer, fingering a delicate pair of fabric shoes. “They’re just beautiful.”
The store — adjacent to Café Luna, in the space that used to house Books by the Way — is unlike any, its owners say, or at least none that they know of. A celebration of textiles, all the items in Common Thread are hand-made by its members (except for one line of clothing, locally designed by Anya Weil but made by a fair-trade collective in Cambodia).
The women share the space; each has her own section to display her wares. They divvy up work shifts, keeping the store open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Tuesday. Each one has a different task — from bookkeeping to window displays to store layout. No one gets paid; they earn simply what they sell. Decisions are made by consensus.
And if you think it might be challenging to get 14 creative Island women to agree on every aspect of running a shop, well, yes, it is, acknowledged some of the members. Early on, they brought in a professional facilitator — the husband of one of the members — who helped them work through differences.
Would they accept credit cards, for instance? (They do.) What about space for demonstrations and classes? (Not much, it turns out.)
“That was a struggle, when you have 14 personalities, all with different opinions,” recalled Sharon Schoen. But after working with the facilitator and ironing out protocols, she said, “We’re now on firm ground.”
Jenni Wilke, whose idea it was to open such a shop, agreed. “It took a few months,” she said. “It’s now working well.”
Indeed, as a testament to the shop’s strength, Wilke noted, none of the women has left since they opened their doors — except for Rebecca Wittman, the Farmers Market manager, who found she couldn’t give the store the time it required. (They’re currently looking for a couple more members.)
The shop strives to offer items that are affordable and have a wide appeal, said Wilke, who sells clothes made from discarded fabric under the label Just Stuff. Scarves sell for $20 to $60; colorful pot holders made of tencel are offered at $13; tank tops and T-shirts sell for around $20 and dresses for $30 to $60.
But there are also what members call “art pieces,” such as Monica Gripman’s felted animals. Her lanky, detailed giraffe, sporting a copper-colored tutu, rose-adorned top and red ballet slippers, carries a price tag of $2,300.
Several of the women are veterans at crafting items with retail appeal. Some — such as Linda Stemer, Kira Bacon, Leslie Carda, Mary Shemeta and Anya Weil — have their own websites or sell on Etsy, one of the best-known online sites for handcrafted goods. Stemer, whose textile business is called Blueprints on Fabric, has a thriving operation outside of Common Thread and has been featured by Martha Stewart, the diva of the DIY world.
The women hope that with the approach of summer, sales will increase. Most of the members are covering their costs and beginning to make money, though they all would like to see more customers walk through the door.
But for some of the women, Common Thread is largely about the connections they’re making — with each other as well as the broader community.
“It has to be worthwhile financially, but there’s more to it than that,” Stemer said. “There’s value in the community aspect.”
Common Thread, located at 9922 S.W. Bank Rd., is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Tuesday. Contact the store at 408-7170 or visit its website, www.vashoncommonthread.com.