Fasten Closes Storefront; Sparrow Takes Flight
On April 30, Fasten Collective closed the doors to its retail space in Bay View for good. I’d heard murmurings here and there of the store closing, and like most people assumed that it was yet another beloved Milwaukee institution that sadly, fell victim to the economy. As it turns out, I was wrong.
About a week prior to the actual closing, owner Janelle Gramling (and designer behind the label Little Ocean) sent out an oddly upbeat newsletter, announcing the end of Fasten’s storefront that at the same time assured friends and customers that Fasten the collective was still alive and well. While Fasten will no longer operate as a storefront, a new cooperative would move in immediately, working to uphold Fasten’s local arts mission while at the same time broadening the store’s inventory by offering wares from around the nation.
Enter Sparrow Collective, the joint venture of local artist/designers Jessica Franzen and Lisa Wierzbinski. Franzen and Wierzbinski have been Fasten members since about 2007, and both sold their designs and have volunteered at the store up until now. I chatted it up with the Sparrow ladies and Fasten’s Janelle Gramling about the decision to close Fasten and what this new collective means for Milwaukee’s craft/DIY scene.
TCD: What lead you to close Fasten?
JG: The decision to close Fasten was a hard one to make. Myself and the member designers were really accomplishing Fasten’s mission successfully – we brought together dozens of local designers and artists, gave them the opportunity to show their work, sell their work, and participate in the gallery/retail operation. Our nurturing atmosphere was really beginning to yield some great talent, the products in the store growing more and more impressive. However, after over three years in business, the store had yet to turn a profit. It became increasingly difficult for me to keep up with the demands of overseeing the store (even with the great help of volunteer designers), and I found myself sacrificing time that I wanted to spend on my own label.
I knew that there were things that had to be done to keep the store open. Bringing in designers from out of town, shifting the focus away from clothing and bringing in new more gifty items, and changing consignment rates were all ideas on the table. But I strongly felt as though those changes were all counter to Fasten’s local arts mission.
JG: Jessica and Lisa were member designers volunteering at Fasten a lot. After I started talking with the members about having a hard time keeping things together, they came to me and let me know that they were interested in starting something up. I was relieved that someone had the guts to make it happen and keep the space alive.
JF: I always wanted to own my own business and once Janelle announced that she needed to leave the boutique business, We saw it has an open window to take a chance. I think that now that Paper Boat is closing, the outlet for indie designers is even more important and needed. Going into the business together has been really great. We both have different strengths that create a whole.
TCD: Tell me about Sparrow Collective- what will it incorporate and how will it compare to Fasten?
LW: Sparrow Collective specializes in handmade items from independent designers. We carry clothing, accessories, jewelry, and homegoods. Over 50% of our designers are local and the other designers are from out-of-state. Not only are we a store, but we also sponsor events such as monthly craft nights, gallery nights, and participate in fairs and events around the city. We also offer classes each month.
Sparrow is going to broaden our designer range. Fasten stayed strictly local, and although we do support local designer and still house them, we also want to showcase designers from out-of-state and their amazing talents.
JG: Many of the same designers will be selling at the new store and they will continue doing many of the same things, but we all agreed that they would change the name of the store so that they wouldn’t be tied down to Fasten’s mission, and could simply do whatever they need to do to keep the space open for handmade artists.
LW: To celebrate the change in name and management, we will be hosting an all day event at Sparrow on May 16 from 12pm – 7pm. There will be a cookout and free goodies! We hope the community will come out and support indie artists and come see the changes at the store.
TCD: What will become of Fasten?
JG: Fasten will still operate to promote local artists and designers through our blog. I’m very excited to push Fasten’s mission forward by being a bigger voice for talent, creativity, and style in the community. Also, we will be organizing crafty DIY events, art and fashion markets, and producing runway events. Maybe Fasten will open a space once again, but if Sparrow continues to do a good job at keeping it local, there will be no need.
Talking (uh, more like emailing – it’s more convenient, but you know what I mean) with these ladies I felt a sense of hope, like maybe, just maybe, things are starting to look up. I’d like to believe that my tendency toward the sanguine isn’t completely misguided, either. In the past six months, Milwaukee said goodbye to Atomic Records, Schwartz Books and Broad Vocabulary (among others) and at the end of this month, Paper Boat will also be gone. In those same six months, though, members of the community pooled their resources to launch new and exciting projects in the wake of these losses – Boswell Books, A Broader Vocabulary Cooperative and Sparrow, to name a few. Art and culture still thrives in Milwaukee, only it’s becoming more grass-roots — it’s learning how to adapt to the changes in our society. And it’s getting stronger.