As the Sparrow (Collective) flies
Bottle caps become buttons, t-shirts transform into potholders and reposed fabric miraculously makes wallets.
All of these things are made possible at Sparrow Collective, a hub of creativity located at 2224 S. Kinnickinnic in Bay View. The store features hand-made clothing, accessories and housewares, all contributed by independent designers. The retail space itself is artistically arranged, with bright teal walls and little grey sparrows (naturally) swirling around the ceiling and some tall tree branches behind the register.
“It’s not exactly a boutique or co-op,” says Jessica Franzen, who co-owns Sparrow Collective with fellow designer Lisa Wierzbinski.“We like to call it a collective because we get things in from designers and artists throughout the Midwest.”
The thriving crafty commune just celebrated its first birthday in May, since the project retained the space previously owned by Fasten Collective a year ago. Franzen and Wierzbinski used to volunteer for Fasten and regularly contributed their craftwork – Franzen specializes in jewelry and silk screening and Wierzbinski focuses on clothing, primarily sundresses made out of vintage fabric.
Sparrow hosts a variety of items contributed by indie crafters around the country and Canada. Embedded throughout the selection are silk screened neckties from Detroit, mugs made at Circa Ceramics in Chicago and canvas messenger bags that hail all the way from Oklahoma.
Franzen and Wierzbinski also travel around the state to various craft fairs looking for artists who are interested in consignment deals. Local artists can express interest by simply walking in and talking to one of the ladies, but the store’s online presence via Etsy has helped to expand their inventory.
“Part of our goal from the beginning was to diversify both our sources and the types of artistry available in the store,” Franzen said. “We wanted to expand and stock up our shelves.”
The collective currently represents over 60 independent artists and designers. But that’s not all that has progressed at Sparrow this year. Franzen has grown to appreciate the contagious art bug that has taken form in the neighborhood and can’t help but think the store had something to do with the movement.
“You don’t think a $4 magnet or $2 pin can really make a difference until one day everyone wants one.”
Not to mention that these magnets and pins are reusable. Not only is Sparrow Collective making an impact on the arts scene in the neighborhood, they’re doing it in a sustainable way too.
“Sparrow came into the neighborhood at a crucial time,” Franzen said. “A lot of businesses were closing around Bay View and we wanted to get things back to being creatively active.”
And that’s just what Franzen and Wierzbinski did. They started with a monthly gallery night, and then added screenprinting, sewing and knitting classes.
Their upcoming Gallery Night show will feature photography by local artist Rebecca Ristic. The public can come into the store and take a look at artwork, have a bite to eat and shop around. Dates for various workshops are pending, but meanwhile there is craft storage in the back of the collective full of fabric and supplies, both vintage and new.
And for those who haven not been connected with Sparrow Collective via their Etsy store or while meandering the streets of Bay View, there’s Facebook. Franzen says it has become useful forum that allows the shop to share photos and information.
“Facebook has completely revolutionized the face of advertising. It has actually made it obsolete for us, which has been a huge help financially.”
The collective has over 3,000 friends on Facebook and Franzen doesn’t see it slowing down anytime soon. As business owners, Franzen and Wierzbinski have been focusing a lot more on the technical aspects of the store lately.
“Because we’ve grown so much this past year, we’re really starting to concentrate on writing down details and becoming part of the do-it-yourself world professionally,” Franzen said.
The owners are looking toward the future with excitement, investing in furniture and doing some fine-tuning in other aspects of the collective. With all its eccentricity, you might not know the exact label of Sparrow Collective, but there’s no denying that it’s a place where imagination can materialize into anything – including soap made out of Corona beer.