Celebrating Chicago’s other fashion scene

By Meghan Keyes

The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue is considered the major shopping district of Chicago, a popular tourist destination and location of high-end fashion shops and retail chains. Independent Retail Week wants to change all of that by highlighting fashion off the Magnificent Mile.

Independent Retail Week took place from Oct. 16 to 23, showcasing different designers and boutiques in the city. The event was put on by Nolcha, a platform for independent retailers from New York City.

“The city has so many wonderful, diverse, independent retail stores,” said Kerry Bannigan, CEO of Nolcha. “We think it’s the perfect opportunity to expand it from New York City to a great market like Chicago.”

Nolcha connects independent fashion retailers and designers through educational programs and events like Independent Retail Week, or by hosting its own version of fashion week simultaneously with the official fashion week events in New York City and London.

Last year’s Independent Retail Week in Chicago included approximately 80 retailers, Bannigan said. They worked with a variety of magazines, websites and organizations, including Where Magazine and Yelp. Goodie bags and maps were handed out at Chicago-chain Akira stores on Oct. 16 as a kick-off event.

Highlighted designers and retailers for this year include Anastasia Chatzka, Adele Dallas Orr, Kreative Soul and Wildflowers.

Anastasia Chatzka originally moved to Chicago from Detroit to attend the International Academy of Design. After moving to New York, she returned to Chicago because it “had a good dynamic for a city that I wanted to open a store in,” said Chatzka, who opened her store 16 months ago. “I think it’s important to support Chicago’s fashion and the boutique community as well. Independent designers and retailers are really important to the local economy … not just giving all the money to big box names like H&M.”

Chatzka said she got involved in the event through the Chicago fashion scene.

Local First Chicago is one of the organizations sponsoring the event. The group is a network of locally owned businesses and organizations that aims to educate the public about buying local.

“What we’re hoping to see, for the public at least, is more awareness of what’s out there, locally, what they’re offering and the uniqueness of the merchandise,” said Pon Angara, president of the board of directors for Local First. “Hopefully this will clue in people for the holidays.”

Angara said Local First’s main involvement was promotion, which includes spreading the word through its e-mail lists about the retailers and the events.

“Since it’s city-wide, the stores get to remain on their brick-and-mortar properties rather than pack up and go to an exhibition,” Bannigan said. “It’s complimentary for the stores to be involved, and it’s all about raising awareness and increasing traffic for clientele, as well as getting tourists in the door … they might not know about independent stores when they’re looking for things.”

Chatzka also hopes for exposure and new customers.

“It’s about letting people know about other options. There’s unique clothing and other options than what is on Michigan Avenue—there are other neighborhoods in the city of Chicago,” Chatzka said. “Tourists don’t know and people might not leave their neighborhood if they don’t know what’s out there.”

Bannigan views the future of the event positively and said anticipates its return next year.

“Hopefully consumers will put these stores on their radar and continue to shop there even after the weeklong celebration,” Bannigan said.