JESSIE WILLIAMS AND THE CANDY FACTORY
We’re not sure if it’s scientifically possible, but we think our Edge of Urge owner and visionary Jessie Williams might also cause synesthesia. It’s hard to diagnose, but every time we see her, it’s just a rainbow, and we think we hear music.
She’s just that colorful! In all the ways you can imagine. Whenever we picture the inside of her brain, it’s the inventing room from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and her songs are just as good as anything an Oompa Loompa ever uttered. Which is crazy, because Williams claims that she had to get over paralyzing stage fright while attending the School of Art Institute in Chicago. “I took theater classes and performance classes to help me get over my paralyzing stage fright! When I graduated, I thought I was going to land a job in a recording studio or working on sound for film!”
Young Williams had feelings about music, and fashion.
But while she was in Chicago, she began hand-knitting accessories for friends. She gave them out as presents, but soon got so many orders she thought, “Hey?! I could sell these!” However, wasn’t a sky-rocket to a moon made of money, not yet. “As it turns out, being a no name “brand” and having absolutely ZERO idea about business, retail, buyers, really anything about how to launch and sell product, made for ZERO success.”
Where do you go from ground zilch? Full of pluck and straight up naiveté, and a healthy dose of “never give up attitude” from her parents, whom she describes as “Entrepreneurs! Fearless, adventurous, creative, loving and ball-busting!” (We think we can see exactly where this is going, if that’s what mom and dad are like).
Armed with a DIY ‘tude, and work from fellow “Chicago underdog” designers and her own hand-knitted and hand-sewn accessories and clothing, she opened Edge of Urge in Wilmington, a frequent family holiday spot she had visited often as a kid.
This fight for the underdog mentality, is the driving force behind Edge of Urge. I rented a 400sq ft. space in the Historic City Market. (It was their storage space at the time) I fixed it up and opened a month later! I am still so very thankful to my landlord Ben Gottschalk for giving me the opportunity to rent that space! He totally gave me my start!
So we’re celebrating 12 years not only of successes small and big, but of some serious ups and downs, trips and falls, and very heavy lessons. But the element that keeps it all together, the driving force behind all of it, the party responsible for the good and deals with the hard, is Jessie and her ragbag team of dreamers and techno whizzes and amazingly talented artists, and their communal effort to make EOU a special place, a kind of place that survives.
I think all of us enjoy being a part of the beginning of something really wonderful! As for the products we sell, those are someone’s baby, brain child, experiment, dream! We, the staff are in awe of their design, their story, the person behind the brand. We are excited to share that with the customer. And our customer trusts us to curate an exciting collection for them to peruse and bring into their family. All of us are excited to contribute to small business, and be a part of making something GREAT!
We get the sense from pop culture, from shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen to Melrose Place, that many women don’t have good girlfriends, women in their lives that support and inspire them. But in the real world, and especially at Edge of Urge, it just isn’t like that, due largely in part by that great warmth, Jessie Williams. We find it hard to believe that she’s been through wilderness years, as an awkward teen and an eager but inexperienced entrepreneur.
I was the kid always staying after school for tutoring or summer school because I just could not learn the same way or as fast as everyone else. This was just one of the many things that isolated me, or made me stand out as the “weirdo” from the rest of the gang.
The great thing about starting EOU when and the way I did was that is was incredibly naive! Had I had known what I was in for, I might have been to frightened to take such a huge risk. Especially without any advisors or experience. However, I would not trade all of the experience for the world! Now I have even more to offer my team, our artisans and community! I mean, we went from duh to AHHHHHH, I see! We have grown up together!
And grow up they have. At first, she was winging it. HARD. Slowly, she assembled her dream team, amazing individuals all, who have supported each other through the fat and lean years both. After wins and mistakes and a lot of learning, EOU was livin’ pretty large in 2008, and poised to open a second store. But then the bubble burst and the economy crumbled and Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae shit the bed and it was all hell everywhere. As hard as it was at the time, Williams and her team had to let go of that momentum.
While some people may view this as heartbreaking and the end, we saw it as an opportunity! When people tell me ‘no’ or ‘there is no way you can do that,’ that is fuel baby! …The great thing about having a wonderful, small, entrepreneurial-minded, and creative team is that we are agile! We were able to tweak our offerings and systems without sacrificing our core values and assortment.
You can see this nimbleness, adaptability, in Williams’ designs, “work [which] usually involved pieces you could wear in multiple ways. Reversible swimwear, dresses that can be worn as 5 other dresses and change into tops, skirts, pants. I found that this type of versatility was even more valuable than before!”
This agility, this sprightly leaping from small business and focused detail to big picture and company growth has led Edge of Urge back from dark days into the light. This never-give up attitude, combined with serious hustle and community and customer support, have led Williams and crew back to the top of their game.
It has taken us a long time to rebuild our momentum. I am happy to announce we are opening a 2nd location in Raleigh, NC this fall! We have been searching high and low for years for the best spot to take this next leap! I am doing this the same way I opened the first location. Slow and steady. I want to offer my team and loyal artisans an opportunity for more exposure and growth…[this new Raleigh home is] surrounded by some super stellar owner-operated businesses!!! (the best thing about these specific businesses is that they HUSTLE like EOU HUSTLES!!!!!!)
A blank space in Raleigh to fill with color and craft, ideas, and light.
Via crowd-funding and a lot of personal collateral, Jessie and co. are financing the Raleigh store to enrich their designers and customers in both cities, in complementary ways.
We will bring our Wilmington artists work to Raleigh and our Raleigh artists work to Wilmy. The rest of our artists will also be on both locations as well as online. The Raleigh location will specialize in handmade artisan design with an assortment of more established/ larger brands. We will have an open worker space with sewing machines for designers to use for their collections and projects. We will offer workshops and diy parties too!
She doesn’t have a staff there, and plans to move to Raleigh and hold the fort down 24/7, but she’s used to the heavy shoulders of responsibility. (In fact, she might have to design a line of shoulder pads for all lady bosses next).
As the sole owner, I have A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY! I am like a mama bear and have to take care of my cubs. Sometimes that means going without for me, but its worth it to see my cubs happy, healthy and successful.
With this maternal moniker, a seed was planted in the edenic garden of Jessie’s mind. The Mama Bear Project “is a non-profit entrepreneurship center and makers space for the creative!” Williams cites all the help small tech start-ups get but laments the absence of the same for artists and artisans.
We are assembling a team of creative professionals to help these businesses get off the ground, break through road blocks, give advice, and assist production, sample-making, product development, copy, marketing, web development, guidance, and graphic design help. We plan to have mama bear offerings in both Wilmington and Raleigh!
Mama Bear is already off and running in Wilmington. On July 1st, Edge of Urge installed five industrial sewing machines on the second floor. We are already teaming up with Lesley and Sergey Tamaev, an amazing design duo. Lesley in particular has been in the fashion industry for years and has amazing insight, and skill to share. This isn’t just a passion project; in the last twelve years we have realized this kind of workers’ space is a real need for designers and creative entrepreneurs.
Our overall goal would be to create jobs for our creative professionals and to create attainable, trustworthy, tried and true resources for artisans to get their ideas off the ground. I mean, everyone could use a hand from time to time! Our tag line is “You can be independent, but don’t have to be on your own!”
And that’s really the way of our Williams, ready with support and ready to ask for it. Because everybody needs love, even if she or he is a misfit. We’ve learned this from Jessie, over and over in the last twelve years. And when you live your life and your business this way, you find a bunch of other underdogs, and then you’re running with a pack.
So we have two stores, one boss lady, an amazing team and a laundry list of talented artisans. What’s next for Jessie and Edge of Urge?
EOUs across the land!!!!! Each would be filled with amazing talented artisan work whose businesses are expanding! And we would have Mama Bear Facilities helping designers grow and manufacture their products in the most sustainable way possible!My amazing team would make the money they deserve and then some and we would be making a difference in peoples lives!
And, maybe I could take a nice vacation every now and again.