You’ve already heard to shop small and local this holiday season, and to avoid the big-box stores or chains, so Milwaukee’s neighborhoods keep humming and thriving.
But have you thought about seeking out Black-owned boutiques? In recent years, there’s been a flurry of shop openings with Black business owners at the helm, eager to flaunt their design prowess or ability to curate a cool look.
From a midcentury-modern antiques store to sneakers, and even high-end tailored men’s suits and visual art, here’s where to shop this holiday season.
1. BC Modern
NEIGHBORHOOD: WALKER’S POINT
Eric Lewis is a serious fan of midcentury-modern style (1950s-1970s) and stocks his boutique with everything from – on the small side – vintage holiday ornaments and a monkey-pod divided dish – to full-on furnishings like sectional sofas or Danish-style dining chairs. Lewis frequently posts his finds to the five-year-old shop’s Instagram page and an online store so you don’t even have to browse in person – and you can even “claim” an item this way, too. This is especially important during the pandemic when the shop is only open the last weekend of the month.
If your favorite pastime is scrolling artists’ shops on Etsy, then get up off the sofa and head to Tiffany Miller’s (of FlyBlooms, selling what she calls “handcrafted adornments”) and Lilo Allen’s (of Papyrus & Charms, focused on wearable art) well-curated collective. Everything the duo carries is made with love by a Black or Brown crafter, jeweler or artist, with about 25 brands represented. Born of a city-sponsored pilot program for pop-ups, the shop opened in 2018.
From a coconut soy-wax candle (from Blossom Candle Co.) to bath salts (from Alice’s Garden) – as well as CBD-infused products like chews and tinctures – this shop can hook you up with instant relaxation at home. Eleven different makers are represented, resulting in soaps, candles, superfoods, herbal supplements and other good-for-you finds like hot sauce with a kick. Owners Alexander Hagler and Joseph Firch sell everything online, through the website, too.
NEIGHBORHOOD: HISTORIC THIRD WARD
When Eric James opened Sneex in 2018, he filled a void for men’s apparel in Milwaukee with lines of designer sneakers and other casual apparel (such as track suits) heavy on style. Women and kids can also find something they like here, including basketballs, Dr. Martins, skater dresses, backpacks, Gucci eyewear and Comme des Garçons candles. Among the brands James carries include Moose Knuckles, Puma, Levi’s and Chinatown.
5. NL Suits
NEIGHBORHOOD: HISTORIC THIRD WARD
Nas Laine’s love for fashion may have been born in East Africa (as the son of a dressmaker) but he flaunts it in Milwaukee now. NL Suits opened in 2014. The way it works is you pick out your fabric and then receive a consultation and sizing to ensure the garment – including men’s suits, pants, dress shirt, sports coat or tuxedo – fits perfectly. Wedding parties are a segment of the boutique’s business, too, with men receiving custom garments they can treasure for life.
NEIGHBORHOOD: WEST ALLIS
Looking for a Milwaukee-pride tee or want to customize your own? Owner and local graphic designer Rachaad Howard plans to expand beyond her designs to feature those of other Milwaukee-area designers. If you have pride in a certain Milwaukee neighborhood, check out Jan Katowicz’s designs (you may know her posters) featured on hoodies and sweatshirts. Another option: rounding up your best buds for a print-and-sip private party. If tees are not your thing, no worries as the lounge also sells hats, bags, fanny packs, baseball tees and hoodies.
NEIGHBORHOOD: SHERMAN PARK
Open only since August, mother-daughter duo Jamila Riley (a fashion designer) and Pam McCreary specialize in retailing local Black-maker-made goods at their shop, tucked into Sherman Phoenix. For example, casual-cool apparel from The Classic Shoppe and Butterscotch Baby Total Body Experience’s hair and body-care products culled from all-natural ingredients.
NEIGHBORHOOD: HARAMBEE/WILLIAMSBURG HEIGHTS
If you’ve been looking around at your home’s walls lately and thinking you should really invest in some local art, this is where to go. As its name suggests, this is a gallery with rotating exhibitions but it is also – via a handy “Shop” tab on the gallery’s website – a one-stop shop for art by Black artists working in photography, painting and crafts (such as dolls or ceramic masks). Owner Fatima Laster is a self-taught, mixed-media artist and, through this business, returned to her childhood neighborhood. Attached to the gallery are two apartments for resident artists as well as nine studios. Your purchase helps fund their careers.