By Kelly Westhoff
Shopping for locally made artisan goods just got a whole lot easier. Southdale Center in Edina is now home to a retail boutique called Founders Co.—short for Founders Collaborative—which sells exclusively Minnesota wares.
The idea for the boutique came about when a trio of local women-owned businesses realized they each had skills that could help the others. Heidi Mueller (founder of Excelsior Candle Co.), Jordyn DiOrio (founder of MEND Jewelry), and the mother-daughter duo of Brittany and Debbie Travis (founders of B+D Custom Crafts) found themselves repeatedly hosting booths at popups and events throughout the Twin Cities.
“As fellow entrepreneurs, we started thinking about what we might be able to create if we pooled our resources,” said Brittany. “Not every small business owner is an expert at event planning, or marketing, or bookkeeping. What if we created a network and were able to share our skills rather than have to figure everything out individually?”
Currently, Founders Co. sells products from 15 different Minnesota-based entrepreneurs, most of them women. Shoppers will find goat-milk soaps, felted bags, handmade jewelry, soy wax candles, baby blankets, vegan baking mixes, pre-packaged nut and cookie snacks, spice rubs, customizable wall hangings and more.
When it comes to selling their artisan wares, most local makers face wholesale and consignment options. Wholesale models require a steep margin; consignment models usually carry high overhead fees. Founders Co. offers a third path.
“Each maker has to spend time helping staff the store. They have to work one or two shifts a month depending on how much real estate they have in the store,” Brittany said. “Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and contribute to making the store work.”
The result is that each maker gets hands-on time selling their own product, as well as the products of the other entrepreneurs. In doing so, all of the makers are getting to know each other’s skill sets and stories. And story—said Brittany—is one of the reasons shoppers love shopping local.
“When people bring a hostess gift to a party, or give a bridesmaid gift to their friends, or need something for a baby shower, they love to share the story behind the item. We have such cool stuff in the store. Everything is small batch. Everything is interesting and unique. The inventory is always evolving,” Brittany said.
They’ve worked really hard to bring an elevated approach to curating local finds. “Our makers are kind, empathetic people who are eager to dive in and support one another. It’s rewarding to see the pairings that are happening between the different brands.”
Brittany and her mom, Debbie, run a large percent of Founders Co. operations. While her mom tackles the backend data and books, Brittany deals more with the front-of-house shopping experience. They felt comfortable taking on these retail roles because in the past five years they ran popup stores for their own brand at several local malls. It was their 2020 holiday popup that got their foot in the door at Southdale.
“The pandemic created the perfect opportunity for us to try our idea of a collaborative,” Brittany said. “A lot of big, national retailers closed locations and pulled out of long-term leases, which meant the mall suddenly had spaces it wanted to fill, so it became more flexible in approaching new agreements.”
In January 2021, the Founders Co. space was renovated. Soon after, the boutique—situated in the main rotunda between Gap and The Body Shop—welcomed the public. Mall ownership, Brittany said, has been excited and supportive of the diversity Founders Co. brings.
“After the holidays there is always a drop-in mall activity, but we’ve seen steady traffic,” Brittany said. “Minnesotans have a hunger for supporting local. There has been so much pain in our community over the past year, for a number of reasons, but that pain seems to have only deepened the community’s commitment to supporting local makers.”
Current makers featured at Founders Co. include:
Abbey’s House: Items for baby including blankets, swaddles, hats and crinkle patches. North-inspired fabric designs feature loons, bobbers, tents, food-on-sticks, snowflakes, etc. https://abbeys-house.myshopify.com
Ballerina Botanicals: Organic eye creams, hand salves, and body scrubs handcrafted using therapeutic-grade essential oils by a mother-daughter duo. https://www.ballerinabotanicals.com
B+D Custom Crafts: Word art, notebooks and take-and-make craft kits by a mother-daughter pair. Also available are options to order fully customized home décor pieces. https://bdcustomcrafts.com
Coconut Whisk: Vegan and gluten-free baking mixes. Buy a pouch of pancake mix, snickerdoodle cookie mix, or try the ever-popular mug cake mix. https://coconutwhisk.com
El and Gray Design: Earrings, trinket trays and essential oil diffusers. For every pair of earrings purchased, El and Gray donates another pair to organizations that support single mothers in the Twin Cities. https://elandgraydesign.com
Essence One: After struggling with anxiety and depression, the founder of Essence One earned a certification in aromatherapy. Facial serums, shower steamers and essential oil rollers are all designed to sooth. https://essenceone.life
Excelsior Candle Co.: Hand-poured, soy candles made in Saint Paul with scents like Lake Superior Mist and Downtown Loft. Select candles contain healing gemstones like rose quartz, amethyst or citrine. https://excelsiorcandleco.com
Here’s The Deal Spice Co.: Nicole and Tom Dokman, a Minnesota wife-and-husband duo, craft signature spice blends pulling from Tom’s work experience in the local foodie scene, like at Travail Kitchen. https://www.heresthedeal.co/#/
Isadore Nut Co.: Healthy snacking is easy with a variety of flavored nut mixes from Isadore Nut Co. There’s Cayenne Kick, Chai Spice, and several more. The company is passionate about employing workers of differing abilities. https://www.isadorenutco.com
Junita’s Jar: Grab-and-go packs of favorite cookies like oatmeal raisin and triple chocolate chip for easy snacking. This Black-owned business strives to educate the community about relationship violence against women. https://junitasjar.com
KISA: Emily and Caglar Kisa, a Minnesota gal and her Turkish husband, bring European-styled goods to the Twin Cities. Think Turkish towels, bath robes and blankets. https://kisaofficial.com
LES Bags: When she became an empty-nester, Laurie Sorenson turned her hobby into her business. All of her totes, bags and accessories are handmade using merino wool felt and genuine leather. https://www.les-bags.com
MEND Jewelry: Up your chakra game by layering energy-focused gemstone jewelry. Locally-designed necklaces and earrings feature purposefully simple stylings so the gems will stand out. https://mendjewelry.com
Nmore Scrunchies: When the pandemic hit, Narra took some clothes she wasn’t wearing, deconstructed them and started making hair scrunchies. A hit with friends and families, she’s now selling them with the aim of reducing landfill waste. https://www.etsy.com/shop/nmorescrunchies
Rapha Farms: Using milk produced by goats raised on their 4.5-acre hobby farm an hour west of the Twin Cities, this mother-daughter team creates soaps, body butters and lip balms with a holistic focus. https://www.raphafarmsmn.com
Wire and Wonder Co.: A pediatric oncology nurse turned stay-at-home mom turned entrepreneur, Tara Jackson creates wall hangings featuring fun designs for kids’ rooms like dinosaurs, flowers and inspirational words. https://linktr.ee/wireandwonderco
Founders Co. is open Thursday through Sunday during mall hours.
About the author: Kelly Westhoff is a freelance writer who always enjoys talking to women business owners. She finds their energy contagious and their stories fun to share.