Sustainable style that honors the past, present, and future of Detroit.
Gretchen Valade has taken her fifteen years of experience at Carhartt to the next level and recently opened eugenie, a Midtown boutique showcasing women-owned brands and designers who produce their products in a sustainable fashion.
Eugenie is more than just a boutique, it’s a place to amplify artistic voices by keeping a light in the front window through SPOTLIGHT, a series and collaboration with Simone DeSousa Gallery. The rotating art and textile installation honors how the space existed in a previous life with an intention to lean into the history of the Cass Corridor neighborhood, celebrating and connecting Detroit’s artists, art, and design.
EXP: As Director of Sustainability at Carhartt, you’ve made your passion your profession. What work are you most proud of?
GV: People don’t always connect community work with sustainability, but it is an important pillar, especially at Carhartt. Without a doubt I am most proud of launching The Carhartt Workshop and supporting ISAIC (the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center) in its launch during a pandemic. Both of these projects had been building for a few years and I continue to be amazed by both teams in the ability to be nimble and change strategy and direction all in the name of community in order to launch in 2020.
EXP: What was the impetus to build those spaces above the Detroit Carhartt store and what legacy do you hope they will have for the community?
GV: There is so much to share on this topic! We spent a lot of time thinking about what a flagship store meant to Carhartt. We knew from the beginning that Carhartt in Detroit was more than a retail location. It was incredibly important to us to spend the time getting to know and understand how to serve our Skilled Trades & Detroit community. We landed with getting tools into the hands of workers that need them with a free tool lending library and provide free meeting, training, and workshop spaces so that people can be successful in their careers. Making the decision to put ISAIC on the third floor was really based on our aligned values between the two organizations, with a people first and purpose driven mentality, as well as of course supporting workforce development, innovation, sustainability, and manufacturing in the USA.
EXP: What experience from Carhartt have you taken to your new venture eugenie?
GV: Honestly, almost everything! I have been working at Carhartt in some way or another for over 15 years. I started interning there back when I was in high school! Over the years I’ve gained a broad and full understanding of the apparel manufacturing industry which has allowed me to speak to designers and brands in a common language.
EXP: Eugenie is eclectically curated. How do you source the designers and products you showcase at the boutique?
GV: Many of the designers and products are from people that I have met over the past 10+ years or through my personal endeavors or mutual connections. Many have roots in Detroit but we’re sourcing products all over the Midwest all the way to New York. All of the products that we sell are sustainable and almost all female owned businesses. It feels good knowing your purchases are making a positive impact.
“The brands in our collection are moving sustainability forward by existing, innovating, and working to make the practices they use and follow the norm vs a specialty.”
EXP: Where does the name eugenie come from?
GV: My Grandma and I share the same name, so we landed on my Grandmother’s older sister’s name, Eugenie [you-jane-ee]. I never got to meet my great aunt Eugenie but growing up I often heard my Grandma and my dad speak fondly of her when I was a child, and so her name always stuck with me. Eugenie also stands for any woman who is a strong, independent, creative, design focused, chic, and of course values quality and sustainable products.
EXP: Eugenie is located in the heart of Midtown, Detroit. What are some of your favorite Midtown spots to eat, shop, and drink?
GV: So many great placed to choose from! To shop, I love Edition by Simone DeSousa (best neighbor!), Nora, Hugh, Nest, and City Bird. To eat I would have to say Rocco’s is my favorite sandwich shop in Detroit, I love Selden Standard, and SheWolf has been our go-to to-go meal kit restaurant. To drink, my husband and I love to bring our dog Riley to 8 Degrees Plato for an after-work beer or Cata Vino for a glass of wine.
EXP: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about opening your own business?
GV: It’s been really beautiful to see how connected small businesses in Detroit are and how quick they are to support one another. Everyone has been excited to be a part of and contribute to something new and exciting.
EXP: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are interested in a future in retail, apparel, and design?
GV: The best advice I have gotten is to surround yourself with good people to lean on for support. You don’t have to be (and can’t be) the expert in everything – something I still have to remind myself. Ask questions because most people are open to collaboration and conversation. Take calculated chances and don’t be afraid to fail – you probably will at first in some way or another but you’ll learn from it.
EXP: What would someone be surprised to know about you?
GV: When I am not working in apparel, I am a supporter of the arts in Detroit. It’s my 6th year serving on the board of the Founders Junior Council (FJC) at the DIA and my third year on the executive committee. I also serve on the Board of Signal Return, a community letter press in Eastern Market.
EXP: What’s next for eugenie?
GV: In addition to building out our showroom into a retail store and bringing in new amazing collections and designers, there will be a concentrated focus on storytelling and education around sustainability and why it’s important, especially in the apparel industry. This is an exciting journey for me personally and I want to share with others via eugenie – stay tuned!
Info on designers highlighted in images
Article One Eyewear | Article One is a family-owned company out of Flint, Michigan. The frames are handmade in a small village in Northern Italy by family-owned factories.
ELOI by Paige Russell | All ELOI patterns originate from cutout construction paper pieces in Paige Russell’s studio in Los Angeles. Paige Russell is originally from Metro Detroit.
Shannon Carney Fine Jewelry | Each piece of jewelry is made to order, which eliminates waste. Resin jewelry is hand poured (with no mold) in Shannons Santa Fe studio.
Hope For Flowers by Tracy Reese | Tracy Reese is a fashion designer located in Detroit, MI. For Tracy, sustainability means designing and producing clothes more responsibly, which entails being more mindful of sourcing and fabric choices as well as ethical conditions for workers in the fashion supply chain.
MM DRUCK | Designed and responsibly handcrafted in Los Angeles, using recycled metal whenever possible.