Endless Knot, AKA My Other Closet
I moved from Los Angeles to Seattle in the fall of 2010, and as a thin-skinned Southern Californian, I was pretty sure I was freezing to death. One chilly evening, while shivering around Belltown, I walked past a boutique window spilling warm light out onto the sidewalk. On a mannequin in that window was a beautiful, cozy, hooded pea coat beckoning me to come inside. That was the day I fell in love with Endless Knot.
I still wear that pea coat, and I’m knot exaggerating when I say that half my current wardrobe came from Endless Knot.
This spring, Endless Knot celebrated its 20 year anniversary! As a customer (ahem…addict), I was invited to the celebration, where owner, Anne Gavzer, spoke a little about the boutique and her journey – but it was obviously just the tip of the iceberg. Since her incredible shop has kept me in comfort and style for several years, I just had to know more!
When Anne Gavzer agreed to talk with me, she gave me fair warning that she was very different from most boutique owners. She wasn’t kidding! Her story is a fascinating journey that did not start with a map or a vision.
A Journey, Destination: Unknown
In the 80s, Anne was a fiercely independent, self-proclaimed hippie kid attending Evergreen. While she was “never a great student”, she did have passion for travel, so she took the opportunity to travel to South East Asia through a school program. Anne and her boyfriend went to Thailand, where they stayed for months, collecting interesting and beautiful things. About nine months into their extended trip, they began taking turns traveling back to the US to sell their treasures in various cities.
Anne described selling in Manhattan while visiting her journalist father: “I would literally go out on the corner with my basket and sell on the street!” What was she selling? Tribal artifacts and – more importantly – handcrafted textiles stitched into garments from Bali that she had hand-selected.
It turned out Anne was a natural merchant. “I like finding the value in something, tacking on a little for me, and then passing it on to someone else.”
A Whirlwind Chain of Events
While selling from her basket on the street, a boutique discovered Anne and wanted to carry her pieces, specifically clothing made from Indonesian batiks. And thus, her first wholesale account.
Then a sales rep from San Francisco found her pieces and wanted to carry her line. “I had no idea what that meant, but I agreed!” Suddenly, Anne had to teach herself how to get her goods into the country, ship them, and get paid. With no formal training in business or fashion, she managed to figure it out.
`”I like the feeling of figuring things out…I’m not good at learning how to do things unless I do it myself.”
When that same sales rep asked for her next season’s line, she had a whole new set of challenges to conquer. So she figured it out. She started buying slightly different patterns and requesting modifications. It was then that she realized…
“There’s no big secret about designing. If you said you could do it, you could do it.”
Growing and Getting Creative
Business boomed for Anne at one fateful trade show in New York. She received an order for over $100k of handcrafted batik pants!
“My sales rep wanted to celebrate, but I stayed home freaking out…I didn’t have the money or the time to produce this!” She sites this as her first really big “oh shit” moment where she felt like she was in over her head. Ultimately, she was only able to fill part of the order because she didn’t know how to get the funding to produce the pants.
“If I was a business person at the time this was happening – and not a hippie – I could have made a lot of money. We were on the cusp of something big.”
Her company grew, and eventually, Anne’s business was producing large sample sets for 5 seasons per year. To keep up with the demand, she had to switch from batiks to prints.
Anne was famous for her prints. She was really creative, using all kinds of different mediums and tools. She created remarkable textures with things like coffee grounds or rubbings from the pavement, and then layered them using a Xerox machine and white out. “No one taught me to make prints. I learned by doing it.”
After running her business for several years on the East Coast, Anne decided it was time to make a change. She had always wanted to live in Seattle, so in 1997 she moved her business across the country.
[Photo of 1st and Bell Street sign]
Belltown was her top neighborhood choice because it was “funky, artsy, and cheap”. She found her location on 1st and Bell, but it had a different layout and was a much larger space that the Endless Knot we’re familiar with today. There was an open space in the back, perfect for the wholesale warehouse, and (bonus!) a store front.
Though Anne had never considered having a store front, she approached it like all the opportunities before it: she figured it out by doing it.
Initially, the shop only carried Anne’s line, called Endless Knot Art. Anne describes the line as being very loose and flowy with coordinated prints. While she had a niche market demand for the flowy prints, thanks to the customer base she had established while selling at Folklife and Bumbershoot, it didn’t connect with Belltown. The neighborhood needed a more modern look, so she began ordering from other wholesalers.
Anne discovered she really enjoyed buying for the boutique.
“I love the process of opening a box with things I ordered four months ago and figuring out what I can charge for it. What’s fair? Who is going to like this? I like being a merchant.”
While Endless Knot, the boutique, was growing and thriving, Endless Knot Arts, the manufacturing house, was facing changes and challenges. For a variety of reasons, Anne had to relocate the manufacturing part of her business twice. Additionally, it was not as lucrative as the store and was often a financial struggle. Nine years ago, she closed the wholesaling business without a single regret.
Arriving at a Destination
Anne Gavzer didn’t have a destination in mind when she started out, but she learned, she conquered challenges as they arose, and she constantly evolved.
What is Endless Knot now?
“We offer a broad range of contemporary clothing at accessible price points for all women. Our goal is to provide something for everyone. We don’t have a pushy sales staff and we’re always honest when asked for an opinion. I think people have come to trust that about us.”
(And that is certainly what keeps me coming back!)
Unlike Anne the Alternative Hippie Kid of yesteryears, who went with the flow and solved the challenges in the moment, Anne the Savvy Merchant has a plan to keep Endless Knot marching forward. “It’s important that I figure out how to be true to myself and be relevant today…things are different than they were 30 years ago and I want to gracefully stay contemporary.”
Her strategy? Rely on the council of her staff , since they bring valuable skills to the table. “In order to stay current, I have to let the younger generation have a voice.” Anne says, “The process has been challenging, but effective. She has an A-team that now manages things like staff and floor plans while taking on more responsibility to grow the business.
The newly updated Endless Knot website is an example of staff initiative. I can’t wait to see what Anne and her innovative crew come up with next!