Like other young entrepreneurs with an interest in fashion, Kate and Lizzy Escher wanted to find a way to market unique designs by independent artists.
But establishing a store right off the bat didn't appeal to their sense of adventure. So, after a brief stint selling at fairs and festivals, the sisters took their business on the road—literally.
They have created their own "mobile boutique," transforming an old bus into a shop on wheels that brings silk-screened clothes and other artists’ designs to the SoWa open market in the South End, as well as other locations.
“We came up with the bus idea as a means to follow our dreams of owning a boutique and exposing our apparel line -- without the headaches of owning an actual brick-and-mortar (location),” said Kate. “We want to travel and explore. Owning the bus allows us to do that and work, all at the same time.” The sisters said they were inspired by the rising food truck industry and decided to piggyback on that idea.
Kate, 27, and Lizzy, 25, who live on Cape Cod, make frequent trips to Boston in the spring and summer. They previously lived in Allston, where the idea for their company, ARTichoke, was born. They held their first sale at a festival in Wellfleet in June 2011, then launched the mobile business in 2012.
The lime-green bus, full of clothing for both men and women, has splattered-painted stairs at the entrance, chalkboards marked with brightly colored prices and information, a painted driver’s seat and numerous creative decorations. The bus has become a familiar sight at festivals, fairs and markets, including Boston Fashion Week, Wellfleet Oysterfest, Brewster for the Holidays, and the Wellfleet Holiday Bazaar.
In addition to clothing, ARTichoke offers other merchandise, including hand-sewn bags, jewelry and driftwood paintings by Cape Cod artists.
The sisters describe their apparel line as “casual-chic” – suited for the beach or a yoga class, but also for “sassy nights out on the town," Kate says. While many of the designs are conceived by Lizzy, the sisters work with other indie artists, continually expanding their collection of unique designs.
The Eschers came up with the brand name ARTichoke in 2007, when Lizzy was studying horticulture at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass-Amherst. Lizzy liked the idea that the word ART stood out in the word, since it’s the driving force of their brand. They wanted to combine art with nature by playing off the word artichoke, which Lizzy said has a “beautiful and different” shape and form.
ARTichoke focuses on silk-screening, a process used to create prints on various canvases. Each design is silk-screened by the sisters themselves.
The Eschers said as much as they’ve enjoyed the adventures so far, the business side of ARTichoke has been challenging.
"Starting a business is hard. Starting a fashion business on wheels is even harder,” Lizzy said. But with “a great business partner and a good sense of humor, the challenges . . . will never be enough to walk away from our dream.”
The sisters hope that the company will survive on their determination, as well as a growing community of artists and their creations. Someday, they said, they’d like to see the ARTichoke line carried in stores.
The Eschers were named in the January/February 2013 issue of Cape Cod Magazine as among the “28 People to Watch.” They have also been mentioned in the POP.BOP.SHOP. blog, the Boston Bazaar magazine and the Cape Codder newspaper.
To track the whereabouts of their mobile boutique, follow @ARTichokeCC on Twitter, “like” ARTichoke on Facebook, or visit www.plantgrowcreate.com.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.