WEST TOWN — A pop-up clothing boutique with a goal of supporting women in fashion has opened in West Town.
Swap and Strut, 1821 W. Chicago Ave., is the clothing and design label of Jocelyn Clarkson, who founded the company during the pandemic after leaving her corporate job.
Clarkson designs “very bold, very glitz, very glamorous” clothes for date nights, going out with friends and other social events, she said. Her clothes “are a way for you to step out of reality, especially corporate women who work 9-5. … Really, the approach is: have fun with it,” she said.
Swap and Strut also supports charities and groups “bettering the lives of women” in the Chicago area, donating 1 percent of sales every year to a charity, Clarkson said. In 2021, she partnered with WINGS Program, a group working to help victims of domestic violence.
“The mission for this is to really inspire women to follow their dreams and, at the same time, uplift women from poverty,” she said.
Clarkson worked for years in finance, but several years ago found herself increasingly overworked and burnt out. Even though she was unhappy, she felt like she needed to prove herself to her mom, who is an immigrant from Guatemala, she said.
“As someone who grew up with an immigrant mom, I just felt that I really needed to make her proud, really have this amazing job. And I knew that if I went into fashion that I would be broke my whole life. Or so I thought,” she said.
Clarkson taught herself to design clothes during the pandemic, and she started Swap and Strut as a clothing rental company. But with few events and gatherings being held, she quickly switched to focus only on sales, which remains her business model today.
“I decided to start teaching myself fashion design, slowly but surely. I didn’t go to fashion school, so I had to teach myself that. And then one connection led to the other and that’s really what allowed me to create what I have,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson’s mission extends to the people she recruits to make her clothing. Every shirt, dress and skirt is made by women in the Chicago area.
“Seamstresses, fabric cutters, my fabric digitizer, they’re all women,” Clarkson said. “Even my fabric reps are women. This is a woman-focused brand made by women for women to help women.”
Swap and Strut is the latest tenant at the West Town Chamber of Commerce’s Pop-Up Project space, which gives short-term leases to rotating small businesses every few months. The store has previously hosted the Kone Ranger design studio, Chicago Makers Pop-Up Shop and Kiss The Brain gallery, among others.
The pop-up in West Town will run through May. While Clarkson is still running her business online, she said she’s focused on using the space to build personal relationships with her customers and making them feel comfortable by offering conversation, advice and even a drink if they want one.
“I want to create an experience for women where they come in and they feel glamorous, they feel beautiful,” she said. “As much as e-commerce is booming, I still think that women crave an experience where they walk in and actually get good service and actually get to know the designer.”
Clarkson hasn’t decided which organization to donate to this year, but she is taking suggestions for groups dedicated to helping women around the Chicago area. Anyone with ideas can message her on Instagram.
Swap and Strut is open 12-6:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.
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