WEST TOWN — The story of the Chicago Artisan Co-op begins with a shoe.
A really big shoe.
This winter, Annie Mohaupt and Justin Walker, the co-owners of Mohop in West Town, designed a custom high heel for Tanya Herbert, of Houston.
At 6-foot-9 with size 18 feet, Herbert had recently been recognized by Guinness World Records as having the largest female feet in the world. That meant for most of her life, she had struggled to find any stylish women’s shoes that would fit.
But after Herbert began posting about her footwear challenges last year on TikTok, she connected with Mohaupt, who makes custom shoes, jewelry and other goods using algorithms and digital fabrication technology.
After some back-and-forth, they landed on the final product: a pair of 4-inch high heels that, when Herbert put them on, makes her — at least while wearing the heels — the world’s tallest woman.
“It’s amazing. I love to try to match my outfits to my shoes, and I just want to build up a shoe collection,” Herbert told Block Club at the time. “Other women can go to shoe stores and find shoes … so it’s awesome to have that opportunity to have different shoes for different outfits like other women can do.”
Block Club covered Herbert and Mohop’s collaboration in February, and the story got picked up by local TV stations and national publications.
“[I was] definitely hearing from friends like, ‘My grandpa said, “Isn’t that your friend on the radio with the shoes?”‘” Mohaupt said in an interview Thursday.
The publicity led to an influx of business for Mohop, which operates a production facility in Rockford as well as its West Town retail store, 1659 W. Chicago Ave.
In addition to other women with large feet, Mohaupt and Walker began hearing from people with dwarfism who had been having trouble finding footwear. That included Tanyalee Davis, a 3-foot-6 comedian for whom Mohop has now designed several pairs of shoes.
With that encouragement, Walker and Mohaupt bought a 3D scanner to measure feet and attended the Little People of America conference this summer. They’re now seeing even more interest in their products — in part thanks to Davis’ frequent social media posts while wearing their shoes.
“It’s just like this snowball of people, you know, they hear that we make these custom shoes and then somebody’s like, ‘Oh my God, this as a major problem-solving issue for me,'” Mohaupt said.
But as orders from around the country kept rolling in, Mohaupt and Walker realized they had less time and energy to dedicate to the Chicago Avenue storefront, which they opened in 2021.
So the couple began reaching out to other makers and artisans to see if they would be interested in sharing the space to establish a retail outpost — without the full risk of opening a store.
That concept, dubbed the Chicago Artisan Co-op, opens Friday at 1659 W. Chicago Ave. with five local makers. Besides Mohop, it features jewelry from Designs by Uchita, watercolors and paper goods from artist Tai Kojro-Badziak, skincare products from BedewedSKIN and candles and fragrances by Daisy’s Design Products.
“We thought… having the sales space and event space, having a place to be but also having that flexibility, that would be something that other people would like,” Mohaupt said.
The co-op will be the first retail space for Uchita Shah, who designs jewelry inspired by architecture, nature, spices and more, she said.
Shah formerly worked as a Bollywood costume designer and taught herself how to make jewelry a few years ago in Chicago. She’s been mostly working out of her living room, and she sees the Co-op as an opportunity to learn from other business owners and grow her brand, she said.
“Everybody’s here together. To collab, to work under the Chicago Artisan Co-op,” Shah said. Mohop “already has a full fledged store, but for us, it’s a very big step to learn.”
The Chicago Artisan Co-op could eventually host up to eight makers. Plans to host workshops and events are in the works, as well.
The shifting structure of the Mohop storefront is in some ways a reflection of how adaptive small artisans have to be to make ends meet, Mohaupt said. Makers can’t just rely on a store or selling online — instead, a combination of revenue streams is necessary to stay in business, she said.
“We figured with the co-op now, with everybody having their own audiences, we can all kind of cross market and stuff. So instead of just Justin and I telling people about the co-op, now we have five people telling people about the co-op, and all their friends and audience and stuff,” she said. “And then we can kind of cross pollinate and really build something.”
The Chicago Artisan Co-op will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Sundays.
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