Oak Clothing Co.

Written by Janet Davies

Adelaide Utman came to town two and a half years ago with The Drake Devonshire. Although she didn’t stay with them for long, she owes The Drake a debt of gratitude. Having grown weary of life in the big city (the really big city – New York) Adelaide had left the fashion and photography business and retreated to a cabin in the woods. She surprised herself by loving it, but after two months had to find work, and that is where The Drake comes in. She´d never heard of the hip hotel, having been born in Perth, grown up in Nunuvut and moved to the west coast before heading to New York. “I knew nothing about it,” she says. “But I DID know about Prince Edward County and when I saw they were opening a place here I said THAT´s where I want to go!”

OPENING THE SHOP

Adelaide worked for the hotel in Wellington and found an apartment above Home Hardware on Main Street. “Truly I wanted to live in rural Ontario,” she says. “But I just didn´t know how to do it. What would I do for work? Would I be happy in a small town again? She knew Sandbanks and Picton from visits as a child, and had more recently read articles about ´the rise of Prince Edward County.´ She found her way in to The County with the hotel job and before long was planning a business of her own. “Working at the Drake provided great exposure to the different types of people visiting and living in the area.  I saw a niche market developing in Wellington.”

Adelaide has a background in fashion and says, “I couldn’t find the brands of clothes I was looking for in The County or in Belleville. I didn´t want to go miles to find clothes. I much prefer to shop locally, and I figured other people would appreciate being able to buy the brands and styles I had in mind, right here in Wellington.” So she opened a little store to serve a growing market. And when she says little, she’s not kidding. The Oak Clothing Co. shop is very compact, classy and focused, like the tightly curated stock that includes Brixton, Cheap Monday, Gentle Fawn and even Nana Judy.  “I cater for men and women, and I’d say my customers are 50/50 residents and visitors,” she says with satisfaction.

 

Oak Clothing Co. is one year old, and Adelaide says it’s a wonderful time to be starting a new business here. “I joke it´s a bit like the wild west! People are leaving their old life behind for a new adventure, but we’re not just coming and taking over places, moving into old stores. We are building new stuff, too, from scratch. It’s exciting to be part of it. I feel if you have the ideas and the stamina and perseverance, you can do anything here. Support has been overwhelming, the encouragement and acceptance in the community. And I LOVE my landlords!”

The Nash family who own the venerable hardware business that is now Home Hardware on Main Street have been wonderful to her. “I mentioned my idea of maybe opening a store in my little apartment and the next thing I knew Evan and his mum were clearing out this space for me. Evan put me on to Neil Carbone, and Neil gave me a ton of help, resources and statistics to build my business plan. Then PELA CFDC gave me information and links and leads about funding for businesses in this particular region. Sandy Abbott at Quinte Small Business was actually the first to hear my whole idea and she sent me to Loyalist Business Centre.” There, Adelaide was introduced to Futurpreneur who ultimately helped with funding. Would she have tried opening her own business in Toronto or New York? She bursts out laughing. “No! I would NEVER have had the nerve or the funding to have done this anywhere else.” Her Main Street block in Wellington now buzzes with new energy, and neighbours include The General and The Stache piano bar.

WHAT YOU´LL FIND AT OAK CLOTHING

Located one flight above the hardware store, is the shop hard to find? “There are disadvantages to not being at ground level,” she concedes. “But we’ve got a good online presence and people who are looking for us find us easily enough. In fact I think they like the idea of finding something special tucked away, a kind of hidden treasure.”

Adelaide deliberately offers a limited selection of carefully thought out clothes that change with the actual seasons, unlike chain stores that seem to have eight or more “seasons” these days, a nonstop supply of new clothes. Cheaply imported, eagerly bought and quickly discarded. “That bothers me,” she says. “The strain on the environment, overproduction, wastefulness. Not to mention the distance fashions travel to get to the malls.” She’s cautious of sounding critical. “It’s just a different approach, to buy fewer clothes that are higher quality and last longer.”

Will she grow the tiny store? “I am growing the online shopping,” she says with gusto. “I love using Shopify! It works like a dream. People can order and have things delivered, or pick up at the store. Customers even Instagram message me to say they´ve chosen something online, please stick it in the back room and they´ll be in Wellington Saturday to pick it up. Online shopping is like window shopping. It lets new customers get a feel for what they will find at the physical shop.” Adelaide is more than content with her compact shop. “I’m a photographer, too,” she says. “I do weddings, actually more than I anticipated, and things are working fine for me. I really don´t want to take on too much.”

She has a strong sense that all this was meant to be. “I have travelled, and I wanted to come home to rural Ontario. I just didn´t know where or how. Some small towns I knew are failing, closing down, people are leaving, there´s no work. It´s sad because there is such great camraderie and energy in small communities. It´s so very different here. In The County I have found all that again. I took a chance coming here on my own. In the WINTER!” she laughs. “But people have been amazing, and I´m so happy to be part of this energetic time.”

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