Columbus, Ohio USA
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Accent On Style
Columbus Haberdashery sparkles with vibrant assortment of scarves, ties
by Karen Edwards
August 2009 Issue

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© Photos by Darren Carlson
Color. Splashes, streaks and swirls of it. Walk into Columbus Haberdashery at 1198 N. High St. (in the Garden district) and you’re surrounded by color so bright and joyous, it’s like hearing children laugh.

Jewel Burnett Cisse, who co-owns the shop with her husband Mohammed, laughs when asked why a Columbus school teacher and an engineer decided to open a small business in a down-turned economy.

“I’m a teacher,” she responds. “All day long, we teach children who feel like square pegs in a round hole to try new things. We try to inspire them. What kind of role model would I be if I didn’t take a risk myself and try something new?”
But a haberdashery?

Cisse’s silvery laugh rings again. “I’ve always loved the word,” she says.

She also loves the dozens of scarves and ties the shop carries – and how could you not?

Take the scarves, for example. There are patterned pashimas in rich, deep colors; warm hound’s-tooth-checked scarves and filmy chiffon scarves in sherbet hues. “Other cultures embrace scarves,” says Cisse – and she’s right, of course. African women wrap their heads in scarves; Middle Eastern women drape scarves over their heads for religious reasons; and where would Bollywood be without those long, trailing scarves – the color of spices and berries and trimmed with gold?

Parisian inspiration

Cisse says her love of scarves solidified this spring while on a honeymoon trip to Paris. The pair married in April – but not until the cake cutting at the reception did Cisse know the destination of their honeymoon. “He told me we were going to West Virginia,” she says. “I thought that was okay, but I didn’t know why we were going for a whole week.”

In Paris, on the other hand, the week flew by. Cisse says she loved Paris, and while she was there, she visited entire shops filled with nothing but scarves or ties. It’s what helped launch the idea for a haberdashery, she says.

And it’s not as though Cisse is completely devoid of retail experience. She’s worked at various shops in her life, including the coats and swimwear departments at Marshall Field. But first and foremost, she is a teacher. “I love teaching,” she says. She will teach elementary children this fall – in the Columbus Public school system – but says she has taught all age levels and even special needs children.

In her new role as entrepreneurial shop owner, though, Cisse says she has found herself back in the classroom. “I’ve taken some business classes and a course at CCAD (Columbus College of Art and Design) in pattern drafting and design,” she says.

That’s partly because the shop will offer alterations as an extra service to Short North customers. Cisse says she hasn’t sewn much herself (hence the pattern drafting class), but she has access to talented seamstresses who can alter everything from pants hems to bridal gowns. “We’re going to build a small fitting room over there,” she says, pointing to the shop’s north wall.

While it may seem unusual for a shop that doesn’t carry clothes (save for a few men’s shirts) to offer alternations, Cisse believes there is a need for the service. Besides, it may generate extra business. Alterations will bring in customers who may not have ventured into her store otherwise, and, of course, once you’re there,

surrounded by all that color, it would take a strong person, indeed, to resist picking out a special tie to go with the suit that’s being altered, or a scarf to go with the dress that will be taken in. There is a certain business savvy to it – plus it gives those who live and work in the Short North access to a tailor. “They can drop off their clothes and, if it’s not a complicated alteration, pick them up in an hour.” Part of the hour, of course, could be spent looking around the shop.

Short North’s like home

Cisse says she never really considered placing the shop anywhere else but the Short North – even though she was raised on Columbus’s East side, the youngest of three children. “This is where things happen,” she says. It’s also where she met her husband, eight years ago, in a small club that has since closed. The Cisses have lived in the area, as well, so when the idea for a shop was born, there was really no other place Cisse wanted it to be.

“We did look at a space on Fifth

Avenue,” she says. But she quickly concluded the shop on High Street would give her business more exposure.

She has been slowly getting to know her neighbors. Milk Bar is across the street, and she’s visited them a few times. And because the Cisses love travel and adventure – “We love new experiences,” says Cisse – she and her husband have made a point of going into every shop up and down High Street. “There are shops I’ve never been in before,” she says. “It’s been fun.”

Right now, however, most of her time is spent preparing the shop for its grand opening on August 1.

“I’m working on inventory right now,” she says. Cisse has connections in both India and Africa (her husband’s family comes from Ghana), so she plans to carry scarves from both of those countries in her shop. In the meantime, she has been to a trade show in Las Vegas and is busy placing orders with vendors she met there.

Cisse is also working with local artists – in terms of wearable art and the kind hung on walls. “These are by a teacher friend of mine,” she says, pointing to two wonderful folk-art style pictures that depict Goodale Park and what appears to be the Bexley Library. Since Columbus Haberdashery is a small space, with whitewashed walls and a hardwood floor (it was once home to Galeria Zona Corazon), it showcases art beautifully – not only the painted kind, but the wearable kind as well – like the knit collars Cisse carries, handmade by local knitter Anne Smith. Then, of course, there are all those beautiful scarves and ties that are displayed to advantage against the neutral backdrop.

Tie one on

Ah yes, the ties. Those carried in Columbus Haberdashery deserve mention as well. The shop carries fat ascots and skinny ties, a professional collection with regimental stripes and even bow ties – which comes with a page of how-to instructions if you’ve always been a necktie kind of guy but want to venture into something more James Bond.

If you would like to order ties in bulk – perhaps as part of a server’s uniform or for a corporate team – Columbus Haberdashery can order those for you.

“The skinny ties we carry appeal to a younger customer,” says Cisse. Wide ties definitely look best on athletic type, and long ties look best on tall men. But don’t be put off if you fall in love with a long tie and you’re only five foot four. Columbus Haberdashery will shorten the tie for you.

Cisse and her staff will be available to help and advise customers, whether they’re interested in scarves or ties – or hats, shirts, makeup bags or any of the other sundry items the shop carries.

It’s possible that Columbus Haberdashery is unique in Columbus – or at least in the Short North. Accessory stores abound at malls, but this is a place where women and men can come in and follow their fashion hearts – not seriously, as in “I’m looking for a suit,” “A great cocktail dress,” or “the perfect pair of jeans.” The items in this shop are small, inconsequential details – but details that can create a look, a mood, a style.

Miracle scarves

“Being fashionable is only part of it,” says Cisse, who loves to wrap herself in a leopard-print, cashmere pashima. “Scarves and ties are jewelry for the face. They can update your wardrobe and give it dramatic impact. You can use them to make a statement, or to match your mood.” In today’s economy, where you may be working with just a minimum of clothes, “you can wear a different scarf or tie with an outfit every day and no one will notice you’ve been wearing the same clothes with it,” says Cisse.

Scarves, indeed, are true miracle workers. Toss a pashima, like a throw, onto furniture to warm up a room, spread a scarf on grass at a park for an impromptu picnic; or wrap it sari style around your bathing suit as a distinctive beach cover up. And on bad hair days, well, every woman knows a scarf can be a girl’s best friend.

Cisse is looking forward to meeting and working with her customers, and says she’s learned everything she needs to know about customer service from her pet turtle, Dash.

“He’s taught me to be patient, to be sensitive, and to slow down and appreciate the moment you’re in,” she says.

There’s little doubt – looking around at that happy collection of color – that her customers will feel just the same.

Columbus Haberdashery is located in the Garden District of the Short North at 1198 N. High St. Call 614-297-8437 to learn more.

© 2009 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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