Columbus, Ohio USA
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Rowe Boutique Style
From pop-up shop to popular pop-in
by Karen Edwards
July/August 2017 Issue
Photos © Larry Hamill
Maren Roth and Marc Derosiers
In 1954, a frothy little musical called “Brigadoon,” a Lerner/ Loewe collaboration, splashed onto movie screens across the country. In the film, Brigadoon was the name of a small Scottish village that would disappear, emerging for one day every 100 years.
For women of fashion in Columbus, Rowe Boutique was their own personal Brigadoon.
Rowe Boutique started life in 2006 as a pop-up shop. It’s the nature of pop-up shops, of course, to be ephemeral. Like clouds on a windy day or morning mists chased by the sun, they are here one moment, gone the next. Fashionable women would visit the shop, then watch it disappear, waiting, hoping for its next appearance. Then up it would surface – in a wine shop, an art gallery, a private home – ready to serve the fashion-conscience once again.
But ten years ago this past spring (just one year after its pop-up shop nature) Rowe Boutique finally found a permanent home at 718 N. High Street. Cue a collective sigh of relief. Fans and friends of the shop no longer had to chase the elusive clothing lines they admired but were unable to find anywhere else in Columbus. Their Brigadoon, finally, had a Short North home.
“I never looked for space anywhere but the Short North,” says Rowe’s owner Maren Roth. “I liked the creative, independent spirit there. It’s the same kind of spirit I wanted for Rowe Boutique. I didn’t want to be in a mall. I wanted a New York energy vibe, and that’s what the Short North provides.”
Birth of a fashionista
No matter where Rowe Boutique settled, though – putting its pop-up past behind it – there’s absolutely no question that its proprietor was born to be a fashionista.
“Yes, I’ve always been interested in fashion, even when I was young,” Roth says. Raised in Columbus as an only child, she and her parents moved to Minneapolis when she was 10. Even before that age, however, Roth was playing dress up. “I was maybe four or five, and I’d put on these elaborate outfits,” she says. “I’d pretend to be a store owner or a model. For a while, I really wanted to be a model.” Strangely, though, designing fashion never interested her. “I’m more on the styling end of things. I like putting outfits together.”
Maybe Roth’s lack of design interest was one of those things that tickles fickle Fate. Three years ago, Roth met her fiancé Marc Desrosiers who happens to be – guess what? – a fashion designer. Sometimes, Destiny knows what it’s doing.
Birth of a couple
“Marc and I met online – on Match.com,” says Roth. “I guess you could say we’re a social media couple,” adds Desrosiers.
Of course, they came to each other through a long, professional route. Desrosiers, for example, had just moved to Columbus from Maine to work with Abercrombie & Fitch, where he was to serve as its head of outerwear and menswear here. Before that, he worked at LL Bean where he designed and started the company’s own signature line of clothing.
And Roth returned to Columbus after her own complex career route. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in consumer journalism, she studied for a while in Seville, Spain, then took an internship with the esteemed trade news publication Daily News Record (DNR) in New York. Roth finally moved to NYC and took various jobs with public relations and advertising firms – always working on the high-end fashion accounts – before finally landing at the Simon Showroom, a globally recognized firm that represents fashion lines. Here, she served a while as its public relations director.
But simply promoting lines of fashion wasn’t enough for Roth. She wanted her own fashion shop, stocked with the kind of quality clothing lines that are almost impossible to find in Columbus. So, she moved back to her childhood home, where her sense of fashion began, and started work on the pop-up shops that would eventually evolve into Rowe Boutique. And of course she met Desrosiers.
Birth of a boutique
When Roth cast about for a shop name, she decided to play with the word row, which, in fashion, is what a clothing line is called. “I liked the play on words, that it was not gender-specific, and that the word started in a similar way to my name,” she says.
Walk into Rowe Boutique on any given day and you’ll be forgiven if you think you’ve been suddenly whisked away to New York. This is a clean, modern, airy, sophisticated shop, not unlike what you’ll find in the Big Apple. “Maren wanted to renovate the shop a year ago,” says Desrosiers. “She did a great job. I think the shop looks phenomenal.”
But there’s more here, of course, than walls, windows and store fixtures. There are the clothes.
“I don’t so much follow trends as interpret what’s out there and what’s current for our customers,” says Roth.
Ask her to describe the Rowe women, and she throws out a wide net. “It can be any age women, from college-age to women who want to dress well as they age,” she says. Look around the shop, though, and you’ll see the majority of Rowe clients are professional women in their mid-30s. “These are women who have events to attend, who want to be confident and stylish in what they wear, but at the same time they want to be comfortable. They like sophistication, but with an edge,” Roth says.
Carrie Maun-Smith, a former neighbor of Roth’s, may be one of Rowe Boutique’s best customers. “I’ve been shopping at the store since 2008,” she says – about a year after Roth opened her brick-and-mortar store.
“It was Maren who drew me to the boutique. She caught my eye at a fashion show I attended at CCAD,” she says. “She was wearing this amazing necklace, a piece with feathers, and it was so different and stylish, I wanted to know who this was.” Her friend told her the woman with the necklace owned a clothing shop in the Short North, so Maun-Smith went for a visit. “I fell in love with Maren, and with the feel of her shop. It is similar to a place I shop in Nashville, Two Old Hippies. The clothes at Rowe have the same kind of bohemian feel that I love. That’s my style. I’d say the clothes Maren carries are feminine and maybe a bit edgy. They’re also good quality. You won’t find these items anywhere else.”
Maun-Smith adds that shopping at Rowe is a pleasure. “Her team is so warm, and they’re dedicated to working with you to achieve your best look.” How many department stores have you wandered into that can boast the same thing? “I can trust her team to be honest with me, about what looks good and what doesn’t,” says Maun-Smith. “They have an eye for knowing what will work with you and for you.”
Roth carries more than 60 lines of clothing – all listed on her website, ranging from Ali Golden to Yumi Kim and Zenzil.
“She shakes it up from time to time, but there are some lines her shop always carries,” says Maun-Smith.
Birth of a style
To find these lines, Roth goes to trade shows and fashion shows, she thumbs through fashion magazines, just to see what’s out there. “Then I figure out what’s appropriate for the season, and pick the best of the best,” she says.
Typically, Roth says she’s drawn to basic, minimal styles with more structure than the usual minimalist piece. “People these days are doing too much. They want their fashion to be easy.”
Well, not that easy. As a rule, Roth says Columbus women dress well, but there is one fashion faux pas she wishes women would avoid – leggings.
“There’s a place for leggings,” she’s quick to point out. They work great at the gym, or “When you’re running around with your kids,” she says. But ladies, when you’re not engaged in one of these activities, you might be advised to leave the leggings at home.
Roth describes her own style as “bohemian with a classic American twist.” “I’d say my go-to look is jeans, a T-shirt and jacket.” But she’s also a sucker for an off-the-shoulder top or a long, soft dress.
Check out the “Look books” on her website for a peek at what you’ll find once you step inside the shop.
Birth of KILN
KILN, a men’s apparel store, recently opened at 988 N. High St.
What you won’t find, however, is KILN, the pop-up menswear store Roth originally opened with Desrosiers inside Rowe Boutique. Like Rowe, KILN has become a brick-and-mortar store (located at 988 N. High) with its own distinct lines of clothing.
“We want to make it a resource for menswear in Columbus,” says Desrosiers. But he’d like to take KILN a step beyond that. He wants to connect the customer with the product – some of the best, American-made clothing lines he can find.
“Brands cycle through the shop, but the look here is clean and minimal. We offer classics that our customers will have in their closets forever,” he says.
Desrosiers visits the factories that produce the clothing lines he carries two to four times a year. “We personally hand-select the fabrics we want used,” he says. Take Oxford cloth, the quintessential fabric for men’s shirting. Desrosiers chooses an Oxford that’s what he calls “sturdy, gutsy,” one that’s going to stand up to multiple wearings and still look good. Sure, he wants quality and fit for KILN customers, but “At the end of the day, we have to be authentic,” he continues. “We want brands with a deep heritage and a story to tell.” Whether that’s Red Wing, Brooks Brothers or any other brand, Desrosiers wants the clothes KILN carries to be always relevant, in style, and iconic.
Desrosiers has recently designed a private label line for both KILN and Rowe. You can bet that these clothes reflect the designer’s taste for classic quality.
Birth of a Baby Rowe
Meanwhile, back at Rowe Boutique, another pop-up shop will soon surface – a shop that features children’s clothing. Both Roth and Desrosiers admit their 19-month old daughter Lennon was an inspiration for their latest Brigadoon. “It’s been frustrating not finding the kind of quality clothes I want to buy her,” says Roth. The couple hopes to fully establish the children’s clothing line by next year.
Marriage for the couple, by the way, is imminent – they may be married by the time you read this – and both say there are advantages to a spouse who shares the same profession. “Marc understands what I’m going through, but at the same time, he can come at the situation from a different perspective,” says Roth. ‘He looks at it from a designer, creative point of view; I have more of a marketing, buyer outlook.” Desrosiers agrees: “I can talk about a problem I have and she gets it. It’s the perfect marriage, really.” At the same time, both agree it can be difficult to separate work and personal time. It’s hard not to bring work home.
Yet each have their own interests and pursue those when possible. Desrosiers is a rock climber and ice climber; Roth enjoys traveling and shopping.
“I don’t mean going into other clothing stores, necessarily. I also like to explore little vintage shops and quirky places off the beaten path.” When the pair travels, their favorite places are back to Desrosiers home state, Maine, but also Colorado, Mexico, and their latest find, Palm Springs.
Birth of the future
Marc and Maren’s daughter, Lennon, brings a fresh focus to Rowe Boutique. Soon, a pop-up will carry children’s apparel there.
If there is one thing Roth says she’s learned from her 10 years in business, it’s to surround yourself with smart people – and grow a thick skin. “Not everything people are going to say about you or your business is going to be positive,” she says. And while she’ll admit she “doesn’t know everything,” she says it’s important to stand behind your vision and beliefs.
There’s more than a business side to Roth, however, says Maun-Smith. “Maren is one of the most caring people I know,” says her friend.
That side of Roth may be best reflected by the non-profit Jack Roth Fund she created shortly after her father died from lung cancer. The annual 5K Rock ‘N’ Run/Walk benefits the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, and Jack Roth Camp Netaim, a program in Israel for children with special needs.
“The run is how the fund started,” says Roth. “And most of the money still comes from the run.” (A fall fashion show also brings in money for the non-profit.) “I wanted to support organizations that I know my father would have supported. I wanted to keep his work going,” she says. The money that is donated to the James is specifically for lung cancer research. “My father was a runner, and he never smoked,” says Roth, so his death from lung cancer came as a shock to the family. “My father inspired me to start running,” Roth continues, so a 5K run seemed the best way to raise money and honor Jack Roth’s memory. “We run the race in Bexley each year. Part of the race goes past his old house. And because my father loved music, there is always a musical element to the event as well. When we first started the event, I wasn’t sure how well attended it would be, but my father was well known in the community and people really came out that first year to support it.” The run has grown exponentially larger each year it’s held, Roth adds.
“I’d say Maren is very purpose driven,” says Maun-Smith. And that’s not due to just the run she created. “She is committed to lifting people up, especially women entrepreneurs like herself. Maren really paved the way for them. She was a pioneer, creating a business when not many women were, and setting it up in a place where not many women were locating.” Now that more are on the scene, though, “Maren supports them all,” says Maun-Smith.
Count on your friends to have the last words: “Maren is caring and kind. She has a huge heart and people are just naturally drawn to her. She’s free-spirited, maybe a little Bohemian, but very natural and comfortable to be around,” says Maun-Smith.
Those are the kinds of qualities that draw people not only to Maren but to her shop as well. Rowe Boutique is the physical, creative manifestation of all that Maren Roth is and values. Rowe Boutique may have started as a type of Brigadoon, but now women from all over the city and places as far away as St. Louis, Aspen, Minneapolis and northern California value their time at Rowe Boutique…and with the woman who created it.
Rowe Boutique is located at 718 N. High St. Hours are Monday through Saturday 11 to 7, Sunday 12 to 5. Visit www.roweboutique.com or call 614-299-7693 to learn more. KILN is now open at 988 N. High St. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11-7, Sunday 12 to 5. Visit www.kilnmercantile.com or call 614-867-5610.
© 2017 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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