By Sarah Ann Noel
Images by Kimberly Mitiska
At Fellow, one of our goals is to be in community, supporting the buyers, sellers, makers, and artists who bring people together. As we gear up for the holiday season, and our attention can turn to more material endeavors, we wanted to maintain that focus, with a special push for shopping small and shopping locally. If you didn’t see our Instagram announcement, Fellow will host a Holiday Hullabaloo at Fort Greene for Small Business Saturday on November 26. Bring your Thanksgiving leftovers to our potluck, and get to know the faces behind great local brands from 3-8 p.m.
We’ll also spend the rest of the month getting to know small business owners about Denver. This week, we had the privilege of speaking with Brandee Castle, co-owner of Judith & Joe, a small boutique in RiNo with a big emphasis on giving back. The shop shares a Backyard on Blake store front with La Lovely Vintage, a community that, according to Brandee, is a great depiction of small businesses in Denver.
I first came across your brand on Instagram, and you were building out the Backyard on Blake space. But you’ve been in business longer than that.
Yes, Judith & Joe and La Lovely Vintage both started as mobile boutiques. We came across this space and thought, “What a great opportunity!” Going from almost no overhead in a bus, to a place where you pay rent, was going from very small to very big. So we figured, why not just share the cost, share the space.
How did Judith & Joe come to be then?
My business partner, Sara Graf, and I worked together for the State. There we hatched the idea that we wanted to, first, have a business that helped people. And we both loved clothes—that’s all we talked about. We love style. So it seemed natural that we would open up a boutique in some way. We weren’t sure exactly how it was going to help other people at first, so we dove into the boutique part. We didn’t want to start with online; we wanted to figure out who our community was, be part of the Denver community. So, we bought a bus from Snow Mass and we turned it into a store and just went for it.
Since we both worked for the Energy office, we already had a natural inclination toward sustainability. We wanted to make sure we were providing a product that helped other people and didn’t harm other people. Fashion is the second most toxic industry in the world, and we don’t want to be a part of that. When we started, we were having really mixed feelings, and it made sense for us to do sustainable clothing, organic clothing, U.S.-made, and caused-based brands. So that’s how it all came about, and it’s how we feel best having a boutique.
I think there’s definitely a trend toward paying attention to where your clothes come from, but you’ve been able to make it accessible.
I’m a Denver native and Sara’s lived her for a really long time. Five Points and RiNo are the neighborhoods we live in, and we really wanted to cater our price point to the neighborhood. We wanted it to be accessible to everybody. So, while we do have a few pieces that might be $100+, most of our items are around $40-45. Even some as low as the twenties and teens. It can be so expensive to have U.S.-made clothes; so we want to make sure that you’re not breaking the bank by buying a dress. There’s no reason that we can’t carry affordable brands. We want everybody to be able to shop here.
You must know something I don’t. How do you find such great products at equally great prices?
I don’t know anything that you don’t know! We go to trade shows like all boutiques do, but we will only speak with brands who give back or have been responsibly-made. That really narrows it down for us. And in the long run, it makes it easier. Some brands reach out to us. We carry some local brands. And otherwise, we just do hardcore research.
You achieved your goal of amazing clothes and helping people, but community is also really important to you. And that’s part of why you’re in Backyard on Blake. How did you get here?
Tara, who owns La Lovely Vintage, she and I were on a walk, and we walked by this warehouse. That’s it!
What really attracted Sara and me to the space specifically was that we never wanted to have a lone storefront. We always wanted to be a part of a community. We also didn’t want to come in and change the neighborhood, we wanted to improve upon what was already here. Fiona Arnold, who owns this development, she really believes in small business—women-owned businesses especially. It seemed like our values all lined up and it was a great fit. And we want to collaborate as much as we can with our community.
You’re friends. You work together, help each other out.
We do. All we talk about is how we can’t wait for the other businesses that aren’t open yet to open. We’re always sending people to the other businesses, they’re always sending people here. And I think that’s more than just [Backyard on Blake]; I think it’s the whole RiNo/Five Points neighborhood. There are boutiques down the streets on Larimer, a few blocks away, and they’re always sending people here and vice versa. It’s always about community over competition. If we do well, everybody does well.
So the neighborhood is amazing for small business. What about Denver as a whole?
It’s amazing. Denver is so supportive of small businesses—especially women-owned businesses. I don’t think that’s true in every state. We feel really supported. We have loved getting to know other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s just an incredible community.
What kind of inspiration do you feel you draw from being a Colorado business?
I feel like the coolest people live in Colorado! People are so friendly here. People in Colorado are really interested in sustainability and in doing good for the world. To be able to be part of that, amongst people that we love is really cool. And I think we draw a lot of inspiration, not only from the people here in Colorado but also from the things that they create. Especially the music scene; we partner a lot with a couple hip-hop DJs that are in the area. We get really inspired by that.
Thus all the vinyl you have for sale.
We feel like music is another thing that brings people together. We sell rare, used vinyl records and sometimes buy collections from local DJs. It’s also kind of a selfish thing because I’m so passionate about music, and I wanted there to be something of that in here.
And there is additional local representation in your store, not just through the music scene.
What are some of the Colorado-based brands you’re carrying?
We love all the local brands we carry, so deeply, because not only are they our neighbors, they make great stuff. We are really excited to be working with WORTHYMADE. The two guys behind the brand moved to Colorado, and they make the most beautiful candles, hats, and bags I’ve ever seen. They’re very conscientious about their materials. And they’re just really good dudes—so nice. Sparkle + Stone has been one of our long-time vendors—since we were in the bus. We definitely have a heart for them. She handmakes every piece of jewelry, and she really caters to each store where she sells. And, of course, give with joy. Small run print is so hard to come by, and her stuff is beautiful and calming and fun.
What do you think are the challenges for small businesses like there, in a city like Denver, especially with the rapid growth that you’re seeing in this neighborhood?
The growth is a challenge for sure. Everything is delayed right now, with permitting, building, people trying to move into spaces—which is so bittersweet. The demand is great, which means people are following their dreams; but because the demand is great, people are put on hold, it’s more expensive than they thought it would be. Those were some of the issues that we ran into building out this space. I’ve heard of places that have taken two years to open. It’s crazy. And it’s bittersweet. But that’s almost the only challenge? Everything else is so well-supported.
When we talk about shopping small, our attention turns to the businesses; but the buyers make it happen too. So why shop small this month--or anytime?
So much more of the money that is spent here, stays here when you shop small. That’s a no-brainer. Outside of supporting Judith & Joe, knowing that you’re supporting people’s dreams and people’s families so intimately is such a good reason to shop locally. The mall is great. I love walking around the mall. But who am I supporting? What companies that the store is carrying am I supporting.
I know when you’re shopping here, we do our due diligence to make sure that every product is benefitting everybody. And I think that’s why you should shop at Judith & Joe.