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updated: 2/17/2021 8:33 AM

Able Shoppe in Elgin brings modern context to vintage fashion

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  • Liv Melchers, 26, opened Able Shoppe in downtown Elgin a few weeks ago. The vintage clothing and home decor store is a reflection of her focus on sustainability and ethical fashion. While the store is full of vintage and antique items, it looks and feels more like a modern boutique.

    Liv Melchers, 26, opened Able Shoppe in downtown Elgin a few weeks ago. The vintage clothing and home decor store is a reflection of her focus on sustainability and ethical fashion. While the store is full of vintage and antique items, it looks and feels more like a modern boutique.
    Rick West photos | Staff Photographer

 
 

A new shop in Elgin wants you to think differently about buying used.

Walking in to Able Shoppe at 23 S. Spring St. feels more like entering a chic boutique on Oak Street in downtown Chicago than a vintage clothing store in downtown Elgin.

And that's precisely the feel for which owner Liv Melchers was going.

"Everything in here is very intentional," she said. "I want it to feel like a gallery, because everything is so textural and colorful and I don't want it to feel cluttered like an antique store or thrift store."

Able Shoppe in downtown Elgin carries a curated collection of vintage, re-created and handmade garments and home decor.
Able Shoppe in downtown Elgin carries a curated collection of vintage, re-created and handmade garments and home decor. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Melchers, 26, opened the shop a few weeks ago in an effort to present vintage clothes and home decor in a modern way.

She said she watches the trends in fashion and decor and is a self-proclaimed "big runway nerd."

"I see what's coming back and I go out and find the original version of that thing," she said. After cleaning, it's all about presentation.

"I try to find vintage that is beautiful just the way it is," she said. "I just curate it and recontextualize it in a modern way."

Melchers passion for reusing items came from a college internship at a fashion boutique that specialized in ethical and sustainable fashion.

"It's about choosing ways of shopping that are better for the environment and also better on humans," she said. "A lot of big, fast fashion retailers sell clothes made overseas by people who are way, way, way underpaid."

There's also the issue of waste.

Melchers makes handmade jewelry for the store, including these clay earrings.
Melchers makes handmade jewelry for the store, including these clay earrings. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

The EPA estimates 17 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2018, a figure that represents 5.8% of all municipal solid waste. An average consumer throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year. The EPA says the recycling rate for clothes and shoes is only 13%.

Melchers said two-thirds of the clothes people donate don't even make it to the floor of thrift stores because of the abundance of clothing waste.

"There's so much more of everything," she said. "I'm just trying to be the middleman, taking things that maybe people were done with and thought weren't relevant anymore and then giving it new life, and that way hopefully saving some things from the landfill."

With so much extra stuff floating around, Melchers has myriad ways to source her inventory.

Before the pandemic, most of her clothes and decor were purchased at estate sales or garage sales. She and her husband Erik love to travel and many of her finds would come from exploring local thrift and antique shops while on the road.

Now, a lot of her purchases are done online, which is where her business started.

Melchers started selling her wares online about five years ago and maintains her Etsy shop now. She grew her brand presence on Instagram, where she has more than 8,500 followers.

"There's a huge, supportive community as far as vintage and sustainable fashion goes," she said.

Melcher said one of her favorite things about the online community she's a part of is meeting the owners and makers at their boutiques and shops, which is why she wanted to open a brick and mortar store. She settled on her location after a yearlong search.

"I feel a lot of excitement about downtown Elgin," Melchers said. "We've always loved it and thought there's crazy potential here. It's really encouraging to see all the new things that have opened or are about to open."

Downtown Neighborhood Association Executive Director Jennifer Fukala said the shop is a perfect fit for what the group is trying to do.

"It's checking multiple boxes for us as something that's unique, it's artistic, it's a destination business, it's somebody that has really developed their brand," Fukala said.

"It's shops like this and people like Liv that are bringing their own passion and their own flavor for what they're doing that embody what we're trying to highlight downtown."