Betsy Cook brings her handmade brand to a Haddon Avenue storefront, where she says the working retail space will connect her with local customers while she fills online orders.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 12, 2018
Three years ago, seamstress Betsy Cook was on the verge of getting out of the fashion business.
The Collingswood clothier had grown demand for her handmade brand, National Picnic, at trade shows and trunk sales, but wasn’t making enough of it solely with online orders.
She took a last-ditch chance on a shared retail space on North Third Street in Philadelphia.
“I was trying to get out [of the fashion industry] because I didn’t feel like I was finding my customer,” Cook said. “Moving to Philly was kind of a Hail Mary.”
Cook describes the experience as “a three-year incubator” during which she realized the future of National Picnic would depend on a hybrid of storefront and mail-order business. When it was time to move on, however, she found the perfect location in the Haddonfield storefront that used to house sewing studio Assemble.
“I can ship to places where I’d never find a customer if I just opened a shop and advertised to my local neighborhood,” Cook said. “But my local neighborhood is just as healthy. I think right now they’re both necessary for a business my size.”
Cook describes her new shop as a combination workshop and retail space “where the creative process is visible from the boutique floor.”
Her women’s casual clothing brand is produced in limited editions, from durable materials, and in styles she calls “pretty classic.
“The things that I make are based on ideas of what I’ve wanted to wear myself as I go through my day,” she said.
“I don’t work in an office; I run around, I’m a mom. I need casual clothing that’s comfortable but also fun.”
Cook’s designs evolved with customer feedback, and she’s hopeful that the new shop will incorporate their input even more. The ability to present her work as a complete collection, and to tailor individual pieces for individual shoppers, sets National Picnic apart from other local boutiques.
“I can have a conversation with my customer in a shop, and the way they converse with me can guide the things I design,” Cook said. “They will want to either leave with something, or admire something and place an order for it. As I’m making it, I already know who it’s going to go to.”
Cook believes her setup is also a distinct business model that is difficult to trace in the clothing world. Larger brands may over-produce designs or sizes that later go unsold; smaller ones like hers can be more responsive to local markets, but may struggle to sell volume.
To Cook, it’s an opportunity to educate customers about her process.
“It’s up to me to let them know how easy it is for me to make something they admire in their size instead of hoping they want it,” Cook said.
“There’s less waste all around, and I think that’s how a small clothing store can stay in business.”
National Picnic will welcome customers to tour its space from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. October 13 and 14; regular hours will be determined thereafter.
The store is located at 417 North Haddon Avenue in Haddonfield. Cook will also be hiring for a handful of positions, and invites inquiries by e-mail.
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