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This Month's Star : Emma Olson

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Following is the full interview we did with Emma Olson of Hazel & Rose. Part of it ran in our monthly email, United Update, which is sent to subscribers around the 26th of each month. To join the mailing list, enter your email address in the field near the bottom of each page of our website.

emma olson of hazel and rose

We met Emma Olson last year while drooling over the clothes found in the shop she owns, Hazel & Rose. Emma's a champion for sustainable and ethical fashion, something we're passionate about, too. Read on to learn more about how (and why) she's leading the charge.

Hey Emma! Tell us about you.
I grew up mostly in Minnesota, and mostly in New Ulm. I say "mostly" because my family moved around a bit until I was 11. Before we moved to New Ulm, we lived in suburban areas, so moving to a rural, small town was quite the culture shock, but I'm really glad I had that experience. After I graduated high school I left Minnesota to attend Northwestern University in Illinois, and honestly had no intention of coming back besides to visit my family. I started college as a Theatre major, certain I'd be an actress, but that certainty faded away when, in my sophomore year, I switched to a Communications degree with a focus on Business. I still stayed involved in the arts: I worked as a costume designer, publicity director, and producer of various student theatre productions, and my senior year I was the president of an all-female a cappella group called Significant Others (Pitch Perfect was real for some of us). Before my senior year, I got an awesome internship at Target and fully expected to use it as a resumé-booster after graduation so I could move to New York or San Francisco. I wasn't expecting to fall in love with Minneapolis. By the time the internship ended and I was offered a full-time job once I graduated, I could not wait to come back. I spent six years at Target working as a planning analyst, project manager, planning manager, and eventually buyer, all in apparel. I learned so much in a very short amount of time at Target. They did a terrific job of teaching a solid retail foundation by allowing me to work in both planning and buying, and I met most of my career mentors while I was there. I left Target after those six years to open Hazel & Rose.

[Outside of work,] I live in Uptown with my husband and our two Shih Tzu–mix pups, Dennis and Charlie. They're sometimes shop dogs, but we're still working on Dennis' barking (it's loud and constant and not very nice).

What makes Hazel & Rose different than other boutiques?
[I carry] women's clothing, accessories, shoes, and skincare. My shop is dedicated to sustainable and ethical fashion, and it’s important to me that style never feels compromised. No one wants to buy something that's supposed to be "better" if they don't like it. So I offer a destination for beautiful and timeless pieces made by amazingly talented, independent designers who value quality, sustainability, and transparency.

When and how did you start Hazel & Rose?
I'd always wanted to have my own shop but wasn't sure what I would do to set it apart from other shops in the area. When the Rana Plaza collapse happened in 2013 in Bangladesh, it gave me a wake-up call about how I was shopping. I quit fast fashion cold turkey and shopped more sustainably and ethically, but it was difficult for me to find places to shop in person that weren't secondhand shops. [That lead to] my idea for Hazel & Rose. I spent a year researching before I quit my job at Target, and another nine months working on the shop full-time before it opened in March 2016. There was, of course, a lot that happened during that time: I read books, listened to podcasts, took courses, talked with mentors and other business owners, and saved as much cash as I possibly could.

What is the meaning of the shop's name?
Hazel and Rose were two of my great-grandmothers. I loved that it was a personal name and also had a connection to nature, since Hazel and Rose are both plants.

Have you always had an interest in fashion?
I have always loved fashion, and it was my "back-up plan" if acting didn't work out! When I was a kid I didn't really play with dolls, I styled them and then put them away. I spent my free time at school sketching original dress designs, and dreamed of making my own prom dress one day. When I was growing up in my small town in 2001, I didn't want to dress like everyone else, so I embraced online shopping to ensure I'd have things no one else had. I considered being a designer but didn't think I had the technical skills necessary to be successful, so I shifted my focus to the business side of fashion.

What is the best part about what you do?
I have two favorite parts. The first is curating the items in the shop—I absolutely love connecting with designers to see their latest work and hearing about the inspiration behind the pieces, and then picking what to carry in the shop. My second-favorite part is connecting with shoppers in the store. I love meeting new people and helping them find the perfect item. I get so much joy out of chatting about how to wear something or what makes the item special.

What is the most challenging?
The unknown. Retail changes every single day. When I think I have it figured out, something unexpected happens. It's so difficult to predict, and that can be stressful. When I worked at Target, the unpredictability was exciting because the job was never boring. Now that it's my own business, it's still exciting, but it's also terrifying because it's just me…and just my money invested.

How can United nation help you with that challenge?
Shop the store? Ha! Feedback is always appreciated: What do you like about the shop? What don't you like? What would you like to see more or less of?

What are your plans/goals for the next couple of years?
This year I'd really like to start paying myself. My husband would like that too! I'd say, short term, I'd like the store to steadily grow. I want people to visit Minneapolis and feel like they have to stop by my shop because they've heard it's great. I'd like to be able to hire more people so I feel like I'm giving back to the community more by providing jobs. I'd like to host more events and experiences to build more of a community within the shop.

What's Hazel & Rose planning for Fashion Week MN?
The shop is hosting #WhoMadeMyClothes, a Fashion Revolution–inspired event on April 27 (see News & Notes, right, for more info). I'm calling it an interactive fashion show: Models will be in the shop wearing a look from Hazel & Rose and telling the stories behind the clothes they're wearing. They'll share where it was made, who made it, why it's special. I'll also be encouraging shoppers to ask the brands of the clothes they're wearing, “Who made my clothes?" on social media to continue to encourage transparency in the industry. I'm also excited to attend more events this year. I feel like it's bigger than ever, so I'm really excited.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress because they wore beautiful clothes and got a lot of attention. As I grew up, I recognized that those were pretty superficial reasons to want to do something, which is part of why my goals changed. But I think what stayed with me is the appreciation for beautiful garments and the ability to make an impact on a larger scale. Those things are still important.

What might we be surprised to learn about you?
1. I threw shot put and discus on the high school track team.
2. My graduating class had 67 people in it, and we were the big class. If you know someone from New Ulm, I probably also know that person and/or their family members.
3. I sing! I sang all through elementary, middle, and high school, as well as in that aforementioned a cappella group in college. When I first moved back to Minneapolis I was a member of the Basilica Choir. These days it's just karaoke. If anyone has other ideas, send them my way.
4. I have a handful of TV shows I'll casually re-watch: Dawson's Creek, The OC, and Gossip Girl. These days, though, I am fully obsessed with RuPaul's Drag Race.
5. I've seen the Backstreet Boys perform four times. Three times since I turned 21. BSB for life.

We're shoe-aholics. So, what's a favorite pair of shoes you’ve owned?
My favorite shoes that I currently own are the ones I wore on my wedding day. They're gold-foiled, impossibly high peep-toe stilettos by Giuseppe Zanotti that I'll forever believe were destined to be mine. The week I got engaged I went to Toronto for a work trip, and spent a free afternoon casually shopping for wedding shoes. I knew I'd wear my mother's dress, which was tea length, so the shoes were not only important since they'd actually be seen, but the budget was generous since I was spending next to nothing on my dress. I tried on these gold shoes at a small boutique and fell in love, but could not stomach the $700 price—especially when I considered the taxes and exchange rate and duties—so I walked away. A few months later, still shoeless, I was browsing online when I found those shoes for 70% off. They had one pair left. In my size. It was meant to be. I will treasure those shoes forever.

Find Emma and Hazel & Rose here:
website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Located down the hall from Spyhouse NE in the
Broadway Building

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