Original Content at OpEdNews
My guest today is Evanston entrepreneur, Zoe Lembeck. Welcome to OpEdNews, Zoe. You're hosting the Women to Go -- Chicago event on July 1st. What can you tell us about it?
We were approached by Phyllis Nutkis, who essentially came into our store and explained that a very interesting project had been designed and executed in Tel Aviv to bring awareness to human trafficking. This project had women in the windows of retail stores with price tags and for sale signs listing age, weight and other details as if they were just another item for sale along with everything else. Outside, there were volunteers who had information and ways to get involved in fighting something that happens not only far away in "developing countries" but all over the United States every day. The project was so successful that it was decided to replicate the event in Chicago and London on July 1st.
As soon as we heard about this, we jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I have studied a bit about human trafficking in college and did some research on the Polaris Project at that time. I also have seen more and more movies focusing on this issue lately. It is often hard to know how to address and combat issues in ways other than giving money to organizations. This event seemed more than just making a big fanfare about the issue and then leaving everyone to say, "that is so horrible, I feel horrible, now I am going to go home, feel bad, but really just continue to ignore it since I don't know how I can make a difference."
We loved the creative presentation along with the informative and pragmatic side of it. Being boutique owners, we love colors, art, fashion and fun and love to tie that in with the community and bringing attention to broader social issues. In the past, we have partnered up with Northwestern sororities to raise money for the YWCA women's shelter and also a local artist to raise money to aid in the relief efforts in Haiti as well as other local events. As women, we know this issue affects so many women but also children and men as well. We look forward to contributing in any way we can to bring broader awareness to this issue and also hopefully figuring out very real ways big or small that people can do to take steps in minimizing human trafficking.
So, Willams Next Door will be the site of "Women to Go -- Chicago" on Sunday, July 1st, from noon-4pm. Do you worry that your customers will be bothered or turned off by your activism?
I think that, in general, Evanston is a very liberal community with a lot of interest and heart for social justice. I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that speaking out against human trafficking is offensive. That being said, I think the edgy and unique nature of this project will draw attention, which is what makes it so great. At first glance, it could look questionable but that will draw people in and make them stop. We pride ourselves in pushing the envelope a bit so we are not worried at all.
What's the story with Williams Next Door? How long have you been part of the Evanston scene?
Our shoe store, Williams Shoes the Walking Spirit, has been in business for over 50 years. I will be the third generation. We opened up Williams Next Door about five years ago and we are a boutique that offers women's clothing, jewelry, handbags, gifts and accessories. Between the two stores, you can really find everything a girl could want!
I had no idea that both stores were owned by the same family. Marianne is your mom? Did you work in the Williams Shoes growing up? And what about your lovely mascot?
Yes, Marianne is my mother. We do the boutique side together and my dad handles the shoe store. I started working at the shoe store at a young age during the summers and didn't even realize I enjoyed the independent family-owned atmosphere until I worked in corporate settings for about three years after college and just was not feeling inspired by what I was doing. I guess this just felt second nature to me. I grew up going to shoe shows with my dad seeing how that worked, hanging out in his office and also seeing his creative side used to make the business more interesting and successful. Our dog Sophia has been with us since the store opened. She is definitely the star of the show and totally spoiled so my mom hates to leave her at home.
I know that when I met Sophia at your store several years ago, she made an outsized impression on me. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
I think you pretty much covered a lot about the event and the history of the store. We look forward to seeing how it goes on Sunday. Small businesses will not survive without the support of the community just like grassroots movements need the support of the people and that is how they grow. It can take time and it can be one person at a time. That is how we look at growing our business. Give every client great service and help that woman find something she loves that looks great on her and her friends will want to know where she got it. Movements that bring awareness to social issues are not any different. Get one person to learn about this issue and they will go and tell their friends. Being part of this event feels exciting and relevant as a woman, and as a business owner.
I'm with you. Good luck with the event. I understand that you're donating 10 percent of the proceeds this Sunday toward fighting human trafficking?
Yes, that is correct! We wanted to help with the event and try and get as many as people as possible to come and learn about it.
Sounds great. It's been such a pleasure talking with you, Zoe. There's nothing better than an entrepreneur with heart!
Photos by Michael Lembeck
Williams Next Door is located at 706 Church St., Evanston, IL. (847) 905-1588
"Women to Go -- Chicago" Fb page
Williams Next Door Fb page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Next-Door/166301920059093
Williams website: www.williamsshoesonline.com
Follow Joan Brunwasser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoanBrunwasser