Words by Melissa Beattie, Photos by Franz Mahr
There is no doubt that Old Town Alexandria is charming and scenic, but you might not think of it as a creative hub. Among coffee shops, small boutiques and cobblestone streets, you will find a historic building in the heart of Old Town that houses some of the area’s finest women-owned creative businesses.
Meet the women at the Studios at 112 S. Patrick. We asked the studio owners a few questions about how they got their start, the importance of collaboration and a few of their favorite things about Old Town Alexandria.
Wedding and event coordination, floral design and photography
Some of the best ideas are hatched over a glass of wine. Just ask Lauren Anderson and Rachel Bridgwood, founders and owners of Sweet Root Village, a wedding and event coordination, floral design and photography collective. In 2010, the longtime friends spent an evening discussing the idea of starting a business together after successfully coordinating weddings for Bridgwood and a mutual friend. With their knack for creativity, floral design and handling fine details, Sweet Root Village was formed.
Two years ago, while searching for a studio space for their growing wedding business, Anderson and Bridgwood met Susannah Marlowe-Galan of Alumbra Photography and formed a friendship. After several months of searching for the perfect studio space, the businesses discovered the historic Studios at 112 S. Patrick building and immediately moved in. Sweet Root Village and Alumbra Photography are now the longest tenured businesses in the building.
“We had always loved the appeal of Old Town and dreamed of being there one day,” Bridgwood says. “We just anticipated it being much farther along in our business!”
Fast-forward to 2014, Sweet Root Village has grown into a fully staffed business, recently taking over the entire first floor of the building to make room for its impressive collection of antique vases used for special events and bundles of fresh flowers delivered from a local farm. Sustainability is an important aspect of Sweet Root Village’s business. According to Anderson and Bridgwood, “We implement as many sustainable practices as possible through local sourcing, eco-friendly packaging and all-around sustainable business and lifestyle practices.”
One look at Sweet Root Village’s Instagram and blog and you will find a beautifully curated image gallery containing sneaks peaks of rustic weddings and stunning floral displays. Just this year alone, Sweet Root Village’s work has been featured in Washingtonian Bride & Groom, Style Me Pretty and other major wedding and lifestyle publications. The business also offers styling services and has collaborated with Anthropologie, BHLDN, Kinfolk, West Elm and Kimpton Hotels. Sweet Root Village often partners on styled photoshoots with other businesses in the building, each coming together to contribute their own unique touch to the shoot.
“There is a special sort of bonding that seems to come from sharing space and we are always excited to collaborate,” Bridgwood says.
Pictured, from left: Michelle Lindsay and Kelley Cannon
Wedding and lifestyle photography
Wedding and corporate event planning
Suitemates Michelle Lindsay and Kelley Cannon know a thing or two about collaboration. While the two newest members of the Studios at 112 S. Patrick community are owners of separate businesses, Lindsay and Cannon frequently collaborate on weddings and parties, with expert event planner Cannon handling the details while Lindsay captures the happy moments of the day. Together, their work has been featured in The Knot, 100 Layer Cakelet and other prominent publications.
Children’s clothing, women’s accessories and sewing lessons
“Makers gonna make,” is seamstress and stylist Wally Town’s motto.
Town founded UpCircle Studio in 2012 shortly after relocating to the D.C. area from her native New Orleans. While shopping for her toddler son, Town was discouraged by a lack of cute clothing options. So she took matters into her own hands, gathering upcycled fabric and taking to a sewing machine to make her own. With a little help from YouTube tutorial videos, Town became an expert seamstress and eventually opened UpCircle Studio on Etsy as a handmade children’s clothing and accessories shop. Once the business started to grow, she looked to find a bigger studio space and eventually moved into the Studios at 112 S. Patrick along with her former suitemate. Town was immediately taken with the strong creative feel of Old Town and loved the idea of joining a studio with other women-owned businesses.
“Over time getting to know the other ladies, I am always in awe of their work, their art and their commitment to providing their best at every opportunity,” Town says. “I’ve been inspired and encouraged by them and feel supported as well.”
Town has since expanded UpCircle Studio to offering home décor, embroidered stationery and one-on-one sewing classes for both intermediate and budding sewing students. Whether it’s a new dress, clutch purse or apron, her students always leave with a new item after each session. Town’s individualized sewing classes bring her the most joy and satisfaction in her career.
“To see that big smile of accomplishment on my students’ faces after a project is hugely rewarding,” says Town. “Getting to know them, guiding them towards something that is creative, productive, meditative and stimulating all at the same time is something so right in my life.”
Town also hosts an ongoing workshop series called Get Crafty Ladies Night, where this month participants learned how to make holiday wreaths from locally sourced materials, stenciled tea towels and mulling spice sachets. She hopes to continue this crafting series as a way of bringing together other like-minded creative women in the Old Town Alexandria area and beyond.
“Old Town is a creative district,” Town says. “Here, you can learn how to sew, knit, letterpress, make jewelry, make candy, screenprint, throw clay, make paper, and so on. I’m so proud to be a part of this growing creative community.”
Susannah Marlowe-Galan, Alumbra Photography and Unveil by Alumbra
Entrepreneurship runs in longtime photographer Susannah Marlowe-Galan’s family, so it was a no-brainer to start her own business several years ago. Marlowe-Galan is the founder of Alumbra Photography and Unveil by Alumbra, two brands that specialize in lifestyle, wedding and boudoir portraits.
Since moving her business to the Studios at 112 S. Patrick in 2012, Marlowe-Galan has found success in collaborating with shops along Old Town’s King Street, recently photographing a spring lookbook with local clothing and accessories shop Bishop Boutique. She also finds that being in a building with other creative businesses helps to keep her motivated.
“Being a creative in business can be lonely,” Marlowe-Galan says. “However, being surrounded by so many other talented, creative women has been so good for me personally and my business. I love bouncing ideas off the others and seeing all they amazing work they are doing. It inspires me and pushes my own creativity.”
As for her business’ greatest accomplishments? “The confidence boost so many of my boudoir clients leave with. Getting to photograph a woman artistically and authentically is a powerful way to remind her of how unique and beautiful she truly is, and it is the reason I do what I do.”