Local boutique celebrates unique artists

Fra Angelica, Cleveland, Ohio boutique

Fra Angelica Studio is more than a boutique - it's a showcase for wearable pieces of art. Owner Linda Damiani opened shop with the intention of selling knitwear she created and has grown it to represent the work of more than 60 independent artists. Damiani was kind enough to take the time from her busy schedule running her store to answer some questions about entrepreneurship, working in the fashion industry in Cleveland, and her favorite style advice.


What made you decide to open your shop?

I love to knit – no surprises there. I began my knitting life with my first project – a pink and fuchsia poncho. What seemed to be a simple project sparked a passion for the craft. Soon my house was strewn with design books and magazines. Instruction from my grandmother and professionally conducted local classes exposed me to a multitude of specialties to incorporate into my pieces including: embroidery, beading, macramé, knitting and crochet.

This wonderful hobby provided a creative outlet for me during a 31-year corporate career. I worked for a large, multi-national corporation that designed, manufactured, sold and supported hardware and software for a range of computers and lines of business. I worked in various technical positions, including software development, customer support and management consulting. When the corporation offered an early out and I serendipitously qualified for the age requirement by two weeks, I decided to leave corporate America.

For my second act, I focused on my creative side and began making and selling my work at several galleries and at art shows and additionally, with partners, managing two galleries. When the opportunity arose, I opened my own small store in The Galleria to sell my work and that of other local artists.

In 2013, my location in The Galleria was scheduled for demolition for the YMCA renovation. In searching for a new location, I was impressed with Cumberland Development’s plans for the 5th Street Arcades and opened there in June 2013. 5th Street is now a true destination for people who want to buy local and support local entrepreneurs. You’ll find an eclectic mix of businesses offering a variety of products, services and food. It’s exciting for this Cleveland native to be a part of the renaissance of our city. I remember riding the rapid downtown with my mom to shop. We’d always stop for a frosty at the stand in the lower level of the Terminal Tower before catching the train back to Lakewood. I’m truly blessed to be a shop owner in the heart of this wonderful, vibrant city.


How do you choose the artists represented in your store?

I look for artists all the time, everywhere. Through participation in local arts organizations, clubs and committees, I’ve met a lot of artists and currently represent more than 60. Initially, I searched local art shows to find artists. While I still attend shows, most of my artists now come from referrals from their friends and family. My family and friends are also on the lookout for artists.

If I see someone on the street wearing interesting jewelry or clothing, I’ll ask them about it. Additionally, I always wear my own work, which often starts conversations about the work and the store. I’ve met a lot of interesting people this way!

There are several criteria I use when evaluating an artist’s work for the store:

  • Original, made by the artist.
  • High quality materials.
  • High quality workmanship.


Fra Angelica offers a large selection of upcycled denim. Why is upcycling important to you (and why should it be important to others)?

Upcycling is a creative process where waste is viewed as a resource. Materials are reused in a clever way, giving them a second life and function. I’ve always loved denim and while investigating the world of old denim, it seemed such a waste to throw away those old denim pieces (shirts, jeans, shorts, dresses) just when they’re comfortable and faded a soft blue or black.

With millions of denim garments already in the market, we enjoy the hunt and unique finds that will later become the raw materials for our new products. We spend hours looking for special denim items like lightly worn jeans, dresses with cool buttons, and little girls’ shorts with bling pockets. A day of hunting always results in a trunk full of bags of denim.

We upcycle this raw material into a variety of new art-to-wear. We enjoy taking the pieces and using them in different ways: a leg becomes a sleeve; a waist band becomes a button band; the little pieces on the studio floor become a flower. Today Fra Angelica Studio hosts upcycled denim wearable art from several designers, including one-of-a-kind hats, backpacks, aprons, jewelry and swing jackets.

Upcycling has shown significant growth across the United States in the last 10 years. Beyond the artistry and fashion behind these designs, you can feel good about opting for an upcycled denim garment and here’s why:

  • Upcycling is essential to minimize the environmental impact and decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
  • Sustainable textiles can be just as fashionable and beautiful as any conventional textiles.

By upcycling to create new denim products, we reduce the use of new raw materials and prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones.

It’s not uncommon that when we source the discarded denim for our next great designs that we’ll walk away with at least 10 pounds of material. Using a small bag with 10 pounds of unwanted clothing reduces 30 to 40 pounds of CO2 gases from polluting the atmosphere. It also saves 14,000 gallons of water and avoids the dispersal of a significant quantity of insecticides.

Beyond the artistry and fashion, you can certainly feel good about opting for an upcycled denim product.


What advice would you give to someone starting a fashion-related business in Cleveland?

In college, I was a math major and didn’t study fashion. When embarking on this quixotic venture, my instincts guided the growth and evolution of my business. My art and by extension, my store, are reflections of my style and aesthetic. I choose products and offer services that I would purchase. The colors reflect my preferences, and when I’ve tried to add colors outside that pallet, they look out of place.

I’m fortunate to have two good friends who are my informal “Board of Directors.” I often ask their opinions and depend on their good taste and honesty. They’ve been an invaluable resource for me over the years.

Fashion is a huge genre, with lots of options, areas of interest, and competition. Following are some guiding principles that have worked for me:

  • Find a niche that differentiates your business.
  • Develop a philosophy and stick to it.
  • Define your esthetic – what pleases you: colors, styles, design. Let your business be a reflection of you.
  • Know your limitations and get help when you need it, especially those areas in which you don’t have expertise. For me, that’s accounting, legal and marketing.


Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I live on Lake Erie: always breathtaking, always changing. Wild flowers dot the cliff leading to the lake adding more colors and textures. The natural beauty in my own backyard inspires me every day.

For me, color and texture rule. Beautiful hand-dyed silk, wool, mohair, chenille, cotton, bamboo and metals provided the material to create knitted fabrics. For my freeform wraps, I typically gather 30 to 40 yarns from my collection, set them on a table in my studio, and let them play together for a few days or even weeks. I add and subtract yarns until I’m satisfied with the mix. Then I knit without a pattern, mixing colors and textures as I go.

New opportunities for exploration are being developed with the production of innovative fibers and the use of non-traditional materials. Thankfully, green-minded artisans with a heightened sense of

consciousness have led us to employ natural, renewable, sustainable and recycled materials; such as paper, steel, seaweed and soy. These types of yarn offer possibilities for experimenting that allow construction of striking, minimal garments inspired by nature. Adding a cross-disciplinary approach, incorporating industrial elements, promote a new aesthetic of sophistication in structural designs.

I concentrate on using unexpected combinations, such as stainless steel/silk and stainless steel/merino wool combined with non-fiber materials such as wire, hardware, beads and crystals. I’ve collected a pallet of unusual fibers with which to experiment and explore new textures and tonal ranges with fiber and hardware. A wonderful stainless steel/silk yarn is my favorite; it is very thin and can be knit separately or combined with other fibers, such as another of my favorites, a hand-dyed raw silk. It holds its shape beautifully and can be used to create structured garments. My garments are knit with simple stitches – a favorite is the plain knit stitch. My goal is to produce exquisite, modern, sleek, simple, organic garments. These wearables will easily merge into an existing wardrobe -- be it a complimentary piece or a featured garment. The pieces work well for day or evening - sophisticated, yet simple, comfortable and affordable.

What is the best piece of style advice you’ve ever received?

Coco Chanel is one of my heroes for the classic style and elegance of her designs. While much of her life is a mystery, what we do know is that when she was young, she worked as a seamstress and a milliner. She obtained the name “Coco” when she worked as a café singer during World War I. During the ’20s, she was the first designer to free women from the tight corsets that until then were the style. She was the first to design loose women’s clothing using jersey, which until that time, was used only for men’s underwear.

In 1929, Chanel designed a handbag inspired by soldiers’ bags. She updated the design in 1955; Karl Lagerfeld updated the bag to include the double C logo in the ‘80s, and in 2005, the Chanel firm released the 1955 version of the bag to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its creation. Chanel created an iconic product whose style hasn’t diminished in almost 90 years -- what a tribute to timeless elegance. I’ve always wanted to own one of these bags, and one day I will!

You can find many quotes and advice attributed to Chanel on the internet, many of them showing her acerbic wit. I can’t choose only one, so here are a few of my favorites:

  • Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.
  • Simplicity is the key to elegance.
  • Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.
  • A woman with good shoes is never ugly.
  • Keep your heels, head, and standards high.
  • Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.
  • Fashion changes, but style endures.
  • A girl should be two things – classy and fabulous.
  • Buy less, choose well.


Fra Angelica Studio is located in the 5th Street Arcades at 530 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland. Learn more about the store at www.fraangelicastudio.com.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017