It was a typical winter day in Philadelphia: freezing cold, raining and ugly all around. But when I climbed the stairs to the studio space that holds Old City’s Topstitch Boutique, I couldn’t possibly feel more warmed and welcomed.
Fun, fashionable clothing hangs on little racks throughout the space. Hand-crafted jewelry is draped over one table, and kitschy crafts made from vintage goodies sit on another. Bright, funky shoes and boots line the shelves at the front of the store, near the employees’ sewing station. To the left are the dressing rooms, covered with beautiful curtains to allow for privacy while still maintaining the feel that you’ve just stepped into the world’s coolest closet.
I was greeted by owner Francesca Sloan, 30, an energetic redhead with a unique sense of style. Sloan, creator of the Babooshka clothing line, co-owns the store with Lynda Smith, inventor of the Honey Milk line.
Sloan, originally from Houston, Texas, came to Philadelphia on a whim in December 2001. “I just moved out here and decided to pursue more of an art career [instead of] being, like, a receptionist or office manager for the rest of my life,” Sloan said. Soon after, she fell in love with the city and attended college at the Art Institute to pursue her career.
“I actually remember the moment that I realized that this place is for me,” Sloan said. “I was at CopaBanana’s on South Street, and I was having margaritas, and this lady was serving me . . . and she just had this long sleeve of tattoos. And in Houston, you can’t have a job [if you have tattoos] – you can’t wait tables, you can’t do anything with tattoos. So I was just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s just so free – people are willing to look at you for who you are, not call you a freak – people would rather get to know you. It’s interesting out here.”
Soon after graduating from the Art Institute in June 2005, Sloan opened her small boutique in Rittenhouse and started the Babooshka line. “My pieces were very well-received,” Sloan said. “So it gave me confidence, and it just grew from there.
“I met Lynda, who is the owner of Honey Milk, in August of 2006,” Sloan said. “We both won [Philadelphia Magazine’s] Best of Philly for Best Retail Expansion, which was basically the back-room stores – the small, baby stores – and at that point, we were like, ‘Let’s do this bigger and better together,’ since we had the same vision.”
Similar to the camaraderie Sloan found in Smith, Topstitch found friendship in the other stores lining the streets of Old City. When asked why someone should come to Topstitch instead of one of its nearby competitors, Sloan said that she’d rather a shopper go to all of the Old City stores like hers.
“Over here in Old City, it’s such a neat change from where I was before,” Sloan said. “[A lot of] the boutiques in Rittenhouse were very catty, and over here, everyone was very welcoming, and it’s like a family. It’s amazing.”
She went on to explain how just the night before, all of the boutiques – including Topstitch – stayed open late into the night to for a neighborhood sale.
“We want to be, like, the Old City shopping district,” she said. “I would want someone to come here [to Topstitch] just as much as I’d want them to go to another shop, because we all just complement each other so well.”
As for the future of Topstitch, Sloan isn’t short on ideas. She wants to hold fashion shows to showcase the store’s more detailed, one-of-a-kind pieces. In order to focus more on the runway line, Sloan might commission a small factory in Harrisburg to produce her collection’s hits.
She also plans to hold more Old City sales, which encompass all of the local boutiques and draw more attention to their neck of the woods.
Chrissy Reese can be reached at