In a year when most craft fairs and festivals have been cancelled, ekologic cashmere clothing designer Kathleen Tesnakis of Troy, N.Y., is joining other artists in making the shift to online retail while keeping up the meaningful interaction between customer and creator.
“This is the first November in eight years that my partner and I haven’t had to wake up at 4 a.m. to pack a rental van with a year’s worth of ekologic inventory, then drive from upstate down to Manhattan to set up an entire shop in Grand Central Terminal for the Holiday Fair,” said Tesnakis, who recycles cashmere to create new sweaters, skirts, hats and gloves. “Normally, we would spend the next month-and-a-half running our shop in Grand Central, overseeing our bustling studio in Troy and traveling between the two locations weekly to replenish inventory. It’s nice to get a little more sleep, but in normal years the Grand Central show accounts for about two-thirds of our annual revenue.”
This year, ekologic is a featured artist in the first ever Grand Central Virtual Holiday Fair, a web-based version of what organizers claim to be New York City’s oldest and largest indoor holiday market that beckons customers from across the world to shop in the Terminal’s historic Vanderbilt Hall.
Though Grand Central is most lucrative for her, Tesnakis said other art shows that occur across the nation throughout the year are no less important for designers like herself. She typically spends the spring and summer touring the country to sell her clothing line at various curated art shows in places like Dallas, Texas, Jackson Hole, Wy. and Portland, Ore. Those shows, all of which were cancelled this year due to COVID-19, account for the rest of ekologic’s annual revenue. Though the company has maintained an online store for more than two decades, the majority of her customers have preferred to shop in person, sometimes returning year after year to the same festivals and fairs.
“I think people really put a value on the experience of purchasing handmade items directly from the artist who made them,” Tesnakis said. “When you shop our online store, you’re still purchasing directly from us. But I recognize that some customers need a bit more help deciding what colors to chose, what size to pick… which is why I’m available for virtual personalized shopping appointments.”
Another way she connects with customers is through broadcasting on Facebook Live each Wednesday at 3 p.m. to share her production process and progress in the studio, as well as her philosophy on sustainability that guides her business practices.
Climate change and environmental pollution are major crises facing humanity and we have to keep pushing for more sustainable practices,” Tesnakis said. “We have to be more eco-conscious, even during a pandemic, because our planet’s ecosystem is in a health crisis, too. I hope people will keep that in mind as they do more of their shopping online this season. Also, there are so many small artisan businesses