One of the main reasons that fiber artist Paris Evans and her photographer fiancé Paul King moved from Charleston, S.C., to Saluda a year ago was to enjoy a slower-paced life. Little did she know that the change of scenery would also provide her business with opportunities that she likely wouldn’t have experienced in a bustling environment.
While growing up, the low country native spent many a summer in Western North Carolina visiting with her mother’s family and has long been interested in sewing and embroidery.
“I went to [the Maryland Institute College of Art] briefly in Baltimore, so I did a lot of mixed media: painting, and then I would layer over with hand embroidery,” Evans says. “Then I got into altering vintage, and it kind of just took off from there.”
As she honed her skills, Evans was inspired by two developments: friends who were going to different markets in Charleston, and the purchase of a 1930s sewing machine that proved challenging, yet rewarding to figure out how to operate. She soon combined those facets and began doing live stitching at markets while also selling handmade patches. Thus was born the Milkweed brand — named in honor of a passage in her favorite Hal Borland book, 12 Moons of the Year — which further expanded via an online presence.
“Instagram is such a wealth of knowledge and a good way to connect from a visual and creative standpoint,” Evans says. “So I was like, ‘I’m just going to make myself a little Instagram for the business.’ And playing around with hashtags and all that stuff that can be helpful.”
The addition of a digital shop helped Milkweed sustain a steady income as in-person sales were disrupted with the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset. But when the chance to grow her business into a brick-and-mortar establishment in downtown Saluda arose, Evans took the leap, despite what she admits “maybe at first sounded a little crazy, given the current state of things.”
“I have a retail background as well, buying for different businesses in Charleston,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of smaller retail brands in my shop, and then I have my studio in here as well. So, a lot of times, when people come in, I’m just working on a commission, and I can stop and help them shop.”
Easily distracted while working at home, Evans feels more productive in her new studio and finds value in featuring businesses that she’s been tracking for a while. The mix of local, regional and global brands include Asheville-based Spicewalla, Charleston-based soap company Old Whaling Co. and Australian denim brand Rolla’s Jeans.
“Mainly, the focus is eco-conscious brands,” Evans says. “I have a lot of women-owned brands as well and smaller-line things that you can’t necessarily find on Amazon.”
Having a physical space has allowed Evans to make friends with people whom she otherwise likely wouldn’t have met, especially during a pandemic that’s generally confined her to her house. The expansion also helps her increase stitching’s capacity to, in her words, “bring life to old stuff” and “keep that cycle of not buying fast fashion.”
To continue growing her abilities, Evans will soon take a year-delayed class in clothing alteration and pattern work at Penland School of Craft. She hopes that the course will enhance her denim repair skills and eventually help her create clothing from scratch.
“It’d be really cool if anybody wanted me to make them a custom suit,” she says. “Dolly Parton and everybody from the ’60s country and western [scene] had all these awesome, completely chain-stitched suits. So that would be another goal, because that would be such an undertaking but would be beautiful and rewarding.” parisnevans.com