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Meet the Designers of Union Handmade

The North Center store stocks one-of-a-kind, quality clothes and goods from these local designers.

Photos courtesy of Union Handmade

Union Handmade sets a great example of the shift toward the desire for quality, artisanal, and one-of-a-kind rather than mass-produced goods for all. The store’s owner and anchor designer, Leigh Deleonardo, “wanted to create that magical sense that you could find things you always wanted.” And with a store filled to the brim with fine, seasonal fabrics and thoughtful, unique designs, she truly has.

The store is comprised of ten designers who share the rent, work in the store itself, and fill it with their creations. There’s the distinct impression that most objects in the space, including furniture and displays, all have a DIY touch. Along with the designers’ variety of goods, they also carry Winter Session handbags, Ethereal Confections chocolates, Greentree Home beeswax candles, and Real.Soaps.

Deleonardo’s designs make up most of the clothing sold. A self-proclaimed fabric snob, she steers clear of trends, which she believes imply an expiration date. After years of selling her work to department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, she ventured out on her own to design classics with a twist (prices varying from $155 to $385), inspired by research she does at Newberry Library. Focusing on seasonal fabrics and mostly natural fibers, a majority of the clothes sold this fall and winter are made of cashmere, wool, organic cotton and flannel.

The three other clothing designers include Susan Hahn of Auntie Oti, Kelley Jordan of A8, and Nancy Melvin. Based in Brooklyn, Aunti Oti is the only designer who isn’t local. Using textiles found and inspired by her travels, she specializes in home goods and accessories such as blankets ($165 - $210), and also sells some womens clothing as well. A8’s goal is to create the perfect, extremely soft T-shirt, and Nancy Melvin makes nightgowns, plant-dyed scarves, apparel and hand-knit dolls ($130). This month, they are temporarily carrying handmade knitwear, such as sweaters, scarves and hats, from Jaime LaPorta of Ruby Bohannon Knitwear.

Kara Hetz and Katie Mills of Lady Faye Jewelry provide the jewelry for Union Handmade, each with their own personal flare. Hetz veers toward rustic designs with a sense of nature; using mostly sterling silver, cast bronze, copper and semi precious stones. Her prices vary from as low as $30 to as high as $200. Looking at Mills’s work is like rummaging through your grandmother’s jewelry box, eyeing vintage inspired jewelry with beautiful stones, glass buttons and a surprisingly sleek take on cement, which she experiments with to make the most unique finds. 

The store’s milliners include Laura Whitlock and Kate Burch, who both specialize in couture and everyday headwear. Whitlock, who also designs headpieces for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, tends to create classic hats that would work in almost anyone’s closet for years to come. Burch’s hats are a bit funky, coming in a large variety of colors with stand out features. They offer headbands starting at $38 and hats up to $185.

Bari Zaki, a professional bookbinder of 25 years, makes fine paper goods with Japanese papers from Aiko. Perfect for gifts, she offers pencil holders ($12) with pencils ($2.50), matchboxes, hand bound books ($100) and stationary.

Even more important than the individual talents of each designer and contributor of Union Handmade, this store serves as a space for like-minded individuals who have created one of the most thoughtful retail environments in Chicago. “We’ve been a mass made country for a long time and I think there’s something in our souls that wants something special,” says Deleonardo. And in their pursuit of building a place that does just that, they have given shoppers one of the easiest spots to find lasting staples for your own wardrobe and home.

The store is currently closed on a winter break but will reopen next Wednesday, February 4.

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