GTPulse: Traverse City Sisters Make Sustainable Clothing Their Business
Yana Dee was never meant to turn into a family business. In fact, it was never meant to become a brick and mortar, but the storefront has been in downtown Traverse City for a little over five years now and Yana Weglarz couldn’t run the store without the help of her sister Abby Weglarz.
The sisters have had a Yin and Yang balance within their relationship since their childhood. They were raised in the U.P. and though their childhood may have looked the same from the outside, their differences have always been apparent.
“It was a magical upbringing where we were allowed to explore our own passions a lot, which, for me and Yana, overlapped but were different. I was more into staring at frogs for hours on end and she was definitely more creative. She was always playing dress-up and chopping up clothes,” Abby said.
Yana stuck around home for college, attending Finlandia University for art and design. Abby went further away to Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin where she studied environmental studies. They didn’t know it at the time, but their fields of study would end up complementing each other later on.
“I first started working for Yana in the summer of 2006. I came out to do shows and sew, be a good sister. It was my first summer at college. Do you go back to your hometown? Do you stay in your college town? Or do you go hang out with your big sister, make some money and do some shows.”
While Abby initially thought she would lead a life working for nonprofits, and possibly even getting into politics, Yana knew that she wanted to design things.
“I concentrated on product design. That was really due to one main professor who opened my eyes that you can apply product design to anything. I took one elective design class. It was a pattern-making class and I was just like…oh my gosh, this is my jam,” Yana said.
Falling in love with creating garments was satisfying for Yana. She was able to conceptualize and create items quickly and she liked seeing her ideas come to life so harmoniously. She eventually started creating and producing clothes that she took on the road, setting up vendor booths at shows, festivals, and other pop-up opportunities. Abby came with.
The pair went all over the U.S. selling Yana Dee clothing all over Michigan, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Arizona and Chicago. Yana was great at making clothes, Abby was great at selling them.
“I never saw myself in business. I definitely worked in nonprofits out of college working on sustainability issues, worked on energy efficiency, worked on community gardening. I had a career path that was very non-profit oriented. When I’m here at the store I hear, ‘Oh you’re such a great saleswoman.’ My natural inclination is not selling things, I’m a good advocate for something I believe in and wear.”
It’s easy for Abby to advocate for the brand because she has a passion and background in the environment and sustainability. The clothing has been made from natural and organic fabrics since the beginning.
“That was always part of the plan. We do what we do because we know it’s the right thing. Whether other people get that or not, it’s okay. Either way, it’s still comfortable, it’s soft. It’s versatile, it’s relatively affordable. We’re not trying to preach or say organic fabric is the only way, it’s really about feeling good in the clothes that you wear,” Yana said.
Yana said that she wasn’t interested in having a store. She liked taking her items on the road and did well selling them that way. She and her significant
“We moved here almost 10 years ago. I had never wanted a store, I told myself that for over a decade. My husband actually works across the street and when we saw the for rent sign I was like, ‘hmm.’ If there was a storefront this would be where it worked.”
Yana Dee started in 2004 but moved into its East Front Street location five years ago, and it’s grown and been a source of pride for both Yana and Abby. Not only does the store offer ethical apparel for every day, but they also make wedding and bridesmaids dresses.
“About half of our dresses are sold off the rack and the other half are custom made. Yana can customize pieces. Whether you want to add a sleeve to be more modest, or you want it longer because you’re tall, you can really hone in on what you want for a wedding dress. The turnaround time for a custom order right now is only two weeks. It’s a little known service that’s pretty world-class,” Abby said.
Yana and Abby work hard to put people in clothing that feels good to wear, and that people feel good about wearing from every day, to once in a lifetime occasions.