By Rachyl Houterman
From what was once a high school dream, one owner of the downtown Eau Claire arts collective, Tangled Up In Hue, made her dream of owning her own business a reality when she and her business partner opened the store in 2009.
Jamie Kyser and Erin Klaus had the initial vision of selling their own handmade artwork when they opened the store, but they soon developed a plan to support other local artists and local businesses.
“We’re giving artists an outlet where maybe they didn’t have one before,” Kyser said.
The store supports about 100 local artists. Of this number, about 70 to 80 percent are from the Chippewa Valley area, Klaus said. Products range from handmade ceramic mugs to handmade dolls.
Before the store opened, Kyser owned a kiosk where she sold handmade jewelry. Klaus was her employee. When Kyser returned to school for fashion design, she handed the kiosk over to Klaus.
Unsatisfied with the kiosk, Klaus decided she wanted to open a store downtown. In need of a business partner to make it work, Klaus reached out to Kyser with the offer.
“Jamie is really focused,” Klaus said. “She’s really very independent, and she’s very strong-willed, and all of those things made her a really good choice for a partner when I was considering opening up this business.”
A defining moment for Tangled Up In Hue’s mission, Kyser said, came from the space itself. Referring to a wall at the store’s old location, she explained how she and Klaus determined its purpose to the store.
“It was previously a pizza place, and we just kind of made it work,” Kyser said. “But this wall, when we looked at the space, we were like ‘What do we do with this wall?’ It’s like right when you walk in. You can’t merchandise it very well with stuff, so that’s how we kind of decided ‘You know, maybe it’s just for art, and we do a featured artist once a month.’”
The event, called First Fridays, is just one way Kyser and Klaus have allowed local artists to display their work. They also created the Artists Market, an event where local artists are invited to bring their work and sell it to the public.
With more space in the store’s new home, Kyser said she and Klaus will continue to support artists in the area and Eau Claire’s art culture by hosting art classes. It will also allow them to team up with more local businesses, Kyser said.
“We just want to support other locally owned places,” Kyser said. “There’s like little wineries and coffee shops, and maybe they can bring in their tea or coffee or wine. We have a lot of ideas. That will be ever growing and changing with this move.”
Jenna Barnes, the creative director and event coordinator at Tangled Up In Hue, described Kyser as a “level-headed boss” who cares deeply about her job and her employees.
She said Tangled Up In Hue makes art more approachable and attainable because of the friendly environment Kyser and Klaus have created.
“I think that Jamie and Erin have really taken initiative in the community to make themselves known and be an advocate for every local artist that reaches out to them,” Barnes said. “They’re willing to work seven days a week if it can help people in the community start new programs. That’s like their whole goal is making this community more accessible for artists.”
Mandy Wagner, a store employee who has some of her own artwork featured in the store, said she believes Tangled Up In Hue is about “women taking control.”
“I feel like I’ve seen that a lot more since I started working,” Wagner said. “It’s about their women power together and helping people as much as possible. It’s not just for themselves, so that’s really cool.”
Kyser’s dedication and work ethic have allowed for the initial vision of the store to become a reality, Klaus said.
“I really just couldn’t have really asked for anything better in the sense of matching everything I was willing to give in as far as commitment, energy, creativity, vision,” Klaus said. “We kind of found each other through this mutual understanding of this vision, of what we wanted to see happen in Eau Claire.”
Keeping money in the community and giving people the opportunity to spend locally have long been a part of Tangled Up In Hue’s mission to foster the community feeling, Kyser said.
“We’re here for artists,” Kyser said. “It is important to say we make a lot of the stuff we sell, and that is important, but we’re here for all the other people in this community, too, who want a place to show their work.”