A Northern Michigan native moves back home to follow her dreams. Meet Chelsey Skowronski, whose Suttons Bay boutique, Poppy Things, features her own clothing collections, along with handpicked, handmade products from artists across the nation.
Poppy Things // 326 N. Saint Joseph St., Suttons Bay
You really love poppies!
Yes! My whole family lived in Cedar. I grew up on my parents’ farm and down the way was my grandparents’ house and upholstery shop. When I was 12, my mom let me ride my bike to visit them. That’s when I first noticed what I call the Poppy House. I became obsessed with it, detouring there every trip. It’s on seven acres with a beautiful view of Lake Leelanau. A little white farmhouse. I went there to pray, journal, sketch. I remember one day the poppies just burst open—Oriental poppies are bright red-orange with a black center. They’re fairly hard to grow, but once they find land they like, they really take to it. Between the pleats and colors … I was amazed.
How did Poppy Things go from dream to reality?
I went to Glen Lake Middle School and I would take fashion drawings of outfits to a teacher that I thought she should wear. She suggested I look into fashion school, and that ignited the spark. It didn’t become clear I could own a retail space until I started managing a local clothing store called Haystacks when I was 17 and I started doing craft shows at 18.
After I graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, I was contract sewing for a company making sustainable accessories, while also working on Poppy Things full time, selling my products online and at craft shows. Jason, now my husband, wanted to move back home to Northern Michigan but rent is so high, and I couldn’t find a job. We were going to stay in Grand Rapids and then everything kind of fell into place. An affordable, year-round house for rent opened up between Suttons Bay and Traverse City and I was offered a job there for the same wage I was making in Grand Rapids. In November 2018, we moved back. A few months later, I met Carly Campbell, who owns Forget-Me-Not Florist in Suttons Bay. She was downsizing and had extra space she wanted to rent out.
Then you did a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for supplies—and got 109% funding.
It was shocking. I didn’t want to do the Kickstarter because I wasn’t comfortable taking money from people, but one of my best friends convinced me to. I had taken out a small business loan to start the process of having my clothing collection made by a Lansing manufacturer. To get the quantity and quality I want, I have to outsource some of the sewing because I’m just one person. It’s so important to me to manufacture in the U.S. and Michigan. I was able to meet the seamstresses in Lansing and make sure they’re being paid living wages. The fabrics I’m using don’t hurt the environment. I don’t mail or package any of my clothing in plastic … turns out starting a business is super expensive!
After the loan, I still needed money for supplies and fabric. When people started showing their support, many who I didn’t even know, it made me feel like I have something that’s worth it. Poppy Things wasn’t a dream anymore.
What do you hope people experience when they visit your Suttons Bay shop?
I want them to feel welcomed. This is something I thought a lot about. I have a hangout area I’m so proud of because I want the store to feel warm and people can stay awhile and chat. I want people to understand what Poppy Things and I stand for. Made in Michigan. Supporting artists. Sustainability.