Propping up voices with pins & patches
Insights from Melisser Elliott, FLAIR Chicago (Logan Square)
At FLAIR Chicago, enamel pins and patches are much more than retro jean jacket decorations. They are full-blown political, social and personal statements. Opening on the 27th in a brand new location in Logan Square, FLAIR Chicago is about more than just accessories. For owner Melisser Elliott, her “kitsch haven” started as an unexpected opportunity and evolved into a growing business giving voice to the silenced.
Her first pin business, Sabretooth Dream, started online just two years ago when her dog Strummer got sick. “She’s a two pound chihuahua. She’s a freak of nature, people love her, so my thought was I could make these enamel pins of her to pay her vet bills, and it really took off.” The business quickly grew from there, capitalizing on the up-and-coming pin trend, adding more pins and eventually expanding to shops on Instagram and Etsy.
After moving from San Francisco, a friend recommended a small shop that would allow her to give her online business a physical home. FLAIR Chicago’s first storefront, less than 100 square feet, sat just a few blocks from the new location on Fullerton. After many coats of paint and one layer of bright green astroturf, FLAIR Chicago opened as a space packed with bold expressions of self, gender, politics and marginalized voices.
Featuring primarily female and queer pin and patch creators, Melisser is very intentional when deciding which products to carry. Even before entering, FLAIR Chicago’s windows proclaim the shop’s values of inclusion and respect. “I am a very political person, and I don’t want money from people who don’t care about other people. I have seen people walk past and look offended by the signs in the window, but those aren’t the people I want in my store. Even the products in the store are small businesses that are typically owned by marginalized people. Almost all the makers here are women or people of color or queer people.”
Despite the small square footage, Melisser hosted many popular events featuring art and merchandise from the community, including her most recent gallery show focused on the LGBTQIA experience. “I love doing openings and having this place, it’s a tiny shop, and we’ll pack it out with tons of people looking at art and supporting small artists. I want to raise up voices that need to be propped up, and that’s why I’m so thankful to have a storefront to do that.”
Melisser founded a pin and patch cooperative, Girl Pin Gang, over a year ago with another pin maker. “We never set out to be the organization we are. It was purely a place for female and genderqueer pin makers to discuss business.” The group’s Instagram now has over 87 thousand followers, and their recent Wicked Weekend gallery and market drew large crowds. “It’s been amazing. We set goals, but it’s gone so far beyond those goals.”
When she first started, “the pin scene was a boy’s game, entirely. Almost every popular pin maker was male, and that’s why we started Girl Pin Gang. Girl Pin Gang was a direct response to sexist pins.” Even after the success of the group, they still face sexist backlash from male-dominated pin pages. Instead of letting that negativity breed more negativity, Melisser uses it as motivation towards her mission. “If there’s not a space for women, I’m going to make a space for women. If there’s not a space for trans people, I’m going to make a space for trans people. Because I’m a white woman living in America, I have a lot of privilege, and while I don’t have a ton of means, I’m going to use what I have to lift people up.”
Expanding into the new, larger store means more opportunities to support more small makers. She’s looking to grow her offerings to include more pins, patches, zines, larger art shows, drag shows, small food business pop-ups and vintage clothing.
Join them for their Grand Reopening at FLAIR Chicago’s new location at 3415 W Fullerton Avenue on September 30th from 12-8pm, with a drag show starting at 6pm. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the tiny but mightily adorable chihuahua Strummer, and pick up a pin or a patch (or twelve).