Forty years ago, Marcie Brawer and twins Sandy Gradman and Ilene Epstein started a boutique selling clothes out of Brawer’s Brookline home.
When they moved into their current space nine months after opening, they only rented 225 square feet of floor.
Decades later, The Studio, named for its tiny beginnings, remains one of Brookline’s most revered style sanctuaries, offering Boston-area women 3,700 square feet of clothes, shoes and accessories. But, more than that, it offers women a safe space to talk, share feelings and reconnect with themselves.
“We’re really committed to the concept of specialty stores that do this kind of thing,” says Gradman. “Our society now is so impersonal. You’re sitting in your nightgown at 11 o’clock at night ordering your wardrobe online. That’s very different than walking into a store and trying something on.”
At The Studio, there’s always chatting, laughing and sharing, sometimes in unexpected ways. The ladies recall one time a vendor brought his pet baby kangaroo into the store, and another time when they were given a private tap dancing performance by a local artist in for a little shopping. One thing’s for sure: It’s never boring.
Brawer says they broke the two golden rules of retail: Don’t go upstairs, and don’t work with your family and friends. But, the tight-knit leadership and second floor location seem to have worked out. “It’s been kind of a glorious ride having your best friends to work with,” says Brawer.
The ladies started the business because of a love of fashion, but, as they’ve grown, their feminism peeks out in the merchandise. For example, you can buy a Resistance by Design silk scarf at the store that features elegant drawings of each woman who ran for office in 2018.
Of course, it hasn’t all been flirty accessories and surprise performances.
“In 1989, the bank pulled our loan,” says Brawer. “It was bad economically, the times were sketchy, and they didn’t want to extend lines of credit or money to women business owners.”
The fearless trio took out home equity loans and financed the venture themselves. When the market cleared up and the banks came crawling back, The Studio owners refused to work with them again.
Despite the challenges they’ve faced and the changes in the retail market, The Studio is still going strong. Along the way they’ve supported dozens of women-oriented charities, including Rosie’s Place and Dress for Success. They’ve brought an endless number of customers new confidence through clothes, and they’re certainly not stopping now.
Brawer says, “We have a bracelet that we started with 32 years ago. The greatest pleasure I get is when, on occasion, three generations each walk in wearing one.”