At Retro 101, a group of women browse the merchandise cleverly hanging from kitschy Laundromat carts in front of the unique "shop," while a sales associate assists another customer up through the place. But this is not your typical clothing shop. Retro 101 is a bus named Ellie, and though she's not as spacious as most department store fitting rooms, the artfully appointed green goddess brims with boutique-chic fashions and kicky accessories for fashion-forward femmes. From sleek flasks and soft, cozy cardigans to sassy graphic tees, its clothing and gewgaws grab folks' attention everywhere Heather Pirowski parks it.
- Jami Stall
Retro 101's stylish clothing and accessories appeal to women of all ages.
The traveling store, which is located both in a bus and sometimes in a truck, is the brainchild of Pirowski. Her background is in sales, and it helps that she has a passion for seriously stylish, trendsetting women's clothing. She worked for Bindley Western prior to getting involved in fashion merchandising. The switch came from a desire to work closer with customers.
"I love to make people feel good about themselves, and I love finding great pieces for my shoppers," Pirowski says.
She started in the business with a brick-and-mortar store named "Lucky" with locations in Fishers and Carmel, but she decided to change to a new style of service.
When the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis in 2011, Pirowski set up a temporary boutique downtown. Three years later, she's driving her business in a different direction -- whichever one she chooses. Pirowski says that she wanted to re-create the quick service of the portable Super Bowl shop with her very own mobile store.
Indianapolis' first "boutique on wheels," Retro 101 sells items ranging from cut-above cotton graphic tees (Wake up. Kick A--. Be Kind. Repeat. reads a shirts hanging on the side of the bus, for example), boho chic cardigans and funky, knitted boot cuffs to a variety gift-worthy accessories. Retro 101 sells local products as well, such as purses by Tavi and flasks by Get Flasky.
The boutique sets up shop about two to three times a week, at places such as the First Friday Food Truck gatherings at the Old National Centre and at Girls' Pint Out at the Bier Brewery on Binford Boulevard and 65th Street, an event run by the CityMoms.
Retro 101's business model brings with it its own unusual challenges, compared to conventional stores. Like, for instance, the mechanical maintenance on her two vehicles -- Ellie the Bus and Bella the Truck.
"I've had to learn to be a gearhead," Pirowski says.
Pirowski started out with just the bus, but it couldn't go a click above 40 miles per hour. So she purchased Bella the Truck to take on longer travels. Retro 101 has taken its wares everywhere from local gatherings to out-of-state events -- from the Windy City to Nashville, Tennessee.
- Jami Stall
Retro 101 made an appearance at the Irvington Halloween Festival, but it will be parked at the Fashion Mall at Keystone from Nov. 24 to Jan. 15. for holiday shoppers.
The flexibility of its location is one advantage, says Pirowski. The mobile shop gives Retro 101 the ability to be anywhere it can be set up.
"We go when and where women are shopping," Pirowski says.
She employs multiple workers on her "street team." Although she does not have any full-time staff, Pirowski says she has people working "part-time all of the time." Janna Kunkle, a new sales associate, joined the staff after becoming familiar with Retro 101's merchandise.
"I started working [at Retro 101] because I bought so many clothes from them," Kunkle says.
Because the boutique's business is similarly aligned with those in the food truck industry, Retro 101 takes certain lessons from the mobile food vendors. An ever-changing menu is one example. Or in a clothing shop's case, a revolving selection of apparel.
"Every time you come in you're going to see something different," Pirowski assures.
- Jami Stall
From boho chic cardigans to wise-cracking tees, Retro 101 aims to appeal to customers with distinctive and fun attire.
If someone can't make it out to the boutique on wheels, they still have a chance to buy the Retro 101 products. Every Monday night, Retro 101 has a "flash sale" on Facebook, offering discounted clothing and additional items, such as jewelry crafted by local designers.
As the holiday season approaches, Retro 101 gets busier. Pirowski says that her business' peak period is closer to the winter holidays, as well as the summer when weather is more forgiving. In a little over a week from now, Retro 101 fans can catch Pirowski's portable boutique at the Fashion Mall at Keystone (Nov. 24 - Jan. 15) behind the J. Crew/Nordstrom wing. For specific details on times and other shopping options, check out the schedule on its Facebook page.