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Whether it’s hand-woven baskets from California or decadent Turkish towels, co-owners Nicole Petsos and Vivian Afrik want to explain to you how and where each artisan piece they sell was created.

That is the business they are busy building, Workshoppe Chicago, which will officially open Sept. 10.

Pop-up shops are not unknown to Evanston – as seen in galleries such as Artem Pop-Up Gallery on Sherman Avenue and those hosted by Evanston Made. 

Soaps and handcrafted candles from Tatine, a female-owned studio based in a former Hammond Organ Factory in Chicago. Credit: Alexis Rogers

Workshoppe’s standout feature will be how it concentrates on the social aspect of shopping. Events run by Petsos and Afrik are hosted in clients’ homes, with invitations encouraging friends to come and browse together.

“Anyone can host a party – sort of like the old Tupperware party,” said Petsos.

“[We want to see] women encouraging women to buy stuff,” said Afrik. “When you shop with your friends, they know your house, and they can say, ‘Oh, this will look good.’”

Workshoppe debuted its wares in a pre-launch event on June 18. Petsos’ home, full of internationally acquired products, served as its first storefront. “We just wanted to see what [guests] thought,” said Afrik. “And they loved it.”

“We planned to take [the products] down the next day, but then people were calling and emailing and saying [that they] wish they would have bought more,” Petsos added. “People have been shopping every day since then.”

As well as displaying goods, Afrik and Petsos explain the backstory of each piece through their relationships with the artists. Their presentations are imbued with passion for design and travel. Some of the first of their connections with artists emerged from a Senegalese market at the initial conceptualization of the business.

“The idea [for Workshoppe Chicago] came because we were talking at Quad [Indoor Sports] one day about how we had always thought about design as a hobby but never really thought about it as a job,” says Petsos. “We talked about that shared passion when we were working out one day. I was driving home and it was like, ‘Pop up shops!’ Like a light bulb. So I call her and she’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’ Thank goodness, because her mom was in Senegal.”

Through FaceTimes with artisans halfway across the world, Petsos and Afrik forged their first alliances. Then came artisans from Denmark, California, Ohio, Uganda, and other places. This web of international communication and trade is important to the co-owners.

Guests at the Workshoppe Chicago pre-launch peruse products laid out in Nicole Petos’s home, including custom artwork from a Chicago-based photographer and ceramics by Gina DiSantis, an Ohio artist. Credit: Alexis Rogers

“I like to travel,” says Afrik. “When I travel, I love shopping. To me, it’s the heart of any community that you visit, because that’s where that culture is.”

Petsos and Afrik believe that as well as being functional and sustainable, Workshoppe must represent a cohesive aesthetic. Though both the founders and their products come from all across the world, they have been careful to curate a palette that is both neutral and striking.

“Vivian and I have very different homes and very different styles,” says Petsos, “and all of this works in my house and in her house.”

“I love what we’ve curated, actually, just because we were able to translate artwork into a palette that works for a lot of people,” Afrik said. “A lot of times, Africans use vibrant red and purple, vibrant colors. If you bring that here, often people won’t understand it. So bringing that art form and curating in a way that people understand. Here is something that we can do, just because we know our clientele and we know who we’re catering to.”

“We’re trying to redefine what luxury is,” added Petsos. “Luxury to us doesn’t mean something really expensive or something from a store. But it means to us that something’s handmade. We know who made it and what the craftsmanship is like.”

While their first pop-up was an overwhelming success, Petos and Afrik don’t have any plans to settle into one location anytime soon.

“Brick-and-mortar seemed very difficult during the pandemic,” said Afrik. “And especially with the age of our kids, but a pop-up shop and being able to see this stuff in a home was really important to us.”

She added, “Do we want to do brick-and-mortar at the end of this? Absolutely. But that will come in time. Rushing is not in our personalities.”

“And to continue to highlight artists, not only from around the world,” said Petsos, “but from [Evanston] because there’s some really awesome artists here.”

Until the launch, find more information on Instagram @workshoppechicago or at the online store.

Alexis Rogers

Alexis is an intern with the RoundTable. She is a junior at Evanston Township High School and an assistant editor for the Evanstonian student newspaper.

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