On Our Radar: Ginger Root Design

Vintage quirk meets classic haberdashery at U Street’s newest upcycling boutique

By: Sarah Zlotnick

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While Washington certainly isn’t lacking in decent vintage stores, very few shop owners in town are as dedicated to repurposing old clothes as Erin Derge and Kristen Swenson. Former Minnesotans who got their start tailoring pieces for Treasury, the trendy 14th Street consignment haunt, the duo branched out to their own space this past summer and officially debuted their house line last Saturday. Settled in the basement of a U Street window-shade shop, Ginger Root Design recycles and repurposes vintage clothing to create one-of-a-kind pieces designed to blend seamlessly with the modern-creative wardrobe. With a deft eye for detail and finely honed crafting skills (both Swenson and Derge studied apparel technology), the duo turns forgettable heaps of fabric into garments that could have jumped off the pages of an Urban Outfitters catalog. That reversible crop top hanging on the right wall? It began life as a floor-length choir dress. The retro lady’s ascot necklace on the center display? Used to be a thrift-store tie.

By breathing new life into the clothes that time has resigned to Salvation Army reject bins, Derge and Swenson are doing their part to support sustainability, and they want to make sure you follow suit—perhaps the store’s most unusual offering is its personal reconstruction services. For $30 to $35 per construction hour (call ahead to set up an appointment), Derge and Swenson will work with you to turn your own unwearable garments into something you don’t think twice about pulling off the shelf. Simply bring the piece by for a consultation and they’ll tailor and redesign it to meet your specifications. Want to play a bigger part in prolonging the life of your wardrobe? Starting September 30, Ginger Root will also be offering twice-weekly sewing classes, in which participants can learn everything from basic button attachment to bringing up hems on too-long skirts ($35 per 90-minute session, prepayment requested).

“There’s so much waste in fashion,” says Derge, 27. “We want people to look in their closets and see the potential there.”

The store—which blends a dandified 1940s aesthetic with bursts of Midwestern sweetness—also boasts a small but well-curated collection of vintage accessories, most of which are sourced from the owners’ Minnesota homeland. Richly colored fedora and pillbox hats are perched on every surface, while worn-in leather saddlebags and fabric suspenders hang from display racks. Vintage loafers and retro ladies’ heels line the shelves of antique furniture displays, and a select group of independent crafts vendors fills out the rest of the space. Metal Musings, a line of artisan-inspired hammered-metal earrings and necklaces designed by Derge’s mother, Sue, is a notable jewelry line, as are Tanglewood’s repurposed leather-and-feather earrings.

In true vintage form, Ginger Root’s wares are also delightfully affordable. With the exception of a few Coach saddlebags and the occasional reconstructed blazer, not a single item is above the $100 mark. Ties run $20 to $38, most dresses and tops are marked $85 and less, and earrings are between $28 and $36. At prices like these, we’ll definitely be buying into Derge and Swenson’s upcycled way of doing things.

Ginger Root Design; 1530 U St., NW; 202-567-7668

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