Since her childhood in Fairfax, Jeanne Shewmaker Birnbaum—wife of DC United captain Steven Birnbaum—has known she wanted to be in fashion.
“When I was younger, I used to cut out pictures of models in runway shows to create my own line,” she says. In New York City after college, she took a fashion drawing class at Parsons at night—“it was so far from my cheap apartment on the Upper East Side, but so worth it,” she says—and then when she moved back to DC, she took sewing and design classes at Marymount in Arlington.
She worked as a merchandiser at Abercrombie & Fitch and then J. Crew, a stylist and then merchandiser at Intermix and Michael Kors, and then spent three years with DC-based Tuckernuck. Most recently, she was the director of e-commerce at the Annapolis bag brand Hobo. (Also somewhere in there: a co-owner of a yogurt franchise in Fairfax called Yogurtini, where, according to her LinkedIn profile, she managed the marketing.)
“To be honest, starting a brand was always gnawing at me, but as my career grew, I put my personal aspirations on hold,” she says. “I loved learning and growing in the industry, so it never seemed like the right time.”
Left to right: Casa Raki ‘Siena’ crop top ($120) and ‘Carmen’ skirt ($285); Casa Raki ‘Nicola’ top ($205) and ‘Emilia’ shorts ($165); Knititude ‘Kari’ cable sweater vest ($88); Shewmaker ‘Celine’ skirt ($220)
Then when her daughter was born in 2019, she says she started thinking about her personal goals—and the closet full of fast fashion she had and didn’t love—and realized there would never be a perfect time to “go for it.”
In thinking about what she felt the market was missing, she noticed that the pieces of clothing she did love were well-made classics: “a beautiful wool overcoat, a cashmere sweater, a perfectly tailored button-down.” She wanted more “functional pieces” that could be worn to run errands, and then dressed up at night. And: She wanted all of the clothing to be made responsibly and sustainably.
So she set out to create a company that offered all of that. Her first step, she says, was a deep dive into how the industry was becoming more sustainable, and the brands paving the way.
Left to right: Casa Raki ‘Olga’ dress ($315); The Knotty Ones ‘Delčia’ sweater $175 and ‘Pieva’ shorts $115; Frame ‘striped V neck puff sleeve’ shirt ($298) and Etica ‘Tyler vintage straight crop’ denim ($178)
In May, she launched Apothea, an online boutique featuring items from more than a dozen brands—including a namesake “Shewmaker” line whose best-selling “Coco” dress ($285) is named for her daughter, Colette—all sustainably made and chosen for their “fashion-forward, yet timeless” design. “Easy, yet sophisticated.” (In fact, featured categories on the website include “easy outfits” and “the basics.“) The palette is mostly neutral: black, beige, cream, and blue. Some stripes. A lot of flowy dresses, button-up shirts, sweaters, and two-piece sets. “I wear-test each brand—in a messy home with two toddlers, ha—before purchasing it for the site,” says Birnbaum, who had a second child, her son Brooks, in 2020.
Birnbaum calls the price points are “mid-market”–dresses, for example, run from $168-409. Though the company itself is still small–each order comes with a handwritten note from Birnbaum herself–the collection is large and growing, including dresses, denim, and accessories. “Every item is hand-picked and meant to serve a purpose in your wardrobe.”