Recently, Deb Dworman, proprietress of deedee & edee of Forest Park (7415 W. Madison Street) sat down to talk about her journey from computer whiz and corporate America exec to successful, self-taught entrepreneur.
Surrounded by self-styled designs in her cheerful boutique, perched on a bright antique armchair, it’s hard to imagine Deb in a conventional office job, but that’s exactly what she did for over thirty-five years.
Deb holds an associate's degree in computer technology from Purdue University and an undergraduate degree in organizational behavior from Northwestern University. A former vice president at Northern Trust, Deb recalls having “an itch to do something different” for a protracted period of time, nearly ten years.
The metamorphosis can be traced back to a handful of fateful, but seemingly unrelated events: sewing aprons and bathrobes in her grandmother’s basement at the tender age of six, an unexpected invitation from a friend to a store on Chicago’s west side, and a harried Thanksgiving night many years ago.
It starts with a simple, unplanned jaunt to a textile shop on the west side. “A friend said there was a very cool fabric store with salesman sample pieces being sold. They were selling velvet by the pound! I took a garbage bag and filled it.”
Here I interrupt to ask what she had planned to do with all that fabric. As it was, Deb was not only juggling a propitious business career in corporate America at the time, but managing the everyday responsibilities of wife and mother of three.
It turns out, Deb was collecting fabric (vintage bark cloths, Japanese kimonos, floral textiles) before there was ever a purpose or plan for them, not knowing she would eventually employ all of these fabrics in her very own shop.
She rewinds the story several years, and we learn exactly how industrious Deb Dworman really is.
It was a Thanksgiving eve, and it was also her sister-in-law’s (Suzy) birthday. Suzy was en route to Deb’s home to join in the holiday festivities when Deb’s husband disclosed that he had as yet to procure a gift for her.
Deb then did something that would ultimately change the course of her life, something she had learned to do as an assiduous child growing up in North Dakota: she sought out her sewing machine and swiftly manufactured a scarf that she had seen in the pages of a magazine.
The scarf was a success with Suzy and amongst family members, and for Christmas Deb was making more as gifts, at the request of both family and friends. She herself was wearing one while out and about town when someone stopped her to admire her handcrafted design, remarking how gorgeous it was and suggesting Deb sell them.
But Deb’s wheels were already turning. Before long, Deb was sewing scarves in her basement, packing them into the back of her small station wagon, and selling them to boutiques and big-box shops across the Midwest – over eighty stores in fact, including seven Nordstroms.
With her scarves selling out in boutiques and shops throughout Illinois, I ask about the final catalyst for leaving her office job. “I hadn’t left my job yet,” she clarifies. “I was still working full time, sewing in the evenings from my basement, and meeting with store owners to introduce my line, driving across the Midwest on weekends, all while raising a family.”
Deb possesses preternatural drive, a quality akin to a superpower: the ability to render obstacles benign, minute in scope, to see only success in the future.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Deb finally closed the corporate chapter of her life, “I had gotten the retail bug. I thought: I can do this and do it well. Now is the right time for me.”
Deb researched endlessly, developed a business plan, hired a retail consultant, and trusted in her vision and her fashion sensibility. “I decided I wasn’t going to wait any longer: I’m moving forward. And I never looked back.”
Propelled by a belief in herself instilled by her mother who told her as a child, “When you grow up, you’ll do anything you want to do,” Deb trusted her instincts and set out to build her own boutique with care and exacting taste.
Deb admits that she’s happiest when she’s working really hard, and it shows. She owns and manages deedee & edee, she continues to design for her in store private labels, and she’s also clearly a people-person, with a calm, genial demeanor. During our interview Deb interfaces with me, her staff, and the customers fluidly.
She currently has three employees on her staff, all equally good-natured, all determined to offer the best customer service possible and “create positive karma.”
Drawing upon the interpersonal and artistic skills of her talented staff, Deb incorporates the fashion illustrations and clever interior design solutions of Mary Jo, depends on the ever-friendly and down-to-earth Mary, and trusts the knowledgeable and Zen-like Kristina who "put their hearts into the shop and excel at customer service."
Her target market is 40 and up, women with figure challenges, and their daughters: her inventory boasts unique merchandise that you won’t find anywhere else, fashion that focuses on making customers feel happy and look great. Sophisticated apparel, jewelry, belts, handbags, a number of eco-friendly lines, and just recently, she doubled her space, adding an absolutely astounding shoe collection.
“We’re differentiated by the private label and our focus on excellent customer service. We stand behind everything we make. And we make everything right here in the United States. Our prices are fair and they’re good; our merchandise is unique.” From artful winter coats to elaborately constructed party dresses, Deb’s clothes invite the woman’s personality to come through.
Deb designs classic, timeless pieces, utilizing novel French and Italian textiles; each new collection is built around her singular vision and mastery of craft. Her signature is a panaché of femininity and ease, vintage sensibility and quality craftsmanship that is instantly recognizable.
Deb’s growing clientele responds intimately to her ability to create a sense of discovery about each garment and to connect with customers in a genuine manner. It’s no wonder that this retailer still continues to do swimmingly amidst the current economic climate.
A deft seamstress, avant-garde fashion designer, and visionary business woman, Deb has crafted deedee & edee with a unique point of view and strong identify; her shop has been a resounding success, growing steadily since she first opened in 2006.
“I am thankful for the customers’ business every day; I know they have a choice. I am grateful they choose dedee & edee.”
Learn more about deedee & edee’s charitable giving events, shopping parties, and benefits which helped in donating over $10k to charities like Hephzibah, Debra’s Place and Lincoln School last year.
For store hours or info on the next charitable event, visit www.deedeeandedee.com. Join their mailing list or find them on facebook.