Amid the chaos of the world right now, the tale of Lisa Brown of L.A. Brown Photography and her niece whom she holds so dear, Gareth Brown of Rooey Knots, is one of love, family ties, resilience — and either a remarkable confluence of “coincidences” or kismet, depending on what you believe in.
The women are also connected by an Island history that began when now 30-year-old Gareth was a tender 11 years old, spending summers on the Vineyard with her parents and siblings. She would sit with Lisa at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals, and over the years worked her way up to helping to sell Lisa’s photographs and prepping and striking the booth, foreshadowing things to come.
In her teens, Gareth began to explore creating both clothing and accessories, with men’s vintage ties as a component. “The idea of working with vintage ties for the accessories I actually had in college. I did an independent study exploring sustainable design. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be an entrepreneur, and sat on the idea for a while,” Gareth explained.
As her first love was creating clothes, Gareth ventured forth to Shanghai after school, and pursued small-scale production based on her own designs. Later, in New York, Gareth returned to focus more on her accessories. “They took off. After all, you don’t need to size them for people,” she says.
In 2014, Gareth ventured into selling on the Vineyard at the Chilmark and Featherstone Flea Markets. “At first Gareth didn’t want to sell her stuff out in front. It’s hard work. It’s not for everybody to be able to sell to the client. I said, ‘You can do this. It’s part of your personality; I promise you you’ll get used to it and you’ll enjoy it,’” Lisa said.
Gareth chimed in, “I wanted to design and fade into the background. But Lisa really taught me, and now it’s one of my favorite parts about it. Lisa helped me with pricing things out, talking to customers. She guided my entrepreneurial journey.”
All the while, Lisa was selling her evocative photography. “I’ve been an artist my whole life,” she says, “I capture whimsical and soulful photographs. Everything interests me, beaches, houses, animals. I photograph the quality of light on the particular subject matter that strikes me in the given moment.”
Last Christmas, Lisa wandered into a pop-up shop in Edgartown, and was taken by some fabulous gift boxes filled with items from the Vineyard, sold by Aubrey Maria Sirois. Here is where fate or the angels come in. “We started talking, and all these wonderful synergies started happening. The communication vibe was exactly the same,” Lisa said.
She noted that Sirois would soon have to replace the Chilmark Chocolates in the gift boxes with something new, and suggested Lisa’s dishtowels, on which she prints her Americana-inspired photographs.
In the meantime, Lisa happened across an empty shop in Edgartown and, thinking it might be the right place for her and Gareth, she took a photograph of the sign with the telephone number. “I called Gareth and said, ‘There’s this place, but I’m not sure I’m ready. But I’ll check it out and we’ll see,’” Lisa said. “And Gareth said, ‘I’m doing the Chelsea market this summer, and I’m not sure I’m ready. But let me know.’” Lisa never called to inquire about the space.
Then COVID-19 struck. Lisa got a call from Sirois, who now with her new establishment, was ready for the dishtowels, which she asked Lisa to drop off at the shop. Lisa grins, “So, I drive up and, oh my gosh, it’s the very store I sent Gareth the picture of!”
Ever the entrepreneur, Lisa said to Sirois, “‘So, you have my towels. Would you like to take a little artwork?’ She said to just bring one or two … I brought a couple. Then that afternoon, Aubrey said ‘Bring more. A lot more.’ I came and brought more, and she said, ‘Even more.’” At that point, Lisa connected Gareth with Aubrey, who wanted Gareth’s work, saying, “Get her in here.”
“Here” is Juniper — an unusual store. Sirois had just leased the space in early March to house AubreyMariaDesigns, her successful event floral company. She says, “We typically do 50 to 60 weddings a year, except this year. With COVID-19, most of our weddings have canceled or postponed. We still have to pay our lease, so I saw this as an opportunity to try to do something different.” In addition to being a one-stop flower shop for those looking to purchase blooms for their homes, preorder arrangements for loved ones, or buy gift boxes from locally sourced businesses, Sirois has reached out to women artists and artisans associated with the Island to sell their work — fine art, as with Lisa, but also jewelry, pottery, and other items that beautifully complement the primarily floral store. Walking inside is, as Lisa and Gareth say, “about discovery. This is a different aspect to the energy here.”
“It’s been great. Everybody has been appreciative of the space, and I’ve been appreciative of the energy and the products,” Sirois said. “We’re doing smaller weddings and weekly subscriptions, which have been super-popular, where we bring a different bouquet to their house every week.”
And as for Gareth, she is selling more than her Rooey Knots, but also a line of small-batch, boutique clothing of flowy dresses, jump suits, and palazzo pants in linen and silk, as well as women’s purses and men’s satchels from upcycled leather jackets.
“Gareth and I just pinched each other and smiled,” Lisa says. “I said to Gareth, ‘I think that our angels are truly looking out for us; we are in the right place, and the time is right now.’”
Clearly, the time has come, and the time is now.
For the summer of 2020, you can find L.A. Brown Photographs at the Old Sculpin Gallery, 58 Dock St., Edgartown, and at Juniper, 18 North Summer St., Edgartown. Both with proper protocol. Rooey Knots are at Juniper and online at rooeyknots.com.