Anne Van Hauwaert of Anne van H. Boutique
Meet Anne van Hauwaert, founder of Anne van H. Boutique, a shop in University Circle where Cleveland’s eclectic women find the latest in apparel and accessories. The store, with seven employees, has an assortment of the classic, the funky and the sophisticated.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
In 1985 I relocated from Brussels, Belgium to Cleveland, bringing my passion for fashion. Upon my arrival, I knew very little English -- only words such as “weekend” and “planning” -- and I spoke with a lilting French accent.
I began to assimilate to American life while beginning to design and sew garments for myself in my basement. The items I created quickly produced a shower of compliments from women throughout the Cleveland area. So I began selling a few pieces through the now-defunct Ohio Signatures Boutique in Shaker Square. After the business closed, I embarked on my own, opening a small shop on Murray Hill in Little Italy 25 years ago. More recently, I moved into a brand new boutique in Uptown.
Visitors from all over the globe come to buy my limited edition jacket collection, as well as eclectic collections from the likes of Paris, Amsterdam, Florence and beyond.
How does your story help Cleveland become a better place?
For one thing, I have provided continued employment for my staff for more than 25 years. That’s in addition to revenues for seamstresses, advertising agencies, accountants, window cleaners, printers and the variety of other partnerships we’ve established throughout the years. On the more intangible side, the decades have brought hundreds, if not thousands, of customers who have emerged from the boutique with refreshed spirits and fashionable threads.
Of course, it takes more than talent to accomplish a task so great. It has required constant drive and grit, laced with strong business acumen to bring it all to life.
What’s your fashion background?
I studied fashion design at a liberal arts college founded by catholic nuns in Brussels. I started my career in merchandising for a chain of upscale boutiques located in Louise, Brussels and was then promoted to boutique manager. After that, I became a corporate purchaser for a German women’s apparel conglomerate, studied fiber arts at Braine l’Alleud and finally moved to Cleveland, where I studied fiber art at the Cleveland Institute of Art
Do you feature any local or American designers?
Yes, local jewelry designer Gai Russo
frequently exhibits her collections in my boutique. We customarily carry collections from other U.S. designers such as Hazel and WestonWear.
What advice do you have for someone starting a company in Cleveland?
If you are starting a retail operation, select your location carefully. Ditto for your attorney, CPA and other professional services you will need.
Find moral support by joining any number of related associations. There are numerous associations whose members will be delighted to assist you.
Cleveland is a renaissance city, which will welcome you with open arms.
Why do you believe you earned the 2012 Cleveland Storefront Renovation Program Award?
The City of Cleveland presents this award to retailers who have invested in renovating an existing storefront. Anne van H. Boutique was built up from an existing decrepit space.
Who is your role model?
Not surprisingly, Coco Chanel. She broke through many fashion ceilings, uncompromisingly.
Interview by Karin Connelly