Retail Therapy Takes On New Meaning at Downtown Boutique

Retail Therapy Takes On New Meaning at Downtown Boutique

A psychiatrist liberates fashion with fair-trade clothing

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Photo by Briana Brough

Before she opened her downtown boutique, before she practiced psychiatry for 10 years in Durham, and before she studied medicine at UNC, Dr. Rebecca Kuhns, 35, was an international studies major at Yale. As an undergrad with an earnest interest in fashion, she was deeply moved when she learned of the social injustices in the industry, including the shockingly poor working conditions and low wages for seamstresses in third-world countries. “That’s when I started paying attention to where my clothes came from,” Rebecca says.

She opened Liberation Threads at 405-A E. Chapel Hill St. in November to make fair trade clothes available to style-conscious women. “I want it to be a space where women feel good, both about themselves and about the clothes they’re buying,” Rebecca says. This goal is not so different from that of the psychiatric practice she closed last April, where she had focused on empowering her female clients, “liberating” them from inner turmoil.

“It was a wild year,” Rebecca says. She stepped away from the practice to accept what she considered a good job opportunity at a hospital in Raleigh. The new job allowed her to be closer to her ailing mother, and living in Raleigh eased her husband’s commute. However, working in a hospital environment didn’t suit her, so she took a step back to evaluate her career. “I did a lot of soul-searching,” she says, “and ended up focusing in on a lifelong dream. I’d always planned to open a shop closer to retirement, but my incredibly supportive husband felt the timing was perfect. He asked, ‘Why not now?’”

While Rebecca, her husband, Peter, and 2-year-old daughter, Shiloh, had moved to Raleigh, they hadn’t sold their Durham home, and Rebecca knew where she wanted to open her store.

“I love Durham,” she says, having lived here during medical school and throughout her time in private practice. “I love the history, which is a testament to inclusiveness, a place where black-owned businesses were thriving long before they were in other parts of the country. Durham is artsy, creative and diverse. It is unique in the Triangle – I never considered anywhere else for the shop.”

Rebecca and Peter are the sole investors in Liberation Threads, a “huge, scary leap,” she says. But she is also confident that it was the right choice at the right time. The first month was encouraging, she says, and the shop attracted a large amount of foot traffic from customers who love the clothes and yet had never heard of fair trade. Rebecca and her associates are only too happy to share their story.


FAST FACTS

No. of Employees

Two assistant managers

More Than a Name

“Liberation Threads” has a double meaning: It supports the economic liberation of women around the world, and Rebecca hopes her carefully curated collection will “liberate” her clients and encourage open-mindedness.

Stepping Out in Style

“Most of our clothes don’t scream, ‘I am fair trade,’” Rebecca says. “These are simple clothes for women to wear everyday,” she says. “They are pretty and appropriate for wearing to work or for a day out on the town.”

Affordably Chic

Many of the clothes have the added benefit of being eco-friendly, fashionable and are at price points that appeal to a range of customers, with mid-ranges of about $40-$75 for tops, skirts and pants, $70-$90 for dresses, and $20-$219 for totes and handbags. Clothing sources include Mata Traders, which imports from India, and Elevation Trade, which imports from Nepal.

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