Goddess Boheme

Sewing for the Soul
by Annie Locke

Sherri Swanson creates one-of-a-kind clothing for real-sized women at an eclectic boutique on Prospect Road.

She always loved bohemian culture and fashion, but when Sherri Swanson tried shopping, she grew frustrated, unable to find expressive clothing in her size. After experimenting with “upcycled” fashion, transforming old fabrics into new pieces of clothing, she realized she could use her creativity and artistic background to create the apparel she wanted: both for herself and for other “real-sized” women.

Eventually, she founded Goddess Boheme, a boutique with a single core mission. “My goal is to create a place where women of all sizes, shapes and ages can feel safe and beautiful and can express themselves through fashion,” Swanson says. “There are not a lot of choices for some women, so I want to give them choices and options to be authentic.”

A Bit of Creativity
Swanson found upcycling to be the perfect outlet for constructing her unconventional pieces. Employing a wide variety of fabrics in her designs—from unwanted clothing to lace doilies—any fabric is fair game for repurposing. She finds materials in thrift stores, at estate sales, and often by donation, and because every item in her store is made from a different fabric, each is unique.

Swanson has always been creative, receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Illinois and working as an interior designer for 15 years before opening the store. Her original artwork covers the walls of the boutique, from murals of bohemian goddesses to portraits of her many friends. But fashion allows her to apply her artistic skills in a practical way. “Wall art is hard to sell, but you put it on a t-shirt or a denim jacket, and you sell it right away,” she says. “People can justify something they can wear as a purchase more so than decorative art.”

But that has not stopped her from finding a way to incorporate both aesthetics in the store. In addition to clothing, Swanson offers a variety of other artistic services, from henna tattoos to custom “alter ego” portraits, in which she paints clients as their “alter ego,” portraying them as a witch, a Greek goddess or a fairy, for example. Her own alter ego portrait—with her as Mother Earth and her grandson, a baby Buddha, in her arms—hangs prominently in the store.

Out of the Shell
Because many of her customers are unaccustomed to having such eclectic options in their wardrobes, it can take a while for them to develop a signature style. “Some people have to break out of their shell,” Swanson says. “They start out mild and end up… breaking out into something different.” This is her favorite aspect of running the boutique, she says: developing relationships with her customers and watching their styles transform before her eyes.

But Swanson adds that not all of her clientele are hesitant to try something new; many come to her boutique specifically to look for unique, artistic items. “I have lots of repeat customers because they just can’t find it anywhere else,” she says.

And because so many real-sized women struggle to find eclectic clothing options, Swanson’s customer base extends far beyond the Peoria area, from California to New York and even overseas. Goddess Boheme carries a range of sizes, from eight to 30, and many of its pieces contain a flexible waist, so women of all sizes can wear it. With a drawstring waist, what may be a feminine top on one woman could be a mini-dress on another. The loose material flatters most body types, and each garment is adaptable to different women’s style, preference and size. Her best-selling item is a tie-dye dress made of t-shirt material, and with her upcycled materials, she never makes the same dress twice.

Karmic Success
When Swanson is not sewing or painting, she enjoys giving back to the community. She provides gift baskets and henna services at various charity events, and in the summer, she volunteers to paint floral henna crowns on cancer patients, as the summer heat can make hats or wigs particularly uncomfortable. “Being able to be successful gives me the opportunity to give back,” she explains. “When money circulates, it’s energy. If you give to a charity, it will come back to you.”

Swanson also opens her doors to events held next door at The Indigo Way, a holistic health establishment designed to help clients get in touch with their mind, body and spirit. She believes that fashion is a major factor in how a person acts and feels. “If you are being authentic to yourself and not hiding, you will be healthier,” she declares. “If you have something on that makes you feel exotic, beautiful and alive, you are going to radiate that.” Swanson strives to give every woman, no matter their size or age, the opportunity to experience that feeling, and in the future, she hopes to expand her store and offer even more options to all women. iBi

Goddess Boheme is located at 3207 North Prospect Road in Peoria. For more information, visit goddessboheme.com.

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