Where most people see a dress or a blouse, Julie Majkowski sees her next handbag, scarf or wristlet.
Majkowski owns Make It Your Own Boutique, a collaborative artist studio and retail store in downtown Apex. She combines thrifting with her love of sewing to create unique eco-friendly accessories for women.
From the zippers to the buckles and pockets on her handbags, all of Majkowski’s materials are recycled.
She credits her grandmother for inspiring her love of transforming everyday items. Her grandmother used to take wood, canvas, leather or whatever material she could get her hands on to create new pieces, including some works that now hang in Majkowski’s home.
In 2003, when Majkowski was living in Wisconsin and looking to transform her then 10-year old sewing hobby into a business, she turned to her grandmother again.
Without hesitation, her grandmother said she should name her business Make It Your Own.
After years of working as an assistant to a real-estate agent, Majkowski and her husband relocated to downtown Apex in 2009, and she kept the business name when she opened her downtown studio.
“I see (inspiration) in clothing from flea markets and Goodwill, for instance,” she said. “I get excited because I instantly see that skirt much prettier as a scarf with something on it. I buy the clothing, I make it my own, and when you purchase it you make it your own.”
She even customizes pieces that have sentimental value. One client came in with her late-father’s muted tan plaid wool coat and asked for it to be made into three handbags for her sisters.
“I made it very artistic, useful, but these bags mean something to those women,” she said.
“If you come to me with something that is precious to you, we will sit down and talk about it. I ask a lot of questions to get a feel of what they are looking for.”
Another woman asked Majkowski to create seven handbags for family members using sequined butterflies from her late-mother’s jewelry box. Another client asked for a scarf with East Carolina University colors.
Her handmade accessories range from $20 to $85.
Majkowski’s handmade crafts aren’t the only ones for sale or display at Make It Your Own. The boutique also serves as a studio and workshop for two other artists – Leslie Calderone, a jewelry and shadow-box artist from Cary, and Lisa McMillan of Apex, who makes scarf sliders and jewelry.
Getting other artists on board means the store now has regular hours and the artists share the workload, said Ed Majkowski, co-owner and his wife’s business partner in the venture.
“We had a reputation of, ‘Well, you are never open,’ ” he said.
The couple is looking for a fourth artist to rent out the remaining studio and share the group workshop space.
The Majkowskis say their studio has seen success in its five years in downtown Apex, above a coffee shop and near The Halle Cultural Arts Center. The store sees repeat customers and gets word-of-mouth referrals.
“I have customers who say, ‘I heard about you through my book club,’ and it’s in another town,” Julie Majkowski said. “For the woman who wants to wear art and doesn’t want something that is mass produced, this is the place.”