Workshoppe Chicago Brings International Stories to Evanston Homes

From hand-woven Californian baskets to decadent Turkish towels, co-owners Nicole Petsos and Vivian Afrik want to tell you how and where each handcrafted piece they sell was created.

It’s the company they’re building, Workshoppe Chicago, that will officially launch on September 10th.

Pop-up shops are not unheard of in Evanston – as seen in galleries such as Artem Pop-Up Gallery on Sherman Avenue and those hosted by Evanston Made.

Handmade soaps and candles from Tatine, a woman-owned studio in a former Hammond organ factory in Chicago.
Credit: Alexis Rogers

The main feature of Workshoppe will be the way it focuses on the social aspect of shopping. Events organized by Petsos and Afrik are hosted in a client’s home, with invitations encouraging friends to come and sail together.

“Anyone can throw a party — kind of like the old Tupperware party,” Petsos said.

“[We want to see] women encourage women to buy things,” Afrik said. “When you shop with your friends, they know your home and they can say, ‘Oh, that’s going to look good’.”

Workshoppe launched its products at a pre-launch event on June 18. The house of Petsos, full of products acquired internationally, served as the first showcase. “We just wanted to see what [guests] thought,” Afrik said. “And they loved it.”

“We planned to take [the products] the next day but then people were calling and emailing and saying [that they] I wish I had bought more,” adds Petsos. “Since then, people have been shopping every day.”

In addition to exhibiting merchandise, Afrik and Petsos explain the backstory of each piece through their relationships with the artists. Their presentations are imbued with a passion for design and travel. Some of their earliest relationships with artists emerged from a Senegalese market during the initial conceptualization of the business.

“The idea [for Workshoppe Chicago] came because we were talking to the Quad [Indoor Sports] a day about how we had always thought of design as a hobby, but never really thought of it as a job,” says Petsos. “We talked about this shared passion when we trained one day. I was driving home and it was like ‘pop-up stores!’ Like a light bulb. So I called her and she said, ‘Let’s go.’ Thank God, because her mother was in Senegal.

Through FaceTimes with artisans halfway around the world, Petsos and Afrik forged their first alliances. Then came artisans from Denmark, California, Ohio, Uganda and others. This network of communication and international exchanges is important for the co-owners.

Workshoppe Chicago pre-launch guests check out products on display in Nicole Petos’ home, including custom artwork by a Chicago-based photographer and ceramics by Ohio-based artist Gina DiSantis.
Credit: Alexis Rogers

“I like to travel,” says Afrik. “When I travel, I love to shop. For me, that’s the heart of any community you visit, because that’s where that culture is.

Petsos and Afrik believe that in addition to being functional and durable, Workshoppe should represent a cohesive aesthetic. Although the founders and their products come from all over the world, they have taken care to create a palette that is both neutral and striking.

“Vivian and I have very different homes and very different styles,” Petsos says, “and it all works in my house and in her house.”

“I actually love what we’ve curated, just because we’ve been able to translate artwork into a palette that suits a lot of people,” says Afrik. “Often Africans use bright red and purple colors. If you bring that here, often people won’t understand it. So bring that art form and organize in a way that people understand. Here is something we can do, simply because we know our customers and we know who we are talking to.

“We’re trying to redefine what luxury is,” adds Petsos. “For us, luxury doesn’t mean something really expensive or something that comes from a store. But that means to us that something is handmade. We know who made it and what the craftsmanship looks like.

While their first pop-up was a smash hit, Petos and Afrik have no plans to settle in the same place anytime soon.

“Brick and mortar seemed very difficult during the pandemic,” says Afrik. “And especially with the age of our kids, but a pop-up shop and being able to see this stuff in a house was really important to us.”

She added: “Do we want to do brick and mortar in the end? Absolutely. But that will come with time. Rushing is not in our personalities.

“And to continue to showcase artists – not just from around the world,” says Petsos, “but from [Evanston] because there are really great artists here.

While waiting for the launch, find more information on Instagram @workshoppechicago or on the online store.

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