We feel so lucky to have had this chat with Lizelle Villapando of Parts & Labour (1117 S. Congress Ave.), at such a pivotal moment for the business. Lizelle’s artful and happy space is a staple of the South Congress shopping district here in Austin. Now after 13 years in their storefront, P&L are moving to a to-be-determined new location in January. All are invited to come celebrate the transition at their party this Friday, December 2 with fundraising fun, drinks, art sale and a DJ.
Claire Sommers Buck: Tell us a bit about your background & how you got started doing what you’re doing.
Lizelle Villapando: Hmmm... As for my "background," I studied photography and my business partner, Talena, was a small business major at St. Edward's University in south Austin. We became friends at school, loved crafting, and vintage shopping, and goofing off. One of my college jobs was working at the vintage store, New Bohemia. After showing the owner a collection of our handmade skirts, dresses, handbags and other accessories, she offered to let Talena and I rent 100 square feet in the shop to sell whatever we wanted, mainly vintage. We incorporated our handmade items in the space, and over time they steadily sold, and our other crafting friends asked if they could sell their wares in our tiny space. The owner noticed how popular the handmade items were and offered a retail space solely for selling locally made goods. We jumped at the chance, and from there Parts & Labour was born. Opening day was February 5, 2004. In 2006 we purchased New Bohemia from the founder, and Talena and I continued to sell our vintage items at New Bohemia, and managed Parts & Labour, AND sewed merchandise for sale at P&L. The rest is history?
CSB: How do you decide what to carry in your store?
LV: The mission statement of the shop helps eliminate a lot of applicants. Parts & Labour exists to promote local small business artists, and crafters. Sellers must live in Texas and be the designer of their product. Beyond complying with those conditions, we take into account the quality of the workmanship, the professionalism of the artist, and his/her ability to meet the demand of the customer as far as production needs. Over time, I believe Parts & Labour has become known for very kitschy, colorful, and artisan quality goods and reasonable prices.
CSB: How do you want guests to feel?
LV: I want guests to feel comfortable, like they're guests in my home - because in many ways P&L is my home. I know just about every inch of it, and I'm definitely at the shop more than at my real home. I never want to make people feel like they are obligated to buy anything. All I want is that they take away a fun and enjoyable experience. The sales should follow.
(Watercolor print by @humstudiosatx)
CSB: Besides your own, what is your favorite store and why?
LV: I love Take Heart on E. 11th because every single item is so cute and darling. The space is beautiful and full of light, and the owner Nina and her pup, Willa are the sweetest shop gals ever! I also love Uptown Modern on Burnet Rd. I love how all of the furniture and wares are curated and merchandised in a way that is easy to visualize in your home. I love that so much of the vintage furniture is reupholstered or restored, giving the pieces new life. The jewelry is also incredible! Lastly, I have a special place in my heart for Turquoise Trading Post, also on Burnet Rd. Everything they sell is Navajo or Zuni Native American-made. Beautiful traditional style Native jewelry and home decor, well organized and densely merchandised. New and vintage pieces there as well. The older I get, the more I try to really spend my money at places that are doing something great for the community and those are my tops in Austin.
CSB: What is your most unexpected source of inspiration?
CSB: Who is your style icon, your muse?
LV: I have no style icon - I don't think. I actually believe I am void of style. I have a fantasy of being able to dress in a white t-shirt and jeans everyday, keep things easy. I like dressing so plain most of the time because I don't want to give people too much information about myself through my clothes. I realize that is unavoidable, and dressing "plain" also tells people something about me, too. In general what I choose to wear or carry is often a gift from someone, made by someone I know, has a nostalgic element to it, sourced from a maker whose cause I support, or is strictly for practical and comfort reasons.
CSB: What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in doing what you do?
LV: I think the biggest obstacles in running a business that involves dozens of creative people is learning how to juggle the hats of the job and adapting to so many personalities/ tempers/ energies. We have artists of all kinds; novices, pros, hobbyists, insecure, overconfident, serious, shy, joyful, grouchy, chatty, too busy, productive, jaded, bored, concerned, indifferent, greedy, silly, experimental, oblivious, and appreciative. ALL KINDS. It takes a lot of energy some days to engage, stay positive, strive for professionalism, keep my cool, manage the team, and smile at customers when I don't always want to. I may have tossed out the attempts at professionalism all together in year 7. ;)
CSB: What are the most valuable lesson(s) you’ve learned working for yourself?
LV: I love what I do, running a shop that exists to support local small businesses and artists, and I love that we have managed to stay in business for so long. Over the years the most valuable lesson I learned has been the whole, "life goes on" lesson. People come and go, and the show really does go on. As much as I have loved the crafts that people create, sometimes there isn't enough demand for the product and they close their business, or there's too much demand, and the product ends up in box stores and corporate retailers, or the [maker’s] life paths change and they move away. This business is very personal to me. I cannot help but become attached to who I work with and the artists that I work for, and it's sad and painful every time someone leaves my life. It always feels like a breakup or a death in the family. And no one should get used to those feelings.
I guess my lesson is, "This is life. Sometimes you'll feel sad when you're trying to do something good. Fair warning."
A big Thank You to Lizelle and all the lovely girls at Parts & Labour who have been so supportive of CSB Jewelry over the years. We hope you can join in the festivities during their fundraiser this coming Friday, December 2 from 6-9pm. They deserve the best as they transition into a new chapter.
AND thank you for reading our first post in our Spotlight Series! Stay tuned for more features on some of our favorites.