Q & A With Amy Tipton: Creator of Seattle’s Sassafras Boutique

Dena Ogden
Nov 13, 2017 · 7 min read

Thank you to Shin Yu Pai, who was kind enough to pass along Amy’s name to us! Meg Chaney’s Good Morning Seattle blog captures Amy’s inspiring career journey from Microsoft to an independent store owner and designer, and we’re so glad she was willing to share more about her journey with us, too!

Name: Amy Tipton

Where did you grow up?: I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, where The Blues was born. I grew up by the River, 7 miles from the Crossroads, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for music.

Where do you live now?: Seattle, WA

Aside from career, what other passions do you have?: Good food (there’s so much in Seattle!), short stories, wine, and 1940s fashion

Where can others find you online?: www.sassafras-seattle.com

Favorite thing about the PNW?: Summer!

Favorite season in the PNW?: Summer!

How do you take your coffee?: 8 oz. Americano, with a little cream and sprinkle of cinnamon. I recently heard of a Mexican mocha that has some cayenne and cinnamon. I can’t wait to try that. It could be my new favorite for Winter.

What is a “normal” day like for you? (if such a thing exists!): On a normal day, I like to make coffee and breakfast with my husband, JR. Then I get ready for work, but before I go in, I walk to the historic Pike Place Market and go to a deli called Michou to pick up lunch to take with me. I live right by the Pike Place Market and go there almost every day. Michou has great salads and sandwiches! Then I walk to Sassafras, about 3 blocks away, and open the shop. I work with 6 other designers, and it’s a fun a place to be, a Girl Party every day! We have a fantastic crew, and besides them we have smart, nice, interesting customers too. There are 50+ artists and designers whose work I sell in the store, and I usually see a few of them every day, either for business or for fun. Knowing so many talented designers and helping to promote them is my dream job. During the day, I might help pin dresses for alterations, act as a fit model for a new design, work on my own patterns and sewing, write my newsletter, promote on social media, set up a trunk show, or hang a new art exhibit. This is all a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding. Among the artists, there’s so much collaboration, mutual respect, and admiration for each other’s work. It’s a very different environment from Microsoft, and I love it. After work, I’m seeking a nice dinner with JR. We love to cook, but like most people, we’re sometimes too tired and give up. We have a few favorite restaurants in Belltown, like Villa Escondida, O’Hana, Green Leaf, Shaker and Spear, and Le Pichet.

When you’re out, how do you protect yourself from the rain?: True Seattlites don’t use umbrellas. I use an umbrella. It took me 14 years of being here to buy a raincoat, because they are mostly awful. They look very sporty, like you’re hiking or something. What’s wrong with a stylish raincoat, and why hasn’t someone in Seattle made one? It’s very frustrating. And the only way I stay warm in the Winter is by wearing these awesome sweaters made by Erdaine Fashion in Vancouver, BC. I can’t get enough of them! Wait, maybe we should make a good raincoat at Sassafras, hmm.

If you could go back and give yourself a pep talk as you were getting ready to leave Microsoft and open your store, what would you say?: This is a great question. I actually worked through the transition with a therapist. She helped me set my quit date, determine my short- and long-term goals, get over my fear, and move the %&^$ on. If I could go back and give myself a pep talk (which seemed to happen every day for at least a year), it would go like this:

“What are you afraid of? You’re very employable, and if something goes wrong, then you can make another decision, but you have to make a decision. You can’t keep coming to Microsoft every day. You’re in a rut. Wake yourself up. Risks aren’t bad. Plan to manage risk. Put more in savings. Volunteer for jobs that will help you be successful in your next career. Practice!”

It was extremely meaningful for me to try out retail and working with customers BEFORE making the change. For about a year, I was going around to art markets selling and finding out what I liked an didn’t like about it. It was invaluable experience. If you’re thinking about making a big change, think about how you can practice, either by doing it on a small scale or doing an internship. Talk to anyone who will offer help or advice. Think about the reasons you’re stuck. Think about how much money you actually need.

How has the PNW and the culture here influenced you and Sassafras?: I don’t know if you’re heard of the Seattle Freeze. It’s referring to the way Seattle folks aren’t very friendly toward strangers. I’ve spent a lot of time making baristas stop acting like vending machines and actually talking to me. It’s a fun experiment. Having grown up in the South, I find it on the edge of rude to not say hello when passing someone on the sidewalk. While I do think the Seattle Freeze is real, I don’t think it’s because the people are unkind. It was culture shock for me, but once you get to understand this about Seattlites, you can get past it. It just takes a little bit longer to get to know people here.

The casual style of dress also influences what we make and what we sell at Sassafras. Many of the styles we sell are relevant year-round here. People layer up, and we all need a nice Summer sweater for the chilly nights. I’m still getting used to this after 18 years here, and mid-Winter I dream of Hawaii and bare skin.

It’s clear you’re committed to supporting small, local business and independent makers. Can you share why this is important to you, and how the concept of community impacts your store?: Sassafras is a welcoming community. We’re the place people come for comfort, where you can be yourself, where one artists leaves something for another artist to pick up like at a post office, where you can get your own custom clothing made (an intimate experience), where all are welcome. I do like to support other local business as much as possible. The place you’re from doesn’t consist of big box chains. The place you’re from is made up of all the quirky local businesses that you support and that your high school friends worked at. We’re one of those. It’s important to keep these businesses alive. They’re the heartbeat of your city.

Tell us how your first few months in business compare to now…what’s changed, what have you learned, what do you miss, what are you most proud of…?: I don’t miss anything about the first few months! The first few months of business, I was all by myself. None of the designers had moved in to the studios yet, and no one really knew I was there, so it was super slow. I was encouraged that I sold a top and a necklace to a customer 5 minutes after I opened for the first time. I spent a lot of time sewing my own line of clothing, but I was pretty lonely. I was also working 6 days per week since I couldn’t afford any help. It was interesting to see the great neighborhood support, though. Lots of neighbors came by. It was Christmastime, and so I had a few holiday shoppers. It’s astonishing to look back at photos and see how few items I had for sale!

So much has changed. Now, it’s a buzzing community of designers. You can hear the hum of sewing machines while shopping on the main floor. My favorite part is when I’m working the retail floor and I can hear laughter in the studios. One of our in-house designers, Katy Flynn, helps me as a jewelry manager and as a sales assistant now, so I’m not there every day we’re open. Speaking of in-house designers, I’m the most proud of the designers I’ve been working with for nearly 5 years. Watching them grow and expand their businesses has been a pleasure. We’re all getting better at what we’re doing!

What hidden talents do you have?: I make some really great cornbread, Southern style, in an iron skillet. I also make my own crackers from scratch!

What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?: A new customer entering the shop: “Did you make all of this?”

Any big “wish list” or “bucket list” items that you’re looking forward to accomplishing?: I want to go to Thailand and eat all of the food.

What brings you joy?: Traveling with JR and hearing live music in New Orleans. Growing a new type of plant. Seeing artists win.

The Woodsy

Profiles from The Woodsy’s original run, 2016–2018

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