By: Nicolette Amstutz
Photographs by: Paul DiStefano
Hidden among the stores lining East Liberty is a clothing and art store called Avtomobile that offers a unique shopping experience for its customers. As you walk down the steps that lead into Avtomobile, you are welcomed by the warm ambiance of the dim lighting, framed one-of-a-kind prints on the wall, old magazines lining the shelves for decorations, and clothes piled on old trunks.The store gives off a rustic vibe, and the decorations are reminiscent of treasures you would find looking through the remnants of an old attic. All of the articles of clothing, jewelry, accessories and decorations add character to the shop. With each piece, customers can see how Maris Turner is inspired to create his own graphic designs for Avtomobile’s line of original graphic t-shirts and how his co-owner, Sara Renner, innovatively incorporates a medley of fabrics to create unified unique pieces.
The story of Avtomobile began with its name. Turner reveals the inspiration behind the name Avtomobile: “My buddies and I used to do art shows in New York and we would use this really abstract drawing of an automobile. We started implying that the name of the show was Avtomobile so it stemmed from the random pop-up art shows that we did in New York. Then the evolution of that was starting an art and clothing business in Ann Arbor.”
Renner and Turner both attended Columbus College of Art & Design. Renner graduated with a degree in fashion design, while Maris majored in illustration. After Renner and Turner met in New York while interning for American Eagle, they decided that they wanted to start their own business. Avtomobile was opened during the Ann Arbor Art Fair this past year.
All of the merchandise sold in the store is something that you won’t find anyone wearing around Ann Arbor and is hand-picked by both owners or original Avtomobile designs. “The bulk of our finds are usually on the days we are closed, Monday and Tuesday. Maris and I will go on road trips all over the state or out-of-state and map out all different kinds of antique stores, vintage shops, random garage sales and sometimes the best finds are the places we happen upon” said Renner.
Turner gets inspiration for his graphic t-shirts from paintings, architecture, and cars. ”When I feel inspired to do something or something comes to mind, I’ll design around it and if it makes a good t-shirt design it goes on the t-shirt” said Turner. The other owner, Renner, enjoys getting back to creating things all by hand as she makes her own patterns and pieces. If she comes across a piece that has an out-of-date fit but is made of a interesting fabric or print, she alters the fit to make it more modern or on-trend.
From blouses made by Renner from shortened long lace pajamas to the hand-made bags that she creates made of burlap material and old suede aprons, Avtomobile is the ideal store for anyone looking for something that they can’t find just anywhere. Both owners enjoy the hands-on experiences of hand-sewing their own pieces, drawing the graphics for their t-shirts, and designing their store to reflect their distinct vision for Avtomobile.
From their knick-knacks, to the jackets and shirts carefully arranged throughout the store, Renner and Turner say that one of their favorite parts about being store owners is working on how they display their work. Maris discusses that they wanted Avtomobile to offer their customers a different atmosphere for shopping in which the customers could rummage through piles of various things to find pieces. Turner and Renner want their customer’s shopping experience to be similar to what they do on their road trips as they scour various stores for the select few pieces that will grace the shelves of Avtomobile.
Owning their own store hasn’t gone without any challenges, however. Both Renner and Turner talked about how each day they learn something new about owning their own business, be it about determining who their demographic is or trying to get the word out about Avtomobile. Both owners welcome the stress and challenges of owning one’s own business. Turner urges students who want to start their own business to “Just go for it. You can make it as fun as you want it to be.” Sara agrees, saying, “It is really about what you do and what you make of it.”
Turner and Renner cater to the college students that visit their store by selling their merchandise from around $10 for some jewelry and clothing in the sale bin to $75 for winter coats and hand-made bags. With the hopes of selling some of their clothing online in the future, the owners will continue to spread their name throughout the streets of Ann Arbor.