All of us carry pieces of the past that are woven into the very fabric of who we are. For some, it’s in name only, a reminder of generations that came before. For others, it’s in appearance, characteristics or traits. For Mary Ellen DiMauro, it is a gift she was given at 10 years old that now sustains her at 25.
Under the tree at Christmas that year, DiMauro found a sewing machine from her grandmother — equal parts disappointed that she hadn’t received the gift she’d asked for and intrigued by the foreign object in front of her.
“I didn’t know what it was and I really wanted a pillow and it wasn’t the pillow so I kind of felt let down,” DiMauro remembered. “But, then someone gives you a gift and you’re like, you want to be grateful for it. And, she was so excited. So I was like, ‘OK, teach me how to use it.’ And, from there, I was hooked.
“If she didn’t give me that sewing machine, who knows where I’d be now.”
Where DiMauro is, is celebrating her one-year anniversary as a business owner at The Hub in Prominence. Her boutique is a mix of handmade, limited-batch pieces perfect for a laidback beach vibe — flowy, natural fibers that are breathable and relaxed.
DiMauro was born in Orlando and grew up in Athens, Georgia. By high school, years had passed since she first touched that sewing machine and she had graduated to selling her handmade creations at local markets and community craft fairs. Some of her earliest creations were made from burlap bags of coffee beans that she turned into purses.
“I would make headbands, smaller bags and purses, scarves,” DiMauro said. “I was always into being thrifty so I would scavenge materials and recycle and repurpose them to make my pieces. I just liked being resourceful to see what I could reuse and then how I could sell it.”
An entrepreneur at a young age, DiMauro enrolled in the University of Georgia determined to add education to her experience. She majored in fashion merchandising to learn the business side of the fashion industry — another step toward her dream of a brick-and-mortar store. That, in itself, was an unusual move for the millennial.
“I did actually, when I was in high school and college, sell online and I had an Etsy shop, but I didn’t have the tangible interaction with people and that’s what I love,” DiMauro said. “That’s my favorite part of the whole business, making relationships with customers, meeting and interacting with them. I guess I’m old-fashioned that way.”
DiMauro was first introduced to the beaches of the Florida Panhandle through a boy, now her partner, she met while in college. They would spend time at his family’s home in Seagrove. DiMauro said she immediately felt a sense of peace and inspiration by the surroundings. She quickly found kindred spirits in the art community in the area and landed a job with the previous tenant of the space she now calls her own.
“The previous tenant of this space is a local artist herself named Allison Wickey, so I worked for her here and ran the gallery and just got more experience running the shop and selling art and handmade things,” she said.
Today, the space is all DiMauro’s — part retail showroom, part sewing and design space. She said she lets the fabric dictate what direction her design will take. Many of her pieces incorporate linen and gauze (one of her most popular offerings is gauze pants) in A-line shapes that are both flattering and breathable. Her colors mimic the soft, muted colors of the coast and what you’d want to wear on the beach that could also transition to running errands or having brunch with a friend. Her goal in the next few years is to build a team of people who are passionate about what they’re making. Her own store is a menagerie of pieces from local artists — leather wallets and keychains, for example — intermixed with her creations.
She’s also taken the gift passed on to her by her grandmother and turned it into her own teaching opportunity, including a semester at the Ohana Institute. Students went from learning basic stitches to making their own clothes, complete with a fashion show at the end.
“A lot of people might have a sewing machine hidden away in their closet, but it’s a great skill to have,” DiMauro said. “It’s really a lost art.”
See more of Mary Ellen DiMauro’s work at maryellendimauro.com or visit her storefront at The Hub.