Posted: November 19, 2020 Creating Art and Community in Downtown Eau Claire
“The one thing that we had—as a nugget of hope and love—was just how amazing our local community is,” said Erin Klaus, co-owner of Tangled Up in Hue (Tangled), an Eau Claire-based art collective. “We knew that if we could safely open our doors again, we'd be okay,” Klaus shared, reflecting on the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19.
Early shutdowns forced co-owners, Erin Klaus and Jamie Kyser, to rethink how they could sustain their team, while continuing to support local artists and makers. As a downtown business largely dependent on foot traffic, Klaus said the pandemic motivated them to expand Tangled’s online presence and digital storefront—an effort led by Kyser. To continue supporting the broader artist community, Kyser worked tirelessly to get artist products online, while also promoting products made in house, like Tangled’s DIY macrame and stitch kits.
This isn’t the first time Klaus and Kyser have adapted their offerings. Since opening more than a decade ago, Tangled has evolved, while staying true to its original mission: to make local art more accessible. “We knew we wanted to be hyperlocal and focus on handmade products,” explained Klaus. The store started with seven artists; it now represents 150-200 artists. Tangled has naturally expanded to include Blue Boxer Arts—a section dedicated to bead and yarn supplies, custom screen printing—managed by Klaus’s husband, and more recently, Tangled’s wholesale product line, in addition to private-label products. By employing a full-time graphic designer, Tangled also provides design and logo work to its customers.
“The better we do, and the more we expand, the better our artists do, and our community does,” shared Klaus. But Tangled’s physical storefront begins and ends in downtown Eau Claire. “We're not looking to franchise,” Klaus explained, “We're not looking to open another location. We want to live fulfilling lives, and be able to do the things we love with the people we love.”
Beyond supporting their own families, the beauty of Tangled’s business model is its far-reaching impact on the creative community. At the 10-year mark, Tangled had paid out more than a million dollars to local artists and makers. As business owners, Klaus and Kyser also act as mentors within the creative community. Many artists who showcase work at Tangled are just beginning to sell their creations. Klaus and Kyser help artists price, sell, and brand their work. “That's been really rewarding,” shared Klaus, “being able to not only get artists in our shop selling their work, but to also help them expand their reach.”
A lot of the art showcased at Tangled is inspired by the Midwest. About 75 percent of the product is from the Chippewa Valley region, the rest is from Wisconsin, or made by someone with ties to Eau Claire. Many products speak to Midwestern heritage and roots, other products promote equality and women's rights. It's Tangled’s main goal to represent the community. “I had a group of college students in—I imagine it was their first time here,” shared Klaus, “they spent so much time laughing. Calling each other across the store, ‘Look at this! It’s so great!’ Whether customers leave feeling motivated to create their own items, or just feel like they can connect with what we have to offer, it's a really great feeling.”
Through its ‘Just Give’ campaign, Tangled’s impact stretches beyond artists and makers—donating to a community-centered nonprofit each quarter. Tangled designs and produces limited edition apparel to raise funds, but Klaus said the community makes it all possible. “We provide the products,” explained Klaus, “but that means people are willing to support it. Coming from our friends and neighbors, these funds are so meaningful.” Tangled recently donated to Black Male Empowerment, a student group at UW-Eau Claire. Next quarter, Tangled will donate proceeds from select products to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
As a business owner, Klaus’s communal commitment extends past Tangled’s storefront. “It's only beneficial for us to work together and promote the downtown,” said Klaus. As Chair of the South Barstow Business Improvement District (BID), Klaus understands community impact at a deeper level. Citing a partnership with Converge Radio, Klaus references how the music downtown is now selected by people who have a pulse on Eau Claire’s music scene. “Being involved in those types of projects is extremely fulfilling, especially when we notice that it's making a difference. People are spending more time walking around downtown. They want to patronize these businesses,” shared Klaus.
Klaus said the Eau Claire community has always been amazing to its own. “I feel lucky, even geographically,” shared Klaus. “It’s so rich and rewarding to know that somehow we're stimulating the local economy, we're creating jobs, helping artists be artists, and pursue their dreams. It feels really awesome to be so connected to the community.”
If you want to support Tangled Up in Hue, grab your mask and stop by the retail shop at 505 S. Barstow St. Suite B, Eau Claire, WI, or purchase products online. Tangled offers a wide selection of unique gifts. And if you’re sick of looking at your walls, Tangled offers fine wall art, too.