Not-so-hidden treasure

Patina Vie thrives in Ripon and beyond

Posted on Jun 25, 2019 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

You wouldn’t normally think of downtown Ripon as the home of a thriving, national housewares and lifestyle brand, but it is.

Patina Vie offers a variety of items from ceramic bowls and rugs to glassware and women’s boots that are a mix of curated vintage finds as well as its own designed goods.

Like many companies, Patina Vie comes from humble beginnings. Six years ago, owner Sarah Willett pulled together four other designers who were interested in helping her start the business.

“We all decided to go for this — let’s do it our way,” she says. “Our business truly began in my mudroom. It was a computer and a basket full of paperwork and a lot of sweat and tears and hope.”

During that early period of the business, while their newly manufactured goods were still being designed and produced, they focused on curating antiques and vintage items. They were even offered an exclusive partnership with retailer Anthropologie, for which they’d prepare about 40 antique items per week that would be listed on the website and branded as Patina Vie Vintage.

That in and of itself is a major achievement for any small business, but Willett and her team didn’t stop there. It wasn’t long before they launched their own Patina Vie brand of products, which are sold by numerous national retailers, including Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and HomeGoods.

The product line was a long-time dream for Willett and her team, but she approaches even the newly designed goods with the same eye she has for vintage shopping.

“That history and artisanship that you find in goods made a long time ago with real human hands is what I try and emulate and find inspiration for in our newly designed goods,” Willett says. “We take a lot of time and care when we’re manufacturing. It’s important for us to have those subtleties and an extra layer of craftsmanship.”

Gaining a national presence was an undeniable benefit, but Willett, who grew up in the Green Lake area and describes herself and her team as “homegrown girls,” wanted to keep the local connection strong. Last summer, Willett decided to open Patina Vie’s flagship store in the heart of Ripon, where customers can peruse items and see the goods firsthand.

It might seem like an unlikely match, but Willett says she really can’t think of a better fit.

“People ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ but we can’t imagine doing this anywhere else,” she says.

As far as what’s next for Patina Vie, Willett doesn’t let any grass grow under her feet. Patina Vie is always working out new partnerships, including a co-branded partnership with Disney that gave the company the opportunity to design a vibrant array of items in support of the release of the film “Aladdin.” Willett says she’s also in talks with a TV network to create and host a television series about historic downtowns. She also wants to pursue fashion and other product categories, open additional stores and have a popup shop in Green Bay for the holidays.

“One of my strengths and weaknesses is that I don’t say ‘no’ to much,” she says. “It’s rare that I have to push the pause button.”

But despite the fact that she’s busy, she still carves out the time to roll up her sleeves and stay highly involved with her business, including being the one to work in the shop each Saturday.

“For me, to be the one actually at the shop — greeting everyone and seeing what they’re buying — I had no idea that I’d enjoy it so much.”

Running the thriving business is a lot of work, and Willett says it’s not always as glamorous as people assume. But regardless, she feels lucky to be doing what she loves.

“I’ve turned all of my favorite things about life and entrepreneurship into a business,” she says. “We’re truly so thankful that we get to do what we love from where we love.”