Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the magazine Discover Wiregrass, a quarterly publication of the Dothan Eagle. It’s now being published on our digital site.
If customers browsing the clothing rack at East River Trading Co. don’t find something they want, owner Jennifer Donaldson will create it for them.
“Sometimes I just have to push people into the fitting room and say, ‘Put it on and let me see it, and I’ll show you what it can be,’” Donaldson said.
Donaldson’s Japanese-inspired styles have simple lines and are made from fabrics of cotton, silk and leather. She adds her own flair by incorporating splatter paint or even Plasti Dip (the stuff you dip tool handles in). Or, she’ll add a leather hem to a cotton top.
Regardless of the design, the end result is tailored for the individual. And if someone decides the dress they bought last year would be better as a top, all they have to do is bring it back to Donaldson.
“I want East River stuff to be worn, and so it constantly can be changed,” Donaldson said.
Jessica Hutchings stopped at East River on a whim and is now a regular customer.
“When I first started shopping with her, I bought a maternity shirt because I was very pregnant,” Hutchings said. “It was like a lifelong purchase because when I wasn’t pregnant anymore, I came back and she took it in for me so I could wear it now.”
Donaldson got a degree in fine art with a focus on fashion design in Chicago. She moved to New York City and worked doing bridal alterations and designing bridesmaid dresses. She designed watches and worked for designer Anna Sui. In 2008, Donaldson started East River Trading and made aprons from upcycled materials, selling them around New York and on Etsy.
She returned to Dothan several years ago. When her father began renovating what is now Windmill Station on Headland Avenue, Donaldson opened an East River Trading retail store in the small brick building in the very front of the development.
Among the handmade soaps, body mists, candles and jewelry sold at East River Trading, customers can browse the clothing rack of designs — all created on Donaldson’s sewing machine located across the room.
She’s used to be people being uncertain about the custom clothing process and even nervous, but the process is simple enough. It starts with measurements. Donaldson will have you try on a few tops or dresses from the rack just so she can get the basic fit that you prefer. She asks what neck line you prefer, sleeve length and hem length. Then, you take a trip into the fabric closet to pick out your fabric, which Donaldson gets from New York, Chicago and California.
“For real, it’s just playing in here,” she said of the process.
Depending on how backed up she is, Donaldson can typically deliver a finished piece in two days. Customers return and try the piece on, with Donaldson doing any additional alterations needed. Only when a customer “loves” a piece do they pay for it, she said. And if they don’t love it, Donaldson will simply sell it on her rack with her other designs. That doesn’t happen very often.
East River custom tops start at $40, dresses at $60 and maxi dresses at $80. Anything with leather typically adds another $20 to the cost.
“A lot of people have started bringing in something that they love,” Donaldson said. “Let’s say you love this shirt and want it in every single color; I’ll pattern that for you.”
Amy Rasmussen is another regular customer. Donaldson has made pieces for her and her teen daughters.
“It’s very versatile,” Rasmussen said of her East River pieces. “I love that it’s local and handmade. It can speak to all generations.”
Donaldson enjoys creating customized clothing pieces and working directly with the people who will be wearing her designs. However, she still does design work for fashion labels in New York.
“My favorite season is winter, and there’s no such thing here, so I still design stuff for other people to be able to get my creative juices going,” Donaldson said. “But, really and truly, I get to create something new every single day because everybody’s got their own thing that they need me to do.”
Editor's note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings, East River Trading Company is currently operating by appointment only for clothing fittings, but the shop's accessories, soaps and lotions are available for purchase online at the East River Trading website.