Small Business Profile: Catherine Becker, Owner of Moth - Chicago
Hi Catherine! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in New York and moved to Chicago as a teen. I was the daughter of a well-known academic, so I got to travel to Japan and Europe a lot when I was young, and I was deeply influenced by the aesthetics of these places. I got my undergrad degree in art history, trained as a residential architecture designer at the graduate level, and raised two sons who are now young adults.
What sparked your interest in starting a brick and mortar shop? When did you begin Moth?
I began Moth in October 2015. I was inspired to open the store partly based on what I had seen in my travels, and it had always been a dream of mine to open my own shop. In general, I love to find and curate various items and I love to shop. I had the idea of combining goods from Japan and the Nordic countries based on the parallels I saw in their design aesthetic. I also started incorporating artists and designers from other places (Paris, Dublin, London, San Francisco, etc.) that I felt were compatible, and the store grew from there.
You source your products through travel and exploration. What do keep an eye out for to bring into the shop?
I was trained as a designer and have an eye for color, so although I couldn't tell you what my selection criteria are exactly, I know immediately when I see something I like. I will say that I tend to favor quality materials, well-crafted items, earth tones and muted colors. The Japanese concept of zakka is a useful way to think about what I curate; zakka refers to functional things that also go beyond function in the sense that they have something special that makes them a pleasure to look at and handle. Maybe the colors are beautiful, or maybe they're retro and retain something of the past about them. Again, I know it when I see it.
What are some brands/designers/products that you’re really enjoying right now?
What makes you passionate about what you do?
I am passionate about the search and discovery—finding a unique, beautiful object that doesn’t resemble anything I’ve ever seen before. I also love meeting the people behind the objects and hearing their stories. For instance, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting ceramicists Nathalie Lautenbacher and Anne Black and hearing about the influences behind their work, their production processes and how they became ceramicists in the first place. I was able to form relationships with them that continue to this day, and I am always excited to promote their work to customers who may not know of them.
How do you connect with your customers and your community?
We hold in-store events highlighting the cultures we represent, and we’ve started doing hands-on workshops (natural dyeing, ornament making, etc.). We’re also part of Indie Row, an organization that brings together the community of shops and restaurants north of the 606 (an elevated greenway) in Bucktown. We meet regularly and discuss ways to attract more foot traffic in our area, and we coordinate big neighborhood events.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
Learning to launch a small business is no easy task. Challenges include bringing in regular sales, getting the website up and running, and keeping up with current technology and social media. Fortunately, I have a young staff and my children to help me!
At the Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I feel comfortable working with women, and the multi-talented women I support through my business inspire me daily and keep me going. Alongside the artists and designers I carry and promote at Moth, I have a capable all-female staff, who do everything from translation and photography to floral design.
Who are some women that inspire you?
My good friend Ren Riley is a folk art collector, textile artist and knitter extraordinaire based in California, and someone I greatly admire. She can do anything she puts her mind to. There is also Anne Black, the ceramicist I mentioned earlier. In addition to making ceramics, she owns a retail shop and has collaborated with high profile designers like Akira Minagawa, the founder of the Japanese brand Minä Perhonen.
What is something that you’re proud of?
Learning to navigate Tokyo without a translator! I’m also proud of the store website—launching it was a truly collaborative effort.
What are you trying to learn right now, or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I want to learn Japanese so that I can travel there more easily. I also think that learning the language would help me to understand the culture better, and I want to be able to communicate with the designers and friends I see there.
What’s coming up for Moth? How do you want to see it evolve?
We will do more collaborations with area businesses and host more events. We also want to keep expanding the website and growing our customer base. Eventually, I want Moth to become nationally known as an online destination shop.
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
I love my neighborhood! I enjoy walking on the 606, drinking coffee at La Colombe, shopping for groceries at Olivia’s Market and finding good books to read at Myopic Books. I like to go to MCM Fine Framing for all of my framing needs (it’s located across the street from Moth). The new gallery Wrightwood 659 was renovated by my favorite architect Tadao Ando and is also a must-see.