Located in downtown South Bend, Unique Boutique International is a hidden gem for any shopper interested in not only shopping local, but also standing in solidarity with our community. Traci Winston-Williams is the owner of Unique Boutique and has owned the store since July 2019. When asked how she was first introduced to Unique Boutique, Traci informed us that her family would hold birthday parties for her aunt, Mother Annie Collins, at the South Bend Chocolate Café and one of her aunt’s favorite moments of these gatherings was getting to visit Unique Boutique and speak with the previous owner, Miriam Malkovsky. Many family members would even stop by the store to grab last minute birthday gifts, much to Mother Annie’s joy!
From there, Miriam and Traci organically developed a friendship. When Miriam decided to retire last year, she asked Traci to take over the merchandise and run the store. With decades of experience as a businesswoman, Traci jumped at the opportunity. We were first introduced to Traci by our friend Becky from RiverBend Apparel and Promotions in Mishawaka.
Inside the boutique, you will find beautiful clothing and jewelry from throughout the world. Traci was proud to share that the boutique carries clothing from Egypt, Uganda, India, Brazil, and more. When asked about how she can find such delicate and rare clothing, Traci informed us that most of these items are made by people with a connection to Michiana – students, grandmothers, men, and women all from the community. Traci was also proud to show us some jewelry that she carries in the store, hand-made by a six-year-old girl here in South Bend.
It was awesome to see Traci’s face light up as she shared the background story of almost every single item in the store and how people from different parts of the world can find a little piece of home here in South Bend, out of all places. Although most of the items in the store are for women, the boutique does carry a selection of items for men.
Traci has always been drawn to fashion, sharing stories with us of her and her sister selling hand-made jewelry and cans of pop at Hair Affair – her mother’s beauty shop - when they were little girls. Later, Traci’s interest in fashion and entrepreneurship expanded and she began selling apparel out of her house and organizing pop-up shops throughout town. Eventually, Traci opened her own store on Western Ave., which operated for 20+ years. Traci and her family have always had a strong connection to Michiana, sharing with us that her mother was the first African American graduate of Vogue Beauty School in Mishawaka. When the opportunity to take over Unique Boutique manifested itself, Traci was ready.
Although it is a lovely store, the most inspiring part of Traci’s story is how she uses the platform from her business to support and grow her non-profit organization. Hear Our Tears, abbreviated as H.O.T., focusing on offering counseling, housing, and other forms of support to victims of domestic abuse. Traci decided to start H.OT. due the negative experiences in her and her family’s lives caused by domestic abuse. 10% of all sales made at Unique Boutique go directly to Hear Our Tears.
Traci uses her store as a community space and hosts meetings for people looking to learn more about the prevention and detection of domestic abuse. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Traci would host these meetings on the first Monday of every month and is currently working on organizing these talks over a virtual platform, working alongside another local non-profit organization named Women Move Forward. In addition, a home in South Bend was donated to H.OT. and is currently being remodeling into a safe space for victims of domestic abuse. Traci’s goal is to eventually have multiple houses throughout the city for these men and women to access the services that they may need. You can visit www.hearourtears574.com if you are interested in donating!
By visiting Unique Boutique, you are not only simply visiting a store, but a space where everyone is welcome, and measures are being taken to improve the overall well-being of our community. The next time you find yourself in downtown South Bend, we encourage our readers to stop by Unique Boutique and browse their selection, say hello to Traci, and take a stand against domestic abuse.
When asked about how we can learn more about what is domestic abuse and resources on identifying and preventing it, Traci suggested the following websites:
Are you a woman that is interested in starting your own business? Are you a woman looking to network with other women entrepreneur in the Michiana areas? Visit www.womenmoveforwardsignup.com to start the process!
We also encourage our readers to take a moment to reflect on their past behaviors. As young adults, we need to recognize that these issues are only more prevalent in our society today and we must make a commitment not only to ourselves, but our community, to be better people.