Best Of 2018

Jumper — a locally based company founded by a former Army Ranger and an outdoor apparel designer — specializes in functional and fashionable apparel; clothing that works for you and looks good. The venture started with their signature undershirt, which never comes untucked and eliminates “underfrump.” Then they expanded into hoodies, sweatpants (the most crowdfunded athletic jogger production ever) and gear like the Jumper Labs action jacket. Where they also kill it? Accessories. Particularly their performance socks, described as a “work, play, do everything sock.” These comfy toe-coverers come in funky and laid-back colors to fit any personality. Want stand-out socks? Get ’em striped in bright reds, oranges and blues. Not feeling a statement? They have grey, white and black stripes that are low-key enough for workwear. Either way, the socks are suited for long hikes (made from breathable material), biking (they’re moisture-wicking), bar-crawling (lose your shoes? No slip grip) and just chillin’ on the couch. Jumper Threads, jumperthreads.com.

Getting dressed in a consumer culture isn’t easy. Fashion has become more about signaling that we can afford to keep up with trends than expressing personal style. Cincinnatian Blake Smith put these pieces together a few years back, wasn’t having it and eventually created Cladwell, a stylist app that spits out daily outfits based on what’s in your closet. The idea is to use Cladwell as a tool to create more space and time in your life for authenticity and things that matter — which aren’t “things.” Bonus: The app never misses on the day’s weather. Cladwell, 120 E. Eighth St., Downtown, cladwell.com.

Emily Little first launched her line of soaps and body products as “Little Organics,” with a focus on herbal medicine, informed and filtered through her Appalachian heritage. Now, almost a decade old, Little Organics is Queen City Alchemy, a high-end locally made holistic skincare line featuring soaps, serums, balms, deodorants and other botanicals crafted using non-toxic, compassionate and therapeutic ingredients. There are no dyes, no fillers, no parabens and no sulfates. The line is certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny and part of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics from the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. Find Little’s 40-some-odd products in her new community-focused Fort Thomas storefront, Vitae Viride, which also carries a curated collection of pieces from other local makers. Vitae Viride, 118 N. Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, vitaeviride.com.

Best Artful Cookware Shop
Brittany Thornton
click to enlarge Best Artful Cookware Shop
Brittany Thornton

Brad and Karen Hughes opened their Artichoke storefront down the street from Findlay Market in order to offer marketgoers a convenient destination to purchase cookware. From basics and classics to unique and colorful pieces, a stroll through the shop feels as special as a stop at Paris’ E.Dehillerin (except Artichoke is infinitely more organized). With a light display wall and a curated collection of Mason Cash mixing bowls (as seen on The Great British Baking Show), Dansk Kobenstyle Midcentury pots, the whimsical REVOL French chicken roaster… in the shape of a chicken, exclusive trivets from Rookwood Pottery and more, you’ll find all the tools you need to throw down in the kitchen like you’re an Iron Chef. The shop’s artful feel was enhanced in October when their building was painted with a Lichtenstein-looking Pop Art mural by street artist D*Face as part of BLINK. Artichoke, 1824 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, artichokeotr.com.

The female-centered business incubator Bad Girl Ventures underwent a makeover last year, changing its name to Aviatra Accelerators, but they haven’t strayed far from their mission of helping female entrepreneurs succeed in the commercial arena. From bridal shops to architecture firms to fitness centers, the Aviatra team utilizes their business backgrounds to connect startup dreamers with low-interest loans and nurture the development of some of Cincinnati’s most beloved and unique women-owned shops. The warm and fuzzies we feel exploring independent storefronts are due in part to services like Aviatra, so thanks! Aviatra Headquarters, 114 West Pike St., Covington, aviatraaccelerators.org.

Best Bespoke Menswear (For Women, Too)
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Bespoke Menswear (For Women, Too)
Hailey Bollinger

Romualdo bespoke tailoring has been offering handcrafted menswear since 1968. With the mission of delivering one-of-a-kind, quality garments, Romualdo Pelle, an Italian immigrant now in his 80s, became a go-to designer and tailor for the local elite. The store, which has a bit of a men’s club vibe, has a library of more than 10,000 fabrics from luxury and world-renowned mills from which to build a custom suit. Garments are made from scratch, patterned, cut and sewn to your exact measurements. Pelle’s legacy is carried on by new owners Tim Brock and Chris Berre (Berre is a founder of local Artfully Disheveled fanciful mens’ accessories company), who have added a focus on crafting menswear for women. Now, ladies can have the same suiting experience, going to the store to design bespoke jackets, shirts and pants. Get measured, pick out your favorite fabric, liner and details and then wait four to eight weeks for your perfectly proportioned outfit arrive. Romualdo, 7121 Miami Ave., Madeira, romualdo.com.

Designer Rosie Kovacs and woodworker Hayes Shanesy started the Brush Factory in 2009 as a way to create well-crafted and high-quality goods. Since then, the duo has amplified their mission to include building modern furniture and other items with care and precision using “traditional joinery and solid wood construction.” They have their own line of sustainably harvested wood furniture — bff tables and desks, named after their own BFFs — and have created custom solutions for restaurants, boutiques and start-ups across the city. Their OTR storefront opened in 2016 as part of a brand expansion after winning a $20,000 ArtWorks Big Pitch grant in 2015. The shop carries items from hip design houses and traditional makers, both local and not. There are vintage Kilim rugs, local CG Ceramics dishware, Redecker household brushes and small goods like the Brush Factory’s hand-turned wooden candlesticks. Brush Factory, 1417 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, brushmanufactory.com.

Listermann Brewing Company had the very smart idea of combining two of Cincinnati’s favorite things: local beer and Fiona. Since last summer, Listermann has released several limited-edition brews named after the photogenic cutie including Team Fiona and variants Team Fiona: Bifi, DDH Team Fiona and Team Fiona: Birthday, for her first birthday. The first release of Team Fiona New England-style IPA in 2017 had people lining up to grab a coveted four-pack, and the beer did more than give people a buzz: up to 25 percent of Team Fiona beer proceeds went to the Cincinnati Zoo to assist with Fiona’s care. For Fiona’s first birthday, the brewery went bigger with variants Team Fiona: Birthday Edition, a New England-style IPA with citra and centennial hops; DDH Team Fiona, a New England-style IPA with galaxy hops (because “Fiona is out of this world”); and Team Fiona: Bifi, a New England-style IPA brewed with apricot and peaches. Fiona’s face is on each super collectible can — she’s even donning a party hat on the Birthday packaging (there’s an empty can going for $23 on eBay). The zoo series isn’t limited to just Fiona, though — Listermann also brewed a black IPA named after Kendi, the zoo’s new black rhino calf. Listermann Brewing Company, 1621 Dana Ave., Evanston, listermannbrewing.com.

The resurgence and mainstream popularity of vinyl records has led to an influx of independent record stores in Cincinnati, including MetaModern Music, one of the latest additions to the city’s growing vinyl scene. It offers new and used records from all genres and for all levels of collectors, plus bootleg cassettes, slip mats, T-shirts, incense and plenty of Grateful Dead merch. If you’re interested in making your own music, just down the block DHR Guitar Experience sells high-end American-made equipment: vintage guitars for both lefties and right-handed players, archtop and flattop solid body guitars, amps and more. MetaModern Music, 2942 Markbreit Ave., Oakley, metamodernmusic.com; DHR Guitar Experience, 3092 Madison Road, Oakley, dhrguitarexperience.com.

Manitou Candle Co. crafts small-batch and hand-poured candles made from soy wax with packaging that’s classic yet distinctly modern. Scents are broad and ever-changing, whether you want hints of lemon cedarwood musk, lavender or a floral scent, they strive to help you find what makes you feel at home and at rest. Grab a friend or two (or a whole handful), book a DIY workshop, slip on an apron and make the candle of your dreams. Workshops and classes are held Wednesdays through Sundays (and are BYOB). It’s a perfect place to host a bridal or baby shower. Manitou Candle Co., 4015 Eastern Ave., Columbia Tusculum, manitoucandleco.com.

Wander around Findlay Market long enough and you’ll probably wind up in Karen and Bill Buss’ storefront, Ida Candles. Filled with scents that take you back to Grandma’s breakfasts and Saturday morning chores, they also carry handmade soaps and graphic-print aprons and totes. The couple started experimenting with candle making near the end of their stint living in northern California, but eventually brought the smells of banana nut bread, fresh linen and jasmine orchid back to Northern Kentucky. Psychologists believe smell is more closely linked with memory than sight, taste, touch or sound, which makes it extra nifty that the Buss’ candles (user-tested) burn strong from first hour to last. Sigh, the joy of holding on. Ida Candles, 124 W. Elder, Over-the-Rhine, idacandles.com.

Best Chili Passport
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Chili Passport
Hailey Bollinger

A bright yellow door with a high-five handprint marks the opening to Handzy Shop + Studio, a purveyor of cheerful cards, art prints and calendars overseen by designers/co-owner Suzy King and Brittney Braemer. The two best friends met in design school and opened their Covington storefront in July 2016, offering the cutest darn assortment of greeting cards, T-shirts, totes, lapel pins, patches and local giftables, including the Cincinnati Chili Passport. Created by designer Lindsey Gauggel, with the help of Brittney and her husband Sean. The passport is adorable and informative, with deconstructed illustrations of coneys and ways, the history of Cincinnati chili, tips and tricks to eat “chili like a local” and details about 11 must-visit parlors. Take notes about the taste, experience and how it made you feel right after you ate it… and how it made you feel later. Each passport is printed and hand-stamped and available to ship or for pick up at Handzy. Handzy, 15 W. Pike St., Covington, hellohandzy.com, cincinnatichilipassport.com.

Despite the popular notion that English majors usually take up permanent residence in their parents’ basements, Katie Trauth Taylor achieved the closest thing to financial stability one can hope for these days: a tenure-track professorship. But she quit! In the name of public intellectualism, Trauth Taylor launched Untold Content, a writing consultancy firm that offers expert research and technical and marketing content writing services to innovators across all fields. At a time when the POTUS has made discrediting information a top priority, the Untold team is writing for common ground and bridging the gap between expert knowledge and public accessibility. Untold Content, 3716 Montgomery Road, Norwood, untoldcontent.com. 

Founded by Nzingha Byrd and Daphney Thomas in 2012, Sweet Sistah Splash in Over-the-Rhine is a multicultural boutique that doubles as a community program space where, on any given day, there may be a Kemetic yoga session, a couple’s date night, an entrepreneurship course, a class about going vegetarian or a children’s reading circle. With a female-centric focus on independence, health, beauty and spiritualism, it’s a place to learn and connect — with the community and with yourself. The holistic and celebratory approach is also harnessed through ongoing workshops, like the Sacred Woman Sister Circle Support Group, a 10-week wellness program, or Unleash Your Power - Soul Sistah Boot Camp, a four-week mini retreat that gives participants “heart-centered, spirit-led, high-level coaching” to live a life full of health, healing and happiness. It’s all about deepening your experience as you make your way through this thing called life. Sweet Sistah Splash, 1218 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/sweetsistahsplash.

To celebrate Fiona’s first birthday, the Cincinnati Zoo gave away a one-of-a-kind painting: Fiona’s kiss. Caretakers gave the hippo some purple paint and helped her plant one on a canvas to create a very unique work of art. The winner grabbed her prize after participating in the zoo’s A.D.O.P.T. program, where you can make a dollar donation that goes to provide food, housing, toys and enrichment activities for your selected animal. Fiona’s kiss was a special gift, but you can A.D.O.P.T. many other animals starting at just $30, from Winsol the baby aardvark to Moe the sloth or Sugar the river otter. Each adopter receives a personalized certificate, coupons for behind-the-scenes experiences and a color photo. If you’re more interested in the art, the zoo has a solution for that, too. The organization’s elephants and rhinos are particularly gifted in creating custom paintings. Rhino Rembrandts and Brush in Trunk packages include individually painted canvases featuring the colors of your choice (for the elephant experience, you can even opt to watch the animals create your work) and proceeds from sales go directly to the animals’ conservation efforts. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Avondale, cincinnatizoo.org.

If you live in extreme poverty, falling into the human trafficking trade is easy; escaping is not. India-based apparel company Freeset is breaking the cycle of generational poverty and sexual exploitation by offering survivors a way out through employment. Along with providing counseling, childcare and financial planning services, Freeset trains workers to sew (with 100 percent organic cotton) and screen print (with eco-friendly inks). Cincinnati-based nonprofit Freeset USA distributes these fair-trade products to individuals and organizations throughout the U.S. If you’re out of closet space, they also accept grants and donations. Freeset USAfreesetusa.com.

Mike & Carol Trotta’s bright, cheerful custom clothing and ladies’ fine apparel business (which also has tailoring services) is the kind of independently owned establishment that gives downtown its personality and soul. It is also a living link to the city’s history. Mike Trotta started it in 1936; his son Mike works there today and is a superb tailor. Mike’s sister, Carol, joined in 1991 after a career at Gidding Jenny, bringing her knowledge of classy, stylish women’s apparel with her. It’s a vital modern business but also in touch with its (and our) past — a clock from the old WSAI radio station, where the store once advertised, is on a wall. Mike & Carol Trotta, 406 Walnut St., Downtown, mikeandcaroltrotta.com.

Best Friend to the Fashion Community
Provided

Sew Valley is a new enterprise created by two local entrepreneurs: Rosie Kovacs, co-founder of Brush Factory furniture and homegoods boutique, and Shailah Maynard, owner/designer of Working Girls Co. clothing and accessories brand. As professionals with experience in the fashion industry, they saw a gap in the local production scene and decided to fill it with a community workshop that provides the resources and technology for members to build “scalable, sustainable and responsible” sewn products. The Sew Valley studio, housed in the National Flag Co. building in the West End, provides the equipment, space and other services — ranging from contracted small-batch production and assembling to fittings and sourcing — to turn an idea into a reality. That means you can make a prototype in Cincinnati, without outsourcing overseas. The not-for-profit operates on a membership basis, with two options: you can pay to have Sew Valley make your product for you or you can rent their machines by the hour and make them yourself. The team is also hiring sewers, pattern makers and technicians on a contract basis if you want to help entrepreneurs bring their dreams to life. Sew Valley, 1010 Hulbert Ave., West End, sewvalley.org.

Best Handmade Hat Shop
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Handmade Hat Shop
Hailey Bollinger

Gus Miller is the owner, proprietor and hat maker behind downtown mainstay Batsakes. In business for more than 100 years, Miller’s uncles opened Batsakes in 1907 in its original location on Sixth and Walnut streets. In 1951, Miller immigrated to Cincinnati from Greece and started working at the shop, first cleaning, then moving up in the business to eventually complete an apprenticeship with a hat maker, learning how to make everything from fedoras to straw hats by hand. The store doesn’t have a digital footprint, but when the quality of your work speaks for itself, you don’t really need one. Miller has committed clients from across the world, and stars from Luciano Pavarotti to Jack White, Bob Dylan and Snoop Dogg have shopped here. Located on the ground floor of the iconic Modernist Terrace Plaza Hotel building, it’s one of the finest classic hat shops in the nation. Batsakes, 1 W. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-721-9345.