Local Flare and Individual Attitude Puts the "Zip" in Zip-Dang

store interior
Photo by Eric Tadsen

You know it: that local boutique or shop you can enter and feel like every item was ordered specifically for you. It’s quirky. It’s different. It’s full of character and a creative energy that seems to remind you to express yourself. It’s the kind of space Zip-Dang owners Natalie and Mike Bass set out to create on Monroe Street, and they did it without really creating a plan to do so.

After traveling the country for six years selling their vibrant and expressive line of skirts, orangyporangy, Natalie and Mike settled in Madison to open up shop. 2016 marks Zip-Dang’s sixth year of business. “Everything is really personal to me at our shop,” Natalie says. “I pick everything myself. It’s not just about making money.”

Zip-Dang offers upcycled and recycled traditional and classic men and women’s clothing, such as t-shirts, hoodies, and dresses, that incorporates eco-friendly materials. The shop also offers small-batch handcrafted art prints, wood panel art, and gifts. “Madison is home for us,” Natalie says. “We love being in the Monroe Street neighborhood, surrounded by families and homes.”

The shop provides warm and friendly customer interactions and Natalie and Mike take their customers input into consideration when ordering products. “A big chain won’t be able to do that,” Natalie says. “We try to carry something people like, and we keep the things people like.” Sydney Hale Soy Candles by Sydney Hale Company, which donates 10 percent of its sales to dog shelters, are a top-selling product. “People love them.”

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Natalie, an Omaha, Nebraska native, has lived in Madison most of her life. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. After graduation, Natalie worked in graphic design and advertising for nine years. An unexpected layoff inspired her to create orangyporangy in 2005, although she wasn’t entirely skilled at sewing. Mike, a Platteville, Wisconsin native and University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire graduate, had experience sewing for the theatre department in college and taught Natalie how to handle a sewing machine. She began selling orangyporangy at the Dane County Farmers’ Market that same year. “He taught me patience,” Natalie says. “I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into what was happening at the time. I knew how to design a website and everything just evolved.”

Natalie began putting her college printmaking skills to use with Mike’s help, who also knew how to create screens and screen print. “We lived in a tiny apartment off East Wilson Street, washing screens in our bathtub,” Natalie says. “The idea of opening a shop started to grow in the back of my mind as I saw people around me who had them.”

The Monroe Street location, which is also located near their first house, became available, and the cards fell into place. “It suddenly made sense to us,” Natalie says. “My favorite game as a kid was to play shop. I would line up all of my things and put price tags on them. I shopped with my mom a lot. This was something I always wanted to do without realizing it.”

Photo by Eric Tadsen

The expression Zip-Dang stems from MIke’s dad, Jim Bass, who said it after tasting or seeing something extraordinary. “It was part of his vocabulary,” Natalie says. “It was one of the store name ideas right away.”

Even before Zip-Dang, Natalie’s hobbies were shopping and creating her own personal style. “I was always happy when I could find a shop that was unique and different and didn’t feel like everything else,” she says. “That’s something that was always important to me. I don’t follow the latest trends. I focus on creating pieces that will last and that help women create their personal style.”

An ongoing goal for Zip-Dang is to remain a genuine shop. Natalie strives for that goal by ensuring everything is made by independent artists and small businesses. The space within Zip-Dang was built by Natalie and Mike. It’s partially finished in some spots at all times. “It’s real,” Natalie says. “The space is constantly evolving.”

In addition to supporting independent artists and the Shop Local, Buy Local movement, Zip-Dang focuses on products made in the United States by small businesses. “That’s what makes our store a unique experience,” Natalie says. “We want to do something different at all times.” That includes selling items from new artists and exposing the artists she and Mike meet at art fairs. “We are giving Madison a chance to experience artists they may otherwise have not seen work from.”

Photo by Eric Tadsen

On the first Friday of every month, Zip-Dang hosts a themed event, such as its April Cat Lover’s Party. Customers were welcomed to the shop by one of Natalie’s cats, Tab, and shopped feline-inspired clothing, art, and gifts, even cat bow ties (a huge hit!). “We are focused on putting more thought and time into planning these events,” Natalie says. “We like providing an event every month. It’s our chance to socialize.” The events also give Natalie and Mike a chance to support their favorite local beers and tie in local bakeries, food, and nonprofits. A percentage of the funds from the Cat Lover’s Party were donated to Dane County Friends of Ferals.

On top of Natalie and Mike’s love for critters with nine lives, choosing to host a cat-themed event also was on trend with popular items in the shop. “We have three or four cats at all times,” Natalie says. “And two german shepherds. For some reason I didn’t do any cat products the first two years of business. As soon as I did, all the cat lovers came out.”

Zip-Dang also has a big demand for Mike’s local print series. He produces a series on Madison craft beers, farmers markets, and five Madison-area lakes. Mike’s most recent series is focused on Wisconsin folklore and mythology. “He adds three or four new prints each year,” Natalie says.

Social media outlets, such as Facebook and Instagram (@ZipDangShop), have taken off within the last few years. “People walk in because they saw something on Instagram,” Natalie says. “We post all of our new items there. It’s the best possible way to keep up with what we have in the store.”

Chelsey Dequaine is an assistant editor for a Madison-based newspaper and a freelance writer.