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Posted on Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Orchid Lane clothing store enjoys growth spurt after 25 years in Ann Arbor

By Laura Blodgett


Leif Elias runs Orchid Lane on East Liberty in Ann Arbor and also sees growth opportunities in other areas of the country. She's opened 3 other stores in the last 18 months.

Laura Blodgett | For

Celebrating its 25th year, Orchid Lane - the women’s clothing and accessories store at 419 E. Liberty - has had a recent growth spurt, opening three new stores in the last 18 months.

In August 2009, East Lansing location La Bodega was opened, followed by the Raleigh, NC, store Sugar Magnolia in January 2010 and then Stella Blue in Charlottesville, Va., this past August.

“Each store has its own name to give it its own individuality,” said Leif Elias, who co-owns the store with her mother, Nancy. “They are all in college areas which is a market we found that we appeal to.”

The company specializes in fair trade clothing, with Elias traveling three months of the year importing goods, mainly from South America and Southeast Asia, to stock the stores. In addition to clothing, they carry jewelry, accessories and home décor, including a large collection of wooden carvings.

They also keep a thriving wholesale business humming along, selling their imported items to other stores around the country. They maintain a warehouse in Pittsfield Township to handle the importing and distribution.

Orchid Lane also manufactures and carries its own clothing label of batik clothing as well as popular brands including Kenzie and Betsey Johnson.

“We consider our store to be for women of all ages,” says Elias. “I think it helps that we’re a mother- daughter team.”

Popular items for them depend on the season. Right now their 100 percent fleece-lined wool hats, gloves and scarves imported from Nepal are top sellers; in the summer, their wrap skirts from India and one-size-fits- all dresses are snapped up, often at their popular sidewalk sales.

Their expansion really started in 2005, when the Lamplighter restaurant next door closed and the space became available.

“We had just a month to get it together - right before art fair no less - and didn’t even know what we were going to sell in the space,” said Elias. “We had all this clearance merchandise, so we decided to just do a clearance sale in the new space with everything priced $15 or less.”

The "every item priced $15 or less" idea was so popular that it continues to this day with the space officially named the Orchid Lane Warehouse. Their three new stores are all $15 or less stores as well, and online sales are available as well at “It is a little by accident how the idea took off but it has been very successful,” says Elias, who adds that the concept works well for them as wholesalers because they work on high volume and can keep prices low.

The original Orchid Lane carries the same types of clothing but at a higher price point averaging $30-40 per item.

“At Orchid Lane, the fabric might be more stylized—more fitted, some tucking-- which makes that dress more expensive than the warehouse side. Or the dress will be long at Orchid Lane but short at the warehouse.”

Elias is hoping to connect the two spaces in the next year by making an archway in the shared wall to make shopping more convenient for customers.

After opening three stores in quick succession, Elias says this year she is focusing on getting the company infrastructure tightened down, as well as expanding their wholesale market. She is definitely open to the idea of more stores in the future.

“It just depends on what opportunities present itself. It’s so funny how it happens; one of our employees will move somewhere for grad school so we decide to open a store there for them to manage. We are open to whatever the universe brings.”



Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 5:48 a.m.

They have very friendly and helpful sales people and I still wear my funky warm hat from South America that I bought there. I just wish they carried bigger sizes. Congrats on 25 years!


Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 6:34 p.m.

Great store, really nice people working there. Love the $15 or less section. Glad to hear that they're still doing well.

Linda Peck

Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

Great article! What a fabulous Ann Arbor with the kind of clothing many people love to wear here. Great stuff, fun place, nice people!


Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

I'd love for OL to carry Salwar Kameez...I see things online, but can never be sure of the fabric or colors without seeing in person (sigh).


Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 9:19 a.m.

Great article, Ms. Blodgett. Thank you very much. Must visit...


Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 8:50 a.m.

My best friend who moved away always makes sure to stop in at Orchid Lane when she visits. I like the mix of clothing; you can spend more on a name brand (Kenzie, Habitat) or peruse their cheaper import line. I'd like to see some more men's shirts than what they have. I've never felt that the prices were off the mark, and if I can't pay full price, I wait for one of their wonderful sales.


Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 8:31 a.m.

I really like this store, though some items are overpriced for the quality you are getting. Imports vary in quality greatly, as everyone knows, but at least they carry clothing that is not just geared for the 18 - 22 year olds. They have good sales. Great to see a small retailed surviving in the campus area.

Kim Kachadoorian

Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 7:34 a.m.

Love this store - one of my favs in A2 - congrats