Photo by Rasheed Ajamu.

Jan Matthews’ boutique is home to the clinks of teacups and the clicks of cameras. Her boutique is home to the flowers and feathers of Sunday’s bests. Her boutique is home to the memories of each graduation, fashion show, funeral, and tea party of which one of her custom-designed hats accompanies its wearer. This weekend, she will celebrate one year of business at Maplewood Mall.

Matthew’s story of success is long and ongoing, just the same as her patience, passion, and persistence. 54 Maplewood Mall, the present location of The Art is in the Hat, is the third post for her business. However, even without a storefront, Matthews proudly displayed her entrepreneurial spirit from a young age.

“Years ago, when I was in high school, I used to take the 23 trolley down, and I would sit there with my sketchbook, and I would always be sketching fashion. And now I’m here, from sketching on the 23 trolley to here… my own shop,” Matthews reflected.

She began designing in the 90s, working from home to create all kinds of threads: gowns, suits, hats, and shoes. After making significant appearances in fashion shows, proms, and vendor pop-ups, her first location on the second floor of Gaffney’s Material Store right off Germantown Avenue was secured. With the change of scenery came a change of pace, as Matthews’ clear favorite design did not go over her head but instead, on top of it. From that point on, she prioritized her hat-making as the forefront of her creative expression.

“I view my hats as pieces of art. Each hat. They’re one-of-a-kind hats, and I make each one of them after praying, asking for vision. Then, I start working on the hat. And what comes up is my art.” explains Matthews. 

Her first dull needle as a business owner was realizing that her senior clients, a majority of her target audience, could not make it up to her second-floor platform, so she spent a year there before moving to her next location just a few blocks down the street. 

Unfortunately, Matthews experienced obstacles that are all too familiar amongst Black-owned businesses, with funding being the most crushing obstacle. 

“It does take three to five years for a business to actually become established. A lot of us don’t make it that long. Like you just can’t hang in, therefore 3 to 5 years. It’s… it’s hard. But by the grace of God, I can say I almost made a year,” Matthews said. 

The Germantown Info Hub previously reported that almost 20% of small businesses fail by their first year mark, 30% by the second, 50% by the fifth year, and 70% by the 10th year. And also shared that for Black-owned businesses specifically, those numbers are more significant, with eight out of 10 failing within the first 18 months of operation. American Inequality reports that only 4% of Black-owned businesses successfully superseded the startup phase of operations, a challenge for which Matthews has continuously risen to the occasion. 

With this in mind, she went back home for three years after closing her second location and took on a full-time job elsewhere. Frustrated but not finished, Matthews continued to design hats on and off during this time. 

Once she retired from her full-time position, Matthews decided to pick the pin cushion back up and stick one more pin in the map at Maplewood Mall, opening the doors to the third The Art is in the Hat storefront. A business venture that proves the unfortunate statistics surrounding Black-owned business success rates wrong, as Matthews will be celebrating her one-year anniversary on February 17 of this year. She has invited her supporters from the beginning, as well as new supporters that have been cumulated onto her mailing list, to her boutique to celebrate. She’s bringing in a caterer, as well as entertainment by a singer and her own nephew, who will be reciting a spoken word piece. 

In this pivotal year, Matthews has not only expanded her craft by adding men’s hats, clothing, and statement jewelry to her collection, but she has correspondingly constructed a collaborative space within her storefront where three other small businesses can ease the tensions of their startups. 

“My vision for here when I first came was to set up myself and to set up other businesses that would allow them to grow their businesses to the point where they could eventually go ahead and develop and move on to their own big ole storefront.” Matthews continues by saying, “I really would like to help, I like helping other businesses grow because it was so hard for me to get out there. To get a little… just a little space to say, Hey, I’m here!’ So, you know, we can make sure other businesses, especially Black women, get a little start. Somewhere to start and grow.”

Le’le slay station, a children’s braiding service, Margo Creative Designs, which features crystal jewelry and artisan soaps and oils, and Sophisticated Soldier Apparel, a family clothing brand, all rent a small section of The Art is in the Hat, which promotes their business in an economically sound way.

Margo Wells, owner of Margo Creative Designs, shares how the space has been helpful for her business, saying, “She’s helped me establish my business in a new area. Jan is in a location that I always wanted to be in. I live around the corner and have been looking at this building forever. She had available space, and I immediately jumped on it because it was a Godsend. She’s helped me to establish a rebirth.”

She continues: “Location is everything for a business, especially if you’re relying on foot traffic. This quarter has been here for years and has had its ebbs and flows. Now, the location can’t do anything but thrive, especially once the weather breaks in. I just think that this location is going to be very prosperous for us.”

Matthews doesn’t plan on dropping the hat anytime soon. She, alongside the other business owners of the Maplewood Mall, is planning a full calendar of events to bring rapport back to the once bustling shopping strip to ensure that her business makes it past the three to five-year mark. 

The Art is in the Hat is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the Instagram page @theartisinthehatphl or call (267) 603-3230.