About ten years ago, when I lived in the suburbs outside of Chicago, my friends and I were obsessed with racing our bicycles...specifically shoddy, rusty old road bikes that had been clumsily converted to fixed gear. One summer we took up the habit of riding to the nearest Metra train station to catch the last train into the city on a week night with our bikes. We'd ride through the empty streets all night until we caught the earliest morning train back to the suburbs. We'd crash, wake up, try to repair whatever damage had been done to the bike the night prior, and ride back to the train station to hop the late train again.
So many nights that summer we ended up on the East end of Division Street, near Lake Shore Drive, just riding in circles and goofing off. Our group had a lot of ambition back then - lots of big dreams but not many resources, experience, or networks. One night in a Subway restaurant we decided we would start "a business" together. Truthfully, I have no memory of what that business was going to be, but what it did have right off the bat was a name - Division & Co.
Over the next 7 years that name stuck with me and was applied to a number of different projects, always based around clothing or fashion in some capacity - a merch fulfillment website for small clothing lines and bands, a co-op photo studio in my rented 50,000sq ft ex-paper mill warehouse (a story for another time), among other things. Until finally, about two and a half years ago, I was looking to expand the services that could be offered by the screen printing shop I was working for and started sewing old school wool pennants and championship banners. The project didn't exactly excite my boss at the time, but I was hooked on it, and the Division & Co. name was applied one more time.
With the help of a lot of friends, family, and my then-girlfriend, Rikki, Division & Co. took over my entire life, allowed me to quit my job, start working for myself, and begin to figure out how to run a business (still working on that part). We focused on becoming a unique, specialty sewing shop that operated something like a screen printing shop but with a more personal and premium touch to every product.
I started designing, producing and selling my own apparel and accessories under the DivCo name and slinging them at local art markets and pop up shops. At the beginning of 2018 I started renting my first workshop and studio (a monumental day for me) which eventually was renovated and expanded to hold a tiny retail store. That store held mostly products we had produced ourselves, along side a couple of curated items we added along the way (I believe Autopoint mechanical pencils and Field Notes were the very first).
Over the next twelve months the business grew reasonably well, we kept on sewing banners and sweatshirts and doing our best to stay on top of orders. We eventually moved out of the cinderblock workshop on 3rd Street to a beautiful, 1500sq ft storefront just a few blocks away on Madison Street. It had been a beauty salon for 15 years before us - it was painted a horrible deep red inside and the floors were stained with hair dye, but it was a big clean slate. We set up shop with basically the same structure as before - a tiny customer facing retail shop in front of our workshop.
The store portion grew very, very slowly. It remained mostly clothing, pennants, and banners that we were producing when we had extra time (ha ha) or some creative juice flowing. But the store had always been the most intriguing part to me. Most of my late teens and early 20's were spent working retail jobs both for big names and boutiques, and the customer interaction and relationship was something I really missed.
At the beginning of 2020 Rikki and I decided the boutique needed more attention, and we needed to go with our guts and pursue what we were passionate about. We spent the year building inventory as best we could, getting in touch with our favorite brands, going to trade shows....and battling COVID with the rest of the world.
So, here we are, at the end of 2020: We love our store, we love getting to work with our favorite clothing producers and getting to put their products in our customer's hands. We came to a head one day and realized that the name 'Division & Co.' didn't feel like us anymore - in fact, it never really did. Rikki and I had spent every ounce of energy we had building our store up and yet the name that represented it all was a reference to a distant memory with teenage friends.
Rikki and I got married this October, and our small business became a family business. Suddenly that took on a lot more meaning and depth - it is everything to us, it's the culmination of our joint vision and effort, blood, sweat, and tears. We felt like it deserved a name that represented that love and history well, so we settled on Thirdmark - a reference to the intersection of 3rd and Market streets downtown rockford - where our first apartment together was across the street from that first workshop in the back of a cinderblock warehouse.
Our store is still very small and with limited brands and inventory, but we love what we do. We love our little shop, the natural light that comes through the front windows every morning, the friends and regular shoppers who come in to support us and see what's new every week. We have a vision for this place and we are extremely excited for the future of Thirdmark.