Crest Hill’s Kate’s Boutique features unique, handmade fashions

Owner Kate Ognoskie poses for a photo inside Kate’s Unique Boutique on Thursday, Feb. 8th 2024 in Crest Hill.

Crest Hill — “Anyone who is struggling and thinks they can’t do something, I want to prove you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Those are the words of Kate Ognoskie, owner of Kate’s Unique Boutique on Larkin Avenue in Crest Hill, and her journey to opening her own clothing shop proves their truth.

Before starting her own business, Ognoskie worked as a health care worker. She said she wanted a change of pace.

“I started to think about what I wanted to do, and I’ve always liked to sew and I always liked fashion,” she said. “I thought, ‘let’s bring those things together.’”

Ognoskie started her custom fashion business online just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

Kate’s Unique Boutique in Crest Hill offers a variety of fashion merchandise from hats to handmade childrens clothing.

“The next thing I knew, I was starting a business in a pandemic, which actually worked out OK because I was working from home and everyone else was sitting at home shopping online,” she said.

As she started out, Ognoskie worked from her small home office in Coal City, packing and shipping orders for her online business.

She then started taking her merchandise to farmer’s markets and other events around the state before moving to Joliet.

In 2022, however, she was faced with a major setback. On her way to see a friend, Ognoskie was involved in a serious car crash that impaired her mobility for a year.

“They say the most serious accidents happen near home, and they’re right,” Ognoskie said. “I was about a mile away from my house, and my surgeon said I’m lucky I still have my leg.”

During her recovery, Ognoskie thought she may lose her fledgling business, but some assistance from her mother helped her pull through.

“My mom actually moved in with me for a year while I had to use a wheelchair and crutches to get around,” Ognoskie said. “She helped me package everything up and keep things organized. She’s in her 70s, so I didn’t expect her to do so much of it. She kept saying, ‘I don’t know how you do this all by yourself,’ but we were able to adapt and overcome.”

Helping her through her recovery is not the only way Ognoskie’s mother has influenced her business. Her love of sewing was passed down to her from her mother and grandmother.

“I didn’t grow up poor, but fashion wasn’t really a priority for us,” Ognoskie said. “We went to a private school, so we had uniforms for that, and we made a lot of our clothes. The only stuff we really bought were clothes for church on Sunday and some things for after school.

“My mom made two of my four cousins’ bridesmaids’ dresses, and my grandma and great-aunt did quilting. All of them would collect old shirts and fabric throughout the year, and they’d sit together and make them into quilts that they’d donate to shelters for the homeless or people who couldn’t afford blankets.

“That was always really important to me. I loved being around that and helping.”

As Ognoskie grew up, she joined 4-H club, where she learned sewing, crocheting, quilting and embroidery, among other skills that she now uses in her business.

Putting on a personal touch

Ognoskie sells handmade clothes for children and a line of pet clothes she creates herself at Kate’s Boutique, as well as brands from wholesalers.

She is looking to expand her custom and handmade offerings.

“I am trying to get more designs finished before I start promoting my custom pieces online, but I have sold them at craft fairs and farmers markets,” Ognoskie said. “I am also working on expanding my menswear offerings in the shop, because now we are focused mostly on women’s clothes.”

Kate’s Unique Boutique in Crest Hill offers a variety of fashion merchandise from hats to customized clothing.

While most of Ognoskie’s offerings are from other brands, she also offers unique services at the boutique for customizing clothes, including alterations and tailoring as well as custom T-shirt and accessory printing, embroidery and bedazzling.

Another important factor to Ognoskie is affordability. Most of the items in her shop are priced lower than other stores, which Ognoskie said comes from her desire to help her community.

“I try to keep more reasonable prices,” she said. “I know kids want to have fashionable clothes but it’s hard to afford. Look at the price of groceries.

“Fashion can become a lower priority, but I want everybody to make an affordable shopping experience for everybody. That’s always been one of my main goals.”

To aid in that goal, Ognoskie said she regularly runs promotions and has a loyalty program on her website and with punch-cards in the physical shop, which she officially opened in August.

Being community-minded

“I always want people to feel welcome and like they have someplace they could go in the community if they were in need,” Ognoskie said. “One of my longtime clients had a fire at her house and told me all her clothes smelled like smoke. I told her to come in and gave her a voucher to pick out what she wanted at the shop.

“Helping the community is so important. Everybody needs a support system. If we don’t help each other out, we don’t have a lot.”

The idea of becoming more involved with the community and helping out other residents and businesses is part of what drove Ognoskie to join the Crest Hill Chamber of Commerce, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 25 to welcome her to the community.

“Getting your name out there when you start up is really the biggest thing,” Ognoskie said. “The chamber has been a great help, and I hope it’s a way I can get more involved with the community.”

Along with clothing Kate’s Unique Boutique highlights and sells work by local artist, currently featuring the work of Chloe Albert.

Although Ognoskie has only been operating the stand-alone shop for a few months, she already has plans to expand.

During 2025, she said, she hopes to have some renovations done inside to give her a bigger space to do alterations for clients, and, if all goes well, she hopes to open a second location in the coming years in the Joliet or Plainfield area.

“I like this location a lot,” Ognoskie said. “It’s been great getting out of the house and being able to socialize more with my clients. I want to stay in the same vicinity but not too close to the current shop.

“I think it would be good to have a location that’s more dedicated to my custom work and alterations and one for the regular shop because some of the machines I use to customize pieces take up a lot of space.”

Ognoskie said the growth of the business has almost been overwhelming at times, but she has been very happy with how things have gone.

“I wouldn’t have believed I’d have gotten this far a year or year and a half ago,” she said. “It’s been a lot of stress, but I wouldn’t change it. I’m lucky I have an amazing family who has supported me.”

Kate’s Unique Boutique is located at 1701 N. Larkin Ave., Suite 304 in Crest Hill.