Denver's Berkeley neighborhood has been home to plenty of stores catering to the fashion needs of men. But Liana Hill, a Boston-born designer who moved to Colorado to work with Topo Designs as director of retail, noticed that women in this city had few options.
Having observed how small apparel companies designed, produced, marketed and sold fashion at Topo, she longed to open her own shop. And last September, Hill left her job and set out to launch a sustainability-oriented womenswear boutique named Dona Forta.
"I took that leap," explains Hill. "I was just designing a collection, but I had very developed ideas of what the store would look like and what brands we would carry."
Her store's mission statement was to the point: "We reject fleeting trends and poorly made disposable clothing. Rather, we embrace the opportunity to build wardrobes over time which reflect ourselves. Clothing that aligns with our values and reflects, in part, the mystery of our uniqueness.”
To bring Dona Forta to life, Hill's husband, Matthew Allard, helped gut and redesign a former photography studio a few doors down from the Oriental Theater into the boutique, even creating an elegant fitting room. Hill designed the first Dona Forta collection, an in-house line of quality garments, working with her mother-in-law, Lynn Allard, a local seamstress and costume designer, to produce the collection using Italian linen and other premium fabrics. Hill focused on recycled objects — including animal bones discarded by the restaurant industry — to make buttons.
"I am trying to make classic pieces,” Hill says. “I worked on making patterns with Lynn, and she offered to make the collection, which was fifty pieces, so she sewed the whole collection. She is a wonderful seamstress; everything is super-smooth and finished."
The store opened on International Women's Day, March 8.
Hill's vision is based in part in her store's name, Dona Forta, which means "strong woman" in Catalan.
“I believe that strong women know who they are and are comfortable with who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin. They don’t need to pretend," says Hill. "I hope my shop creates a space for strong women to shop according to their personal style.”
Every season, Hill will design a new Dona Forta collection. "I really like these shapes and silhouettes," she says, pointing toward her current offerings. "I feel like the fall collection will be similar. Then I would like to expand more. I'm a big texture person, and I wanted some seams hidden and clothes that lay nice and smooth. I want more versatile clothes for different demographics and different clients."
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The shop is situated between Miller Lane Mercantile and Blush, creating a string of three woman-owned business in a row. “I feel like I have co-workers," Hill says. "We opened around the same time, and we all want this block to be successful together."
Hill will keep her shop stocked with modern, versatile and durable items, catering to costumers who develop their own style rather than chasing trends. Eventually, she plans to sell her collection elsewhere and host a fashion show, all while still staying rooted in the neighborhood and community.
"Everything I have in here I have brought in because I believe it is made very well and has a timeless quality, so you can keep it for a long time. I also really want pieces to be useful in multiple areas of your life,” says Hill. "I have definitely paid attention to how things are made, who's making them, and how the Earth is being cared for."
Dona Forta, at 4309 West 44th Avenue, will be open during each First Friday on Tennyson, including Friday, May 3, offering drinks, live music and extended hours.