Internet fame isn't just for writers, scholars and entertainers. The web's ability to make minor celebrities out of ordinary folks is strengthening more traditional types of businesses. Graphic artist turned clothing designer Natalie Bass laid the foundation for her Monroe Street shop Zip-Dang with her online store Orangyporangy.
Orangyporangy started as a way for Bass to do something many people struggle to do: get paid to make art.
"The main concept behind my clothing is that it's graphic and bold, but at the same time it's really comfortable. Everything has a kind of retro design or style," she says.
In addition to helping Bass define her brand, Orangyporangy led her to her core audience: people in search of what she calls "handmade ladywear." Bass developed a steady stream of customers for her A-line skirts, upcycled tops and screen-printed shirts through a combination of online retail and sales at traveling art shows.
Bass says starting small allowed her to think big.
"I started out of this tiny Madison apartment. That gave me a lot of freedom to figure out what I wanted to do while I was doing it, without making huge commitments or investing a lot of money I didn't have," she says.
Along with her husband, fellow graphic artist Mike, Bass opened Zip-Dang three years ago and has gradually shifted much of her energy toward building that business.
"It's terrifying opening up any kind of shop, but I felt confident about moving forward because I already had an established business that I knew people were into," Bass says. "I never would have started a bricks-and-mortar store without first having a website and a following online."
The Basses value the face-to-face contact a bricks-and-mortar shop provides. They're especially thankful for the support they've received from the neighborhoods along Monroe Street. Zip-Dang is now hiring its first employees, and there are plans to open a Monroe Street workspace that will double as a pop-up retail store where other local artists can sell their wares.
Bass is shocked at how effective social media has been for reaching customers right here in Madison.
"It's insane how well Facebook works for business," she says. "It's just cool to feel connected to the people who are paying attention to what we're doing."