During a recent tour of the Allentown II Apartments, I noticed that a new boutique called Incarnata had opened next door at 19 Allen Street. As I was running late, I fleetingly popped my head in to see what it was all about. The shop owner, Abbie Willard, gave me a super quick rundown, but it turned out that I needed a lot more time to discuss the wonderful little vintage clothing and textile oasis, so we caught up over a phone call a few days later.
First off, I was curious about the name, Incarnata.
“It’s part of a latin term for the species of swamp milkweed that’s native to WNY – Asclepias incarnata,” she informed me. “Due to my interest in plants, I looked at a lot of botanical words, and that one popped out at me. I realized that it was related to milkweed, thus the pollinators – and it’s a cool sounding word and easy to pronounce.”
Abbie told me that while she is originally from northern California, she ended up going to high school in the Adirondacks. Upon returning to California to attend college, she longed to come back east.
“A friend of mine from high school was in Buffalo and I came for a visit. I fell in love with the city… that was eight years ago. I hope to live here for the rest of my life. It’s such a beautiful place. I went to Hunters Creek this morning for a hike, and then came to work at the shop in Allentown – it’s a very accessible lifestyle. And it’s affordable, with a great mix of nature and city life.”
Although Abbie studied international relations at UC Berkeley, with a focus on agriculture, she told me that it’s all intertwined.
“I was working on farms, which led to working as a baker,” she said. “In my spare time I developed the sewing and the textile work. It’s all about the material world – trying to make things affordable, nourishing, and useful to people. I figured that I would let all of these interests lead me to where I needed to be, guided by my love for sewing. When the pandemic hit, I decided that it was time to take my interests and skills out into the daylight… out into the world. I had been selling vintage clothes for a long time. I rolled my studio into it, which is where I work.”
Abbie and I share a passion for local urban agriculture. During out conversation, we ended up going down that rabbit hole, discussing the promising nature of proliferating urban farms.
“That type of sustainable environment was a big motivator for establishing my business in Buffalo,” Abbie told me. “Local sustainable economies… and the larger agricultural region and its economic power. We’re consciously shifting to support local economies. It’s possible to make clothing here in Buffalo, instead of supporting the catastrophic global clothing manufacturing that has overtaken the economy. There’s a history here in Buffalo, with industry and ingenuity – you can see the footprint of the abandoned industry… the ghosts… it’s a real motivator to reinvent the city. It’s something that I want to be a part of.”
As for vintage clothing in Buffalo, there was a time when there were more retro shops along Elmwood, Hertel, and Allentown. While there are still some vintage shops around, there are not nearly as many as there used to be. That’s one of the reasons that we should be supporting Abbie and her new venture. Abbie’s commitment to the planet is another reason. And her penchant for textiles and the lost art of sewing is another motivator.
“I love making one-of-a-kind handmade items using repurposed materials,” said Abbie. “I’m inspired by these fabrics, which are so durable. I love sourcing quality materials including cotton, linen, and silk. I make housewares, such as pillows, quilts, wallhangings, tote bags, hair scrunchies, and clothing of course.”
Abbie is a great asset to Buffalo. I say this because she really gets this city, and the region. She intrinsically understands what’s important, and what makes this city so special.
“There are so many cool businesses here,” she said. “Like Oxford Pennant and Stitch Buffalo – they are so inspirational. There’s this underground world of textiles and sewing here, and it’s growing. People who sew are always cool [laughing]. I’m excited to be part of the maker community. I want to support other artists and makers. I do this by carrying handmade jewelry from a couple of local designers. I will also be showcasing different makers at First Friday events and at pop-ups during the holidays. Incarnata is a multipurpose business with different creative outlets.”
Not only does the Incarnata shop front look inviting, Abbie’s take on life is equally welcoming (and invigorating). Incarnata is a great addition to the eclectic Allentown vibe. It’s these types of businesses, and attitudes, that go a long way towards making Buffalo a more interesting, welcoming, thoughtful, and sustainable place to visit… and live.