Stocked with screen- printed bamboo T-shirts, locally made soap and art depicting shotgun houses, it's clear that Bywater Clothing (4432 Magazine St., 504-502-6206; www.bywaterclothing.com) is an homage to New Orleans. What's less obvious is why the Magazine Street boutique is named for a downtown neighborhood. Founder JoAnne Casey says she named the shop for the neighborhood where she grew up. After 30 years away from New Orleans, Casey felt compelled to return in 2008.
"I needed to come back home," Casey says. "I decided when I was putting [the store] together to try to put as much New Orleans stuff in it as I could. Most of the stuff in here is locally designed, locally made or handmade."
Casey founded NOLAGirl when she returned to the city. It was a departure from her 27-year career in insurance claims, so Casey started small: by selling her bamboo T-shirts at local festivals and expos.
"I have a good friend who's a runner, and she suggested I try the racing expos," Casey says. "I didn't think it was my thing, but I decided after a couple years of her bugging me that I should try it, and it has turned out really well."
Last year, Casey saw an opportunity for a storefront location and opened Bywater Clothing in June 2015. Casey sells her NOLAGirl brand and bamboo clothing, as well as work by more than 20 local artists. Gifts, clothing, mugs, signed and mounted watercolors, jewelry, books, home accessories and more round out the shop's inventory.
Bywater Clothing uses a portion of its proceeds to donate dog food to Animal Rescue New Orleans. "We typically donate 300 pounds of dog food every four to six weeks," Casey says. "We try to help out as much as we can, because my rescue dog came from there."
Casey enjoys getting to know the artists and storeowners on Magazine Street and participating in community events by hosting book signings and live music during Art for Art's Sake. Although her entry into the world of athletic wear was unexpected, Casey says the local running community inspired her to compete.
"I was looking at my goals from a couple years ago, and one of them was to do a 5K," Casey says. "Now, I've done a 10K, a half-marathon, and then when I was 59, I did my first triathlon."
Though Casey came in last place at the triathlon, the shirt she wore (and designed) sums up her attitude: "It said, 'Dead last is greater than not starting.'"