No matter how you dress it up, your ‘little redemption’ comes from within

 Galit Carmely holds court at her Old City boutique My Little Redemption. (Images courtesy of Lauren Elena McGrath)

Galit Carmely holds court at her Old City boutique My Little Redemption. (Images courtesy of Lauren Elena McGrath)

If you wander Old City north of Market Street, you pass through a rich mix of charming boutiques, boarded storefronts plastered with permits for the updates going on inside, and cafés and restaurants with sidewalk seats under the now-green trees. In short, lots of spaces for dreaming and imagining.

As I’ve walked those pathways, I was especially taken by a spot on 3rd Street that seemed to capture all these spaces of imagining — a clothing boutique with a café-like table-and-chairs out front, with unusual styles in its windows, and facing the currently empty façade of the romantic old Samuel Machinery company across the street.

I wandered in and felt like I had stepped into one of the old fin de siècle French salons (not that I was ever in one, but that’s where the imagination thing kicks in). Women’s clothing lined the walls, and the center was taken up by a set of comfy sofas and a table under an ornate chandelier, and mainly, a striking woman named Galit Carmely who presided over the space and welcomed me as if into her home. So … I made myself at home. And we talked.

The name of the shop, My Little Redemption, was intriguing to me, as were the clothes. They had a style I hadn’t seen anywhere else, and as I touched the fabrics, they seemed an unusual combination of elegant and supremely comfortable. The tops and bottoms were cut such that their shapes were undefined on the hanger, which of course only invited trying on. And when I did, and as I watched other customers as well, each of us with very different body types, what fascinated me was how the clothing adapted so well to each body. This seemed pretty redemptive to me.

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But what about to Carmely? What was redemptive about the space for her?

She laughed. “We’ll have to start somewhere simpler than that,” she said.

Two loves drew her to Philadelphia

So we perched outside at the café table (at least three Duck Boats went by while we chatted, and a couple of open tour buses, and pretty much every stripe of Old City wanderer), and instead of redemption, we started with clothing. “Ah, that’s easy,” Carmely said. From the time she’d been a teen, growing up in Israel, she’d wanted to have her own clothing boutique, and her taste began to form from her experience of the culture there.

It was love of another sort that brought her to the United States in 2002, she says, referring to her husband. And carried with her a love of clothing and knowledge of Israeli designers and fabrics.

For several years, clothing remained Carmely’s avocation, as she raised two children and ran the Hebrew department for the Jewish Community High School. When she finally got back to Israel after her first years away, she said it brought her back to what she had been missing. Remembering that time, she used the sensual metaphor of food.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” she said, laughing. “I wanted everything. I missed it. I had been starving for this unique fashion-forward edginess. I came to life, which is exactly what I feel when I come into the store here. So I ate — overate!

“But it gave me that affirmation that that’s who I am and that that’s what was missing for me for so long. It’s not just the clothes, it’s the whole culture. It’s the vibe, the people, the interaction with the people. Everything feels so alive in Israel. Since it’s a small country, everybody wants to show themselves and have their own fingerprint. That was exciting for me. I became even more aware of it by being away.”

A dream of Israel takes shape

So feeling replete with her matured sense of self and love for Israeli designs, the threads of thought about a store of her own — from her childhood dream — began to weave themselves together. It happened organically, she says: “I was just entertaining myself with the idea. I knew it was time to close the chapter with the high school. At the same time, I felt something burning inside, a ball of fire, making me want to do something. It was creativity needing to get out. It was the right time for this store to develop.”

Then around October 2013, something popped up in her inbox. “I got an email about Tel Aviv Fashion Week, and that’s when it started to roll. I was determined to get a ticket. I introduced myself as someone opening a boutique to promote Israeli designers and I needed to explore the options. I got in!

“That’s when everything began to become more real. I didn’t know about location for the store yet. I began to explore Chestnut Hill and Abington, and then Center City.”

Her husband told her about this cozy space on 3rd St., and, she says, it made sense for her to be there — in more than one way.

“Third St. was the area I’d been coming to since I came to America. And I knew Geula [the shop owner of nearby Café Ole], it’s where I had coffee and would imagine. That café is Israeli; it felt like home. All the people who walk by, the vibe. It all makes so much sense, it just took me ten years to realize it.” The shop opened in October 2014.

Which — finally — got us around to the question of the shop’s name. “I knew it was My Little ‘Something.’ I wanted it to feel cozy and welcoming, so it had to be little.”

But redemption?

“It came at a time when I was ready to take the masks off and to be the most authentically myself. Like what I said about Israel — everyone wants to show themselves. So for me it was taking the masks away and being authentic to who I am, showing myself — and this [store] is me. That’s the redemption. Redeeming myself of what the society expects of me as a woman, a mother, achieving traditional success.

“Even when I was dressing up [before], it wasn’t authentic enough. I was disguising, looking good on the outside, and would get compliments on the outside. And at some point it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be great because who I am outside is who I am inside. The store is a tool to bring out myself. It’s not the goal. It’s a means.”

But the gift of her own affirmation and creativity was a gift she was determined to offer other women as well, both through the clothing and through evening gatherings in the space for various groups (hence, the “salon” vibe).

“The redemption is everybody’s,” she says. “It’s clothing that allows women to be themselves and feel great about it.” And in fact, the name Geula — the owner of the café where Carmely had found the space for coffee and imagining — means “redemption” in Hebrew.

“We are often not open enough to see the opportunities, but when we’re ready for something, we’re ready to see it. This was waiting for me on the corner all the time, but I wasn’t able to notice it until I was ready.”

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