Alibi V.25 No.43 • Oct 27-Nov 2, 2016 

Culture Shock

Join the Spectacle (Caravan)!

Tess Coats & Co. create and curate their way to success

Tess Coats
Tess Coats, curator of Spectacle Caravan
Beth Wells
Born in 1975 of 29 feet of riveted aluminum, Eloise lived with two others before finding her true home with Tess Coats and Ben Adams. Eloise, a beautiful Land Yacht Airstream, completed her metamorphosis into the Spectacle Caravan in May of 2016—a full eight hours before officially debuting at this year's first Railyards Market. Spectacle Caravan is a mobile shop full of tiny luxuries—from handmade shoes to wax cast jewelry to cruelty-free cosmetics—all stuffed into the welcoming metallic interior of a vintage Airstream. “We're providing what I call the re-imagined shopping experience,” Coats, the curator of the shop, described. “We see it as a really cool experience … something that nobody else has offered or done here.”

Coats studied visual communications and merchandise marketing at the Fashion Institute of Design & Marketing in Los Angeles, where she continued to foster what has always been a lifelong fascination with display, design and beauty. Armed with her education, it was natural for her passion to evolve into a storefront, where she could collect and sell the many locally-made wares she'd fallen in love with back in New Mexico. “I've always loved fashion and merchandising, so, I knew one day I'd want to own a store. … But I woke up one morning and realized I should make it a mobile store because it reduced my risk and it helps me not become stuck.” Not only does the Spectacle Caravan have the benefit of being mobile, but Coats is able to curate her inventory based on the location, and doesn't have to struggle—as many new ventures do—under a weighty rent, or be beholden to the interests of a landlord, construction, rent increases and the like. There's a significant amount of freedom in what she and Adams have created—from the low overhead investment, to the low commitment factor—the Spectacle Caravan, in the shape of one big, fateful Airstream, made a bootstrapped business accessible to the pair, and their gorgeous finds accessible to the community.

“I've always loved fashion and merchandising, so, I knew one day I'd want to own a store. … But I woke up one morning and realized I should make it a mobile store because it reduced my risk and it helps me not become stuck.”

Coats' artistic eye is guided simply by what she likes and what she thinks others will, too. After studying fashion and working in merchandising and retail for more than 15 years, she has a good handle on both of those things. Coats discovers her merchandise in a variety of ways—both traditional and not-so-much. For example, over coffee at Zendo she noticed the earrings of a woman sitting nearby. She took a moment to compliment them, and the wearer of the earrings, the creator of Sonámbulo jewelry, Joanna Manganaro replied, “Thanks, I made them!” And Spectacle Caravan has carried the desert-inspired metal and stone work of Sonámbulo ever since.

“I definitely wanted to carry things that people usually can't find … [the] really cool locally-made stuff that nobody knew about” and in doing so, provide a platform for small-scale, local makers to gain an understanding of wholesaling, price setting, collaboration and gaining insights into who their market is and how to multiply it. “It's interesting to grow an economy and a community that way,” Coats mused as Adams, who isn't just the co-owner of Spectacle Caravan, but also her partner, plucked a purple basil leaf from a vase in the middle of the table and ate it. “In that way, when people shop in the Airstream, they're not only supporting our shop, but the other makers … Two local businesses profit from just one purchase.”

Spectacle Caravan merchandise
Tess Coats
While the occasional ignorant men still wander into the Airstream and say to her, “You're a woman and you pull this thing?” (“Yes, we get actual people that say that,” she bemoaned), Coats seems to truly delight in creating a space “where everyone feels comfortable to hang out” and meeting the characters who wouldn't otherwise cross her path. You might think actually crossing that path is tricky, due to the transient nature of the business, but Coats and Adams have their whole calendar filled out until the end of the year. Upcoming stops for the spectacular mobile boutique include a visit to The Grove Cafe (600 Central SE) on Oct. 29, during the Octofair, a stop at the Zendo Block Party (413 Second Street NW) on Nov. 12, the Marble Market at Marble Brewery (111 Marble NW) on Nov. 26 and, to kick off the Christmas season, staking out a spot at Nob Hill Shop & Stroll on Dec. 1. Anticipate the moves of the Spectacle Caravan by following them on Facebook (/spectaclecaravan) or on Instagram (@spectaclecaravan) and of course, by keeping your eyes peeled around town for the lone silver Airstream, being pulled by a woman who happens to hauling some of the most beautiful wares in all the city.