By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Aaron Patton
Editor’s Note: CEO Spotlight is a recurring monthly feature on CEOs, presidents and business owners in the Wichita area.
Janelle King has become one of the most fervent wavers of Wichita’s flag – by offering one of the largest selections of flag merchandise and by immersing herself in both the local business community and cultural scene.
But she’ll be the first to tell you that more than 15 years ago, she never imagined she’d pick up that banner.
As a teenager, she couldn’t wait to leave Wichita for other parts of the state – the college town of Manhattan and then the bigger urban setting of Kansas City, places filled with more culture and tradition than the middle of Kansas where she’d spent her high school years, she thought.
With the impending birth of the first of her two daughters and the added financial costs that such a milestone event brings, she came back to Wichita in 2004 for the practical reason of a lower cost of living with the added bonus of being closer to family.
When she realized living in Wichita was going to be a more permanent thing, she decided she’d go all in with her efforts to make a life here for her and her family – and to make it a cool, hip place for others, too.
“When I came back, while I was pleasantly surprised that it was better than I remembered, there was still more that could be done,” King said. “I’m a little on the impatient side so I don’t want to wait for change to happen. You can sit around and complain or you can do something to make it better.”
She found a job with a now-defunct local furniture and home design business, and built up an impressive list of interior design clients with her marketing skills, honed while working as a marketing director for a national health care center. She found she loved indulging her creative side, the one that had been nurtured by her mother who had taken her to art fairs and other creative events as a kid.
In 2013, King opened her business, The Workroom, an interior design company, sewing workroom and local artist consignment shop. and coined the term “flag swag” as she started selling fabric remnants with the now ubiquitous Wichita flag printed on them. In part, her business was founded out of the necessity of needing to find qualified seamstresses to custom-sew the home furnishings she wanted to provide to clients. The flag swag turned out to be a successful, initial calling card for her business.
She employs a full-time seamstress and contracts with others for design work. The Workroom, which occupies 3,200 square feet at 150 N. Cleveland, also sells the wares of about 100 local artists and has perhaps the largest selection of Wichita flag merchandise, which has expanded beyond those initial remnants.
As an artist and a business owner in the Douglas Design District, she’s become a proponent of shopping local and is helping fuel the creative spark that seems to permeate that nearly 3-mile stretch from Washington to Oliver on Wichita’s beloved and historic Douglas Avenue. The district recently extended its north and south boundaries from 2nd Street to Kellogg. According to the DDD website, the district is home to more than 300 locally owned businesses. King serves as president of the DDD’s business association, which was founded about a decade ago.
She said she got more involved as she started finding other like-minded business owners who want to create a movement for engaging creative people, entrepreneurs and citizens in different ways and fill residents with Wichita pride.
King has two degrees – a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Kansas State University and a master’s in organizational development from Friends University – and she’s putting both to use with events she spearheads and organizes.
She founded Avenue Art Days in fall 2015 as way to bring color to the district, and then created the DDD’s 2nd Saturday Artisan Market. Avenue Art Days is now an annual falltime event, drawing both artists and community members to create murals together at various businesses. The murals – many of which incorporate the Wichita flag, local icons and other items that showcase the city – have become popular with businesses, residents and visitors, often serving as backdrops for selfies and posed pictures.
She’s currently involved in the Wichita Community Foundation’s Up the Ambition program that is helping fund 11 projects to engage the community in inventive ways. King is the lead coordinator in an upcoming summertime project called Level Up, a party being staged in the former Macy’s parking garage at 215 S. Market. Musicians, artists, makers, local food vendors, local brewers and more will fill the garage’s different loops and levels. With a date yet to be determined for the party, “the idea is for it to feel like a constant exploration and surprise around every turn,” King said. “It will all culminate with a rooftop party.”
Her self-described “impatient side” has driven her to other involvement, too: working with city officials on plans to renovate and revive the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park at 205 E. Douglas, which is the site of the former Woolworth building, and pushing for implementation of the city’s Douglas Revitalization Plan.
“I’m not afraid to get involved and speak my opinion,” said King, who earlier that day had been at a City Council meeting for discussions on the proposed future of Century II.
As The Workroom’s pet mascot, a parakeet named Mr. Artie, chirped in the background, King was a bit cagey when asked about future plans for her business: “I’m looking at some more business ventures that are complementary to where I’m at.”
But one thing’s for sure, she’ll keep looking for ways to expand her community involvement and engagement to make Wichita a desirable place to call home and to visit.
“I don’t know what maintaining is. I’m always looking for what’s next.”