Award-winning Riverview designer opens up new fashion boutique

Paula Neuman

Even a pandemic hasn’t kept award-winning fashion designer and artist Cheryl Zemke from expressing herself in new ways.

In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has inspired her work.

Zemke, who lives in Riverview, has opened a boutique in downtown Wyandotte to share her handmade clothing and accessories, paintings and fabric art even as she continues to offer the costume design, bridal fashion and alterations that — pre-pandemic —she did from her home.

In July, the Washington Post featured Zemke’s painting, “Hold Me,” in an article, “The Best Art created by Washington Post readers during the pandemic.” The acrylic painting depicts embracing lovers wearing only masks and gloves and surrounded by virus molecules.

During the strictest part of the Covid lockdown, Zemke couldn’t have customers come into her home. So she devoted her sewing skills, time and energy to make thousands of masks, most of which she donated to health care workers when personal protective gear was in short supply.

Shoppers at the new Cheryl Zemke Boutique, 2938 Biddle Ave., Suite 4, can buy her handmade masks there as well as one-of-a-kind clothing items, hand-painted silk scarves, paintings large and small, fabric jewelry and a host of other items.

She has a degree in marketing from Lawrence Technological University and a degree in merchandising management from the International Academy of Design Technology. Zemke has won many awards for her fashion design, and in 2014 was named by StyleLine magazine as one of the top 10 “Designers to Watch” in the metropolitan area.

Combining her business savvy and her art has always been a goal.

“When I was in business school, I used to dream up proposals for a fashion boutique,” Zemke said. “I’ve always wanted to do it.”

Some time ago, she had considered renting a space in the building that once housed the Rialto Theatre (1934-56) in downtown Wyandotte for her boutique, but thought she couldn’t afford it. Then this summer in the midst of pandemic precautions, the landlord called her out of the blue.

“He was willing to divide the space,” Zemke said.

 And with that, her dream was off and running.

She and her husband, Martin, spent six weeks of hard work remodeling the Suite 4 space from floor to ceiling. Her before-and-after photos show the transformation to the bright, art-filled space the boutique occupies today.

“I had a vision as soon as I came in here,” Zemke said. “Now I just look around and imagine how it looked when I first came in.”

Her Oct. 2 grand opening party drew a large crowd of people, who ogled the art and enjoyed music and a fashion show with models wearing her fashions strutting their stuff on Biddle Avenue, even as mask-clad attendees kept appropriate social distance.

Zemke has been an artist as long as she can remember, but she didn’t take an art class until she was in seventh grade. So inspiring youngsters is important to her.

“I just want to encourage kids to do art,” she said.

The boutique is offering “Engaging Imaginations,” a monthly art challenge for children up to age 17. Applicants can pick up a free bag of art supplies — some coloring pages, paper and crayons or colored pencils — to make their creations. Then they can turn their finished artwork in to the boutique by the first of each month to be entered into a contest.