Johanna Witham opened The Purple Cow in Wakefield in 1989. Since then, she’s retired, leaving her daughter Melinda Witham in charge along with manager of 17 years, Gina Matteson.
You have such an eclectic mix of products, clothing and jewelry. What’s in the style manifesto of the Purple Cow?
My mother, Johanna Witham, has an amazing sense of style. Growing up in Amsterdam, she’s always been ahead of the fashion curve. She taught me to love bright and beautiful statement pieces, to be myself, buy what I love and to set fashion trends. Mom always thought it was important to have jewelry that people would remember. She taught me well!
Is jewelry similar to a wardrobe in that it should change with the seasons?
Yes. I’ve always thought that jewelry and accessories are more important than clothing and should change with the seasons. For instance, the simple black dress becomes a knockout with elegant earrings and a luxurious scarf.
What are some of your favorite pieces of jewelry for spring?
After the long, gray winter, we can finally wear some nice bright colors for spring. Bright green and blue JoJo Loves You bracelets and Bling earrings are always a sure bet, as is Alex and Ani. My personal favorites include Alexis Bittar’s Lucite Collection Earrings with Swarovski crystals and Ayala Bar Beach Party Earrings that mix hot pink, yellow and lime green with brilliant blue.
Is there a way to be kitschy cute without being kitschy crazy?
In my opinion, the term kitsch in fashion means one-of-a-kind. It’s something we should all strive for. Wear what makes you feel good and stand out in the crowd as the individual you are.
What are some current trends?
Clothing is a canvas for jewelry and accessories. We always have flowing feminine styles that look great on everyone. This spring, we’ll be seeing brighter colors and lots of stripes. I love the Oh My Gauze line, it’s the perfect mix of color and interesting shapes to suit a wide range of women.
What are some customer favorites?
Patricia Locke jewelry has definitely been a favorite for many years, along with Ayala Bar and Silver Seasons. The real customer favorite though is the at- mosphere of our store. Women come to escape, listen to music, chat and look at our beautiful products. Many people find The Purple Cow Co. to be a sunny spot on a gray day and that’s a good feeling for us.
How has the store’s style evolved?
My mother started the store as a place to sell her beautiful pottery. We started with one small jewelry case and look at us now. Our customers have driven our growth, with many of our best lines coming from their suggestions.
You’re a big supporter of local artists. What do you look for when you bring in a new, locally made product?
It’s important that the artist stands behind the work and is serious. For many artists, it’s a short fling but the serious ones I’m so lucky to have. One of the bests, Nerigna Aiello, actually works in our store. She does an amazing job on her beaded semi-precious stone earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
What’s behind the name?
Mom was trying to come up with a name. Growing up in Holland she loved the color purple, the color of the queen. She kept saying, “purple, purple, purple...” and I said “cow.” From that the name was born. A cow of a different color: it has worked well for us.