5 Questions with… Jessie Williams

As Edge of Urge turns 20, its founder talks supporting local makers and giving back to the community.
As told to Ayn-Monique Klahre

Jessie Williams, owner of Edge of Urge | Photo by Eamon Queeney

Jessie Williams is the founder and owner of Edge of Urge, a clothing and gift store off Person Street known for its quirky, cheeky collections and emphasis on supporting smaller makers. July 2022 marks 20 years since Williams opened her first Edge of Urge, in Wilmington, and since then she’s also expanded into a men’s store, Unlikely Professionals, as well as a gift shop at the Raleigh-Durham Airport named Root & Branch. We caught up with her to hear about the last two decades of business — what’s changed, what’s stayed the same and what’s next.

Tell me about the early days of Edge of Urge…

So I opened the first location, in Wilmington, on the Fourth of July in 2002. It’s crazy that we just turned 20 – sometimes I still feel like a teenager! The Raleigh shop opened in 2014, and Unlikely Professionals opened in November of 2019. We’d just gotten our alcohol permit, and then we had to close. 

Everybody’s got their Covid stories — it was hard in so many ways. But it also forced us to dig deep and get creative. We tried to focus our energies on online sales, and that really took off. We offered curbside pickup, we amped up our gift wrapping. The community really showed up; we’re so fortunate to be surrounded by awesome people.

We opened again in October of 2020 after being closed for several months. I was so scared, not just for my own family but for my team. It was hard to be in a leadership position. First I went into this state of paralysis. But then it was like, wait a minute — when I opened my business, I was sewing. So I’m going to make face masks! So we started making those in the early days when no one could find them, and that kept us busy. And then we had this idea to make mystery boxes, where someone would call and say, I want to give a gift to my friend, she likes this or that, and we’d put together the perfect boxes. We’re actually still doing those, people love them.

Then we did some fundraisers where people could purchase mystery boxes for staff at hospitals in Wilmington and Raleigh. We’re big on supporting the community. 

Has supporting the community always been part of the ethos?

Yes, that’s been a huge part of Edge of Urge. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the underdog. When I was first starting out, I’d try to get my work into stores but I couldn’t. And I thought, fine, I’ll start my own store. I want Edge of Urge to be a safe space for makers. Even if they aren’t a good fit, I make sure I talk about what I do like, or guide them toward someone else who will help them sell their work. 

It’s just so important to me to give back to the community. We’ve done fashion shows and all kinds of fundraisers for local organizations over the years. I taught a class at DREAMS of Wilmington, a youth development organization. We did a big fundraiser for Nourish NC; we raised money when hurricanes Florence and Michael came through. We donate clothing to Dress for Success, to shelters for domestic abuse. Giving back is a big thing we do. I just have this heart that won’t quit. And I enjoy making fun products and creating fun events that can help.

What causes are you supporting now?

Right now, a big focus is the Carolina Abortion Fund. Even before Roe vs. Wade was overturned, we were just gutted with the possibility and wondered, what can we do? So based on the success of our t-shirts benefitting Nourish NC and Everytown, we decided to do the same thing and make t-shirts with the proceeds benefiting the fund. One of our staffers, Lily Hurr, designed the shirt and we did an Instagram poll to choose the colors. We’ve raised more than $30,000 already. It’s just amazing to feel like we can make a difference with our craft. And Lily is so talented. We’ve got the best team.

Photo by Alyssa Izquierdo | taken at Wonderpuff

What do you foresee in the next 20 years?

It’s so funny, you’d think that after 20 years you’d know what you’re doing, but I don’t feel like I do. We’re trying to find ways to grow and do things differently — this is the year we’re going to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I’ve done a lot of mentoring, especially coaching. When I first started, every single item in the store was handmade, but now it’s mixed with some brands that have grown over the years. People think that handmade means, like, grandma made a potholder, but there are so many things! I love to have beautiful pieces of jewelry or apparel or toys from brands people are familiar with right next to ones they’ve never heard of. Some of the bigger brands now were just babies when we started, like jewelry designer I Like it Here Club, the hair accessory brand Chunks or reusable tote company BAGGU. I remember buying from that designer at her very first trade show, and it’s been great watching something like that take off. 

Do you feel responsible for helping them grow?

It’s a little chicken and egg. We want to support new makers, and we get so many inquiries from people, we could easily outgrow our space. But I feel like it’s my duty to give back in some way, whether that’s supporting local makers or donating money for a cause. Not everyone’s in a position to do that, but I believe that giving back and contributing is how you really flourish. It keeps you grounded.