Dawn Patel Talks Fall Fashions and Relocating Brilliant Stranger

A mannikin displays a few of Dawn Patel’s favorite fall items at Brilliant Stranger. Photo by Len Villano.

Thick patterned scarves – teal, brown, gray, pink – are piled in heaps at the entrance of Brilliant Stranger, along with fedoras, mittens, and a pink manikin dressed head to toe in fall fashions.

“My favorite things about fall fashions are the materials, the textures, the coziness,” says owner Dawn Patel. “I think it’s a great time to be selling vintage because not only were the fabrics better quality, they are timeless for fall – plaids, flannels, and tweedy wools never go out of style.”

Patel gestures to the many scarves adorning the retail store. “Clearly I’m a fan of these bulky infinity scarves,” she laughs, “another one of my favorite fall things.” She also suggests vintage cable sweaters. “I like them oversized and wear them with leggings,” she says.

And all the fall fashions – along with the sunglasses, funky jewelry, books, postcards, aprons, purses – must go. ‘Moving Sale’ signs hang throughout the store. After seven years, Patel has decided to pull back, relocate and adjust the focus of Brilliant Stranger.

“It’s really bittersweet,” she says. “I’m really ready to move on because I want to be doing something more aligned with my values. I have a tagline on my ads – ‘More Art, Less Waste’ – but it’s hard to pull that off in a place like this. I have to sell a lot of costume jewelry and made-in-China scarves in order to pay the rent. There I can stick to what I want to be doing – handmade and vintage.”

‘There’ is a newly purchased space south of Egg Harbor, located near The Rusty Tractor and The Feathered Star that Patel will share with her boyfriend Dale Kumbalek, a carpenter who builds musical instruments. The couple plans to have Kumbalek’s guitar-building workshop on one end, Patel’s studio on the other end, and a low-key gallery, retail space in the middle.

“I’m really ready to move on because I want to be doing something more aligned with my values,” says Patel of relocating and adjusting the focus of Brilliant Stranger. Photo by Len Villano.

“The Feathered Star has this windmill and it’s a great symbol for what I’m doing with my clothing and my art,” says Patel. “We’re all about recycling and renewable energy.”

Patel is looking forward to a quieter environment, the chance to work on her projects without worrying about making rent for such a prime tourist location. “I can be making things because of a love of it and because of the expression and because I really want to be selling to people rather than thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve got to make 80 of these, otherwise I have to buy mass-produced items,’” she explains.

Though Patel will miss the people who pass through her store. “Being here, I’ve met so many people. One out of every ten becomes someone you have an amazing conversation with; you learn something from them, they learn something from you,” she says. “I’m thinking a lot of them will follow me to the new space, because they’ve become loyal, regular costumers.”

The new space will also afford Patel the opportunity to connect with visitors in a way she was unable to at her current location. “Being able to talk to the costumer about how something was made, the ideas and stories behind it – that’s important. I can never do that when I’m running back and forth, taking inventory, scheduling employees, doing payroll,” she says.

For now, Patel is enjoying her last few weeks at Brilliant Stranger’s home for the past seven years, watching the last of the store’s inventory go, even upping the discount to 50 percent off all merchandise at Fall Creek’s annual Inside/Outside Sale taking place Sept. 27 – 29. “When you do that kind of sale it gets a little crazy. We’ll have some cat fights,” she jokes. “That’s all part of the fun.”

Brilliant Stranger is located at 4192 Main Street in Fish Creek. For more information call 920.868.3420, visit, or search ‘Refab’ on Facebook.