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From the Athens Community Came Community

By Alexandra Shimalla | Photos Courtesy of  Community

When Sanni Baumgärtner came to Athens in the late 90s, she was merely an exchange student and musician. “Athens was another level of taking music seriously as a creative endeavor, and it left a great impression on me,” she explains. So she decided to stay.

Flash forward to 2020, and she’s still here, albeit as a much more ingrained member of the community. She’s now the brains behind the local vintage-reimagined store that also offers incredibly popular sewing classes: Community.

The idea for the business stemmed from Baumgärtner trying to find a way to make money while she was still a musician. She was buying and selling vintage items at stores around town when an interest in fashion design emerged.

“I saw the potential for many of the vintage clothes to become relevant again with an updated silhouette or style,” she says. “Many contemporary designers use vintage styles as their inspiration and give them a modern twist. I am inspired by some of those ideas and find vintage clothing with similar styles and update them. Other times the vintage piece itself gives me the idea. Usually when you take away the ugly and dated details, you end up with a timeless piece, often made from much higher quality materials than what you can buy today. We also often have to work around damage or staining; these are usually our most inspired designs, as we cover up a stain with a pocket or cut away a damaged part and end up with a really interesting silhouette.”

Once Baumgärtner had managed to learn sewing, courtesy of a friend, Community opened its doors in 2010, and the clothing line, Community Service, was born. “After stepping away from music, the prospect of having my own store became really appealing,” the owner and founder says. Baumgärtner signed her lease and handed over her first month’s rent check in The Varsity’s parking lot.

“I was looking for a new community of like-minded people, so the idea of COMMUNITY was born as a place for local designers and makers to collaborate and sell their designs,” she says. In addition to the clothing that Baumgärtner and her team innovate, the store is full of products from local designers and makers. Customers can find Community Service clothing as well as jewelry, home décor, and paper goods from over 40 local artisans. “As a musician I struggled to make a living in Athens and I knew other creatives were having a hard time, too, so I wanted to support them in being able to have an income through their creative work,” she says.

Oh, and Community has also taken on the role of maintaining the University of Georgia’s football team’s jerseys. Baumgärtner admits that she was surprised to learn that the team had their jerseys fixed repeatedly throughout the season. “How very sustainable of them!” she says. “It’s been exciting and a bit nerve-wrecking working for such a big stage.”

But her seamstresses know what they’re doing, and Athens has embraced Baumgärtner and her ideas since she decided to call this town her own. “Athens is very supportive of Community and local businesses because they make Athens ‘Athens,’” she explains. “There is a lot of passion about keeping the town unique and creative.”