READING

An Open Heart for Endless Dreams

An Open Heart for Endless Dreams

Combining an art studio and retail store, Matters of The Heart ensures Chicago’s youth have a space to embrace their creativity. 

Growing up, there’s a little dreamer inside of you. It pushes you to join a dance company or try out an improv class. It roots for you to chase after your ambitions and accomplish greatness. However, these passions quickly get lost in the motions of growing up. We set aside our dreams and choose to focus on a more conventional career. At Matters of the Heart, these aspirations can be saved. 

Matters of the Heart is a Chicago-based art center and retail store founded in November 2021 by Niko Tumamak and Aapple Yang. The two first started working together in 2013 to create their community driven fashion brand “The Hidden Characters.”  

“H.C. [The Hidden Characters] has a small but very dedicated support squadron who have made all of this possible. We’re not backed by any investors and started with zero capital. So, quite literally, everything that has come to be is a direct result of our supporters, and we feel it is our responsibility to make sure their support goes to the right things and places,” Tumamak said. “M.O.T.H. [Matters of the Heart] is still very much in its infancy, and we hope it will evolve into a thriving & self-sustaining entity. Until then, H.C is the crutch.”

All profits made on the retail side of M.O.T.H. go towards funding programs, art supplies and equipment. Photo courtesy of Emily Figueroa

According to their website, Matters of The Heart aims to save the “renaissance” in Chicago’s youth by providing them a space to preserve and monetize their artistic skills. They believe those interested in becoming anything from an artist to a scientist are special, and kids shouldn’t lose that drive to fulfill their destiny. 

Yang, who doubles as a studio instructor and founder of the company, explained that their center establishes young interdisciplinary artists. This gives kids the chance to pursue their interest in the arts instead of suppressing it. 

“We create a space for young people to learn any and all skills they are interested in learning, ranging from physical and performing arts to audio and visual arts,” Yang said.

RJ Carag, the store manager, oversees operations across their brands. The potential growth of the company excites him as he works to provide a fulfilling experience for the employees and customers.  

“Our small team is working in the studio together planning the next step. Everyone has their own specific role and strengths, so we play off each other a lot,” Carag said. “When the shop is open, we love interacting with our customers personally and developing relationships because their support means a lot to us.”

Open studio sessions range from sewing projects to MX chemical garment dyeing. Photo courtesy of Emily Figueroa

While a studio session may seem intimidating to newcomers, the founders ensure M.O.T.H. is a safe space for all. 

“Open studio is a super casual meet up where youth ages 14 to 22 can come into the studios to work on any current personal projects while the staff are working on team projects,” Yang said. “During this time, they have access to any of the equipment and resources we have in house and can also ask questions, learn skills or get help from our staff.”

The instructors provide guidance rather than strictly telling kids what or what not to do. Their open studio sessions offer sewing, MX chemical garment dyeing, dance, Muay Thai and hands-on seminars. 

Not only do these sessions promote valuable skills, but they also are taught by experienced role models. Yang is involved with all aspects of garment development and production process. This includes creating technical sketches, sewing, project management and communication with suppliers or clients. 

The creation of such a strong business and tight-knit community was not simple, but the impact they’ve made resembles all of their hard work.  

“The process of opening Matters of the Heart was both beautiful and intensely grueling. We are and have always been a very do-it-yourself mentality. Everything that is in the center was thought of and created by us and our community,” Yang said. “It was so beautiful to see our friends and family come together to contribute to the space, physically, emotionally, through programming, collaborating on projects and contributing their talent and craft to the space.”

Working off each other’s creativity, local youth create handmade garments that are later displayed in the storefront. Photo courtesy of Emily Figueroa

To connect their clothing brand with Matters of the Heart, Yang and Tumamak connected a retail store to their studio space. As you enter, earth tone hoodies, pants and hats displayed on clothing racks and shelves fill the front of the store. The studio resides in the back of the store. Its walls are covered with fabric samples from previous and future designs along with sketches of vests, pants and jackets. Against those decorated walls are tape measures, sewing machines and a mannequin ready to execute their next ideas. 

The Hidden Characters online shop offers insight into the brand’s name choice by stating  “hidden in that character can be found the capacity of empathy.” They feel the empathy hidden within us allows for people to be vulnerable and perceive suffering so that we can lend a hand to each other. The Hidden Characters are helping people embrace their truth, beauty and goodness through the art they produce.

Someone who admires their goals and morals is customer Enrique Valle. He keeps up with every line launch put out by Hidden Characters. 

“I want the same creativity I had as a kid,” Valle said. 

Valle has always been interested in art, and he currently expresses that passion through sewing. Physically watching the art take form as the needle goes through the machine and stitches through the fabric allows him to be fully engaged with his work. 

The opportunity to nurture a craft after your youth isn’t common, so once you get that chance, Tumamak believes you must hold onto it. He was granted that chance at an after-school program. 

“I am a product of a Chicago after-school program called Connect Force. I attended sessions from fifth grade through high school, and I can credit everything I know to them. It’s an all-encompassing arts program that taught us kids everything from drawing to breakdancing and music production to DJing,” Tumamak said.

Tumamak is now accomplishing his goal of giving kids the same experience he had at Connect Force.

“Programs like that can save and change peoples’ lives. Unfortunately, those programs come few and far between and often are the first to get cut when the city needs to budget. So, it’s always been my dream to provide access and space in the same way completely independently,” he said. 

There is more to come with Matters of the Heart as they plan to host collaborations and pop-up events throughout the upcoming year. For now, they continue to inspire Chicago’s community and involve us in their journey to challenge our inner child. 

Matters of The Heart is located on 630 W. Webster Ave. You can find more information on their retail store and studio sessions here.

Header illustration by Samarah Nasir