As she turned thirty, Northville native Laura Horwath was frustrated when she shopped for professional-‘looking attire for her marketing career. The outfits she could find were aimed at older women, and she felt she had aged out of teen clothes.
“I’m not seventeen any more, I’m not in college any more, but I’m not finding anything for work,” she recalls thinking. Horwath also preferred shopping in small locally owned shops rather than trudging through department stores or national chains.
In 2016, Horwath, then living in Bay City, founded Ferne Boutique, aimed at offering affordable clothing for women ages twenty-five to forty-five, both in person and on the Web.
“I had no background in the fashion buying business, but I knew how to talk to people and sell,” Horwath says.
The response was gratifying, and she opened a second Ferne in Detroit’s New Center area in 2018, near the corner of Woodward Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. It also took off quickly.
“It quickly became obvious that other people were looking for the same type of thing,” Horwath says. “If I wasn’t finding it, other people weren’t finding it. Do I really want to drive two hours to Somerset [Collection] to find the same stuff as everybody else?”
In December, she opened her third Ferne location, at 217 S. Fourth Ave., in a space that was home to the Local Bike Shop before becoming a Democratic Party office during last year’s election campaign.
“The demographic that shops at Ferne really fits in well in Ann Arbor,” says Horwath, who also hopes to draw customers from Plymouth, Dexter, and Chelsea.
Ferne is the latest shop to join what’s becoming a lively retail section of downtown Ann Arbor, with neighbors that include Today Clothing, Dear Golden, and Le Bon Macaron.
“The community itself is awesome. The other business owners have been so nice,” Horwath says.
Horwath began looking for an Ann Arbor location last summer. “When I started looking, I said, ‘I can’t open a store now, but if I don’t open now, it’s not going to be here. And if I waited until next summer, it definitely wouldn’t be here.’
“I knew that if I found something that made sense, and all the components checked out, and it fit my business plan, I would have to do it.”
She wasn’t concerned that most University of Michigan students are not in town, since they are a little younger than her ideal market.
Horwath says she’s already noticed a second demographic of women age fifty-five and up who are shopping at Ferne, which carries a range of items from Spanx and sunglasses to boots, jeans, and ‘business-casual clothes.
“My mom is sixty-eight, and she said, ‘I’m not shopping at old lady stores. I like what you have,'” Horwath says.
In a nod to her newest location, Horwath is featuring top-quality crew-neck sweatshirts embroidered with “Ann Arbor,” that come in light blue with yellow stitching and in tan with rainbow letters. The shirts cost $70.
Horwath’s focus is on finding unusual items that customers can group to create several looks.
“If you buy something, you want to know that you can wear it multiple times to multiple events,” she says. “If you spend $200 on a leather jacket, are you really going to wear it? For $200, you can get an entire outfit that you can wear to church, to brunch, or to run errands.”
Ferne Boutique, 217 S. Fourth Ave., (989) 778-1222. Tues.-Sat. noon-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Closed Mon.

from Calls & Letters, March 2021
Stuart Marley was “surprised and disappointed” that our February Marketplace Changes story on Ferne Boutique omitted his business from a list of stores in what we dubbed “Fourth Ave.’s Fashion District.”
“Real Irish Gifts and Travel features wonderful Irish-made woolens that are not fast fashion but heirloom quality clothing and accessories,” Marley wrote. “We’re a small, family-owned and run business that has been at this location since 2018 and in business since 1998.”