Back in the fall of 1987, Maria Luisa Boutique opened in Nyack, offering designer clothing, shoes, and toys. The spot was brought to life by Maria Luisa Whittingham, a then-single mom of a 4-year-old son and graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology. As time passed, the boutique moved to various spots along South Broadway, but continued to provide beautifully made items that appealed to the eclectic shoppers that frequent the Hudson River village.
“Local artisans started bringing in some of their wares [to sell],” Whittingham explains. “I began to bring in ethical vendors and custom-made items.”
For the past seven years, the boutique has been nestled side-by-side with its sister shop, ML by Maria Luisa, which opened in 2007 and sells home goods that are recycled, made from natural materials, or Fair Trade-certified.
“We’re all about making good long-term connections, both with our customers and our vendors,” Whittingham says. “We feel very attached and connected to what we sell because we can tell their stories.”
Her community contributions include founding the Maria Luisa/Global/Local Initiative (ML/GL), an annual $1,000 scholarship for female high school graduates, and creating a function on the website where online shoppers can earmark a percentage of the proceeds of their purchases for a local charity of their choice. Most recently, 63 women were part of Maria Luisa’s team for the 30th annual Women’s Distance Festival 5K at Rockland Lake, a ladies-only event that raises money to help eradicate domestic violence and sexual assault against women and children and provide services to its victims.
She began her shop simply to sell beautiful, good-quality items. “I was all about quality, beauty, and esthetics – the whole responsibility aspect of it was something I learned as I went along,” she explains. “We see issues and hopefully are part of the solution. Now I couldn’t do retail any other way.”