By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
When Gifted opened in 2018, we were taken equally with the stylish boutique and the dynamic young woman who owns it.
Esther Miller ran the shop solo back then, and if you dropped by early in the day, you often ran into her young daughter, Eloise, and Miller’s mother, Yeahwa Lee, who helped with child care. We couldn’t help but notice how everyone looked so pulled together; little Eloise was definitely her mother’s “mini me.” Two years later, they still make a stylish trio, although 5-year-old Eloise now has an independent streak when it comes to her wardrobe, including a penchant for sparkly things, much to her mother’s dismay.
Gifted is a dream come true for the young entrepreneur, a second-generation Korean American. Like her parents — her mother is an artist and her father is a teacher — Miller has followed her passion.
Fresh off a 10-year career at Fort Worth-based Dickies, Miller aspired to have a space to sell goods — household items, edibles, art, skincare products, jewelry and more — from independent makers, some of them local. Growing up in California and living in Chicago, along with her work travel, had given Miller access to the small stores she loves in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Portland. She was an early adopter, too, of Instagram to source out brands that checked certain boxes: small companies with a give-back component, makers who value ethics, and designers who create their own trends rather than following them.
And while Gifted doesn’t carry clothing — at least, not right now — Miller tries to buy pieces for herself that reflect the same ethos as the labels she carries in her store.
The 33-year-old wife, mom and business owner also plays by her own rules. She’s comfortable wearing styles that typically might be labeled a “fashion don’t” for her physical shape.
“I’m not thin, nor tall, but I’ve always had a positive body image thanks to my parents,” says Miller. “And I’ve always been a bit of a rebel.” Even as a young girl, Miller tried to dress differently than her peers and took notice when they started copying her. She didn’t take it as flattery; she considered it plagiarism. “In third grade, I was typically late for school because I couldn’t leave the house until my hair was perfect.”
As she got older, she began to think of trendy clothing as superficial and started to look at more-sustainable fashion, something that has stuck with her. “Oddly enough, I ended up with a fashion merchandising degree from TCU,” says Miller, who put early hopes of becoming a doctor aside after being overwhelmed by the math and science studies. “Fortunately, both my parents supported me in this decision.”
Today, she continues to seek out style that’s unique. For the photo shoot, she’s wearing a bell-sleeved asymmetrical blouse made by et Tigre, a Los Angeles company; 3-year-old Madewell wide-legged denim; and high-heel boots from Everlane.
Yeahwa Lee, 61, boasts the same flawless skin as her daughter, despite spending time outside in her garden, which is one of her happy places. Her thick hair is shot through with attractive strands of gray, and along with comfortable layers including a cotton knit duster, she’s wearing one of her own scarves, which she hand dyes with natural ingredients (they’re available at Gifted). An accomplished artist who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Lee continues to paint. Miller says one of her pre-shopkeeper entrepreneurial efforts — there were several percolating before she opened the store — was creating a hand-painted fashion line with her mother.
“When I was young, I shopped vintage stores and often wore bright colors,” says Lee. “Today, I’ve simplified my look and wear mainly neutrals.” But she always looks polished. “I think how you present yourself in public is important. Esther always has been a bit of rebel.”
Eloise is a bit shy in talking about her personal style. But, according to her mom, she was obsessed about her hairstyle for the photo session. She also really liked her black combat-style boots, even if they lacked any sparkle.