Designer Gerardo Encinas’ New Downtown Boutique

An ebullient young fashion designer puts down roots on Third Street.

Abernathy Miller
Designer Gerardo Encinas in his new Downtown shop

Designer Gerardo Encinas lives for taking risks. From high-drama runway collections—think oversized florals, bold colors and exaggerated silhouettes—to statement-making ready-to-wear pieces, the Mexican-born, Columbus-based designer is known for taking chances with gutsy, gorgeous designs. Last year, Encinas made his gutsiest move to date: opening his own boutique. 

Located at 267 S. Third St., Encinas’ eponymous boutique, co-owned with his husband, Miguel Estrada, opened in December. Though Downtown’s glaring lack of retail and foot traffic might deter other new businesses from putting down roots in the area, for a retailer specializing in custom pieces, personal styling and custom tailoring, it’s part of the appeal. 

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“I never wanted to be in a mall,” Encinas says. “I don’t want people to see my boutique as a store—I’m a designer. It’s an experience. This [boutique] is what I’ve been dreaming of my whole life.” 

As a child in Mexico, Encinas spent hours sketching designs in a secret notebook. In 2012, he taught himself to sew by watching YouTube videos. By 2017, he was showing his first official collection at Columbus Fashion Week. By 2019, celebrity drag queen Nina West was wearing an Encinas gown on the cover of New York magazine. Then the world came to a screeching halt. “I thought, 2020: This is going to be my year. Then COVID happened,” he says. “I was like, I have to do something. I have to create.” 

When Columbus Fashion Council president Lubna Najjar approached Encinas with an opportunity to sublet a space from Seven Studios for a holiday pop-up shop, he was definitely interested—but in something more permanent. 

In just four weeks, Encinas and Estrada transformed the space into a showroom, design studio and meeting place for client consultation and styling. It was risky, opening a bespoke boutique on a little-traveled block at a time when Downtown visitors had dropped from around 10 million in 2019 to 1 million in 2020. Eleven businesses closed that year, according to Capital Crossroads and Discovery Special Improvement District’s 2020 State of Downtown Report. But some area retailers offering experiential shopping like Encinas were weathering the storm. 

“I got more customers during COVID than ever,” says Felicia A. Williams, owner of Studio V Boutique, which offers unique fashions, personal styling, image consulting and classes. She says her clients “like avoiding the crowds and not having to go to the mall.” 

Williams feels her Downtown location at 139 E. Main St. makes her business stand out. “We aren’t oversaturated with boutiques—it gives us a leg up,” she says. “Although we don’t have foot traffic like the Short North, it balances out because the rent isn’t as expensive.” 

As for Encinas, he’s looking to expand. In January 2022 he launched a collection of NFTs (nonfungible tokens) and is set to release a streetwear and a ready-to-wear collection this spring. In June he plans to open a quinceañera and wedding gown showroom next door. 

“Every person who does fashion or works in the arts has to be a little bit crazy,” Encinas says. “If you’re not, you’re not in the right world.”  

This story is from the March 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.