A Conversation with Julia Leenig, Co-Owner of Descendant and Future Ancestor
Guided: St. Louis talked with Julia Leenig about how they work as a team, their background in design, their sources of inspiration and the trials and tribulations of owning a business.
Guided: Tell me about your background in retail and fashion?
Brian studied various design and I was an English major and then studied French pastry. We were both always interested in styled living, exploring how other people choose to live and express themselves. Brian worked for a while in the photo studio for Crate and Barrel and I’ve just always loved learning. I think this somewhat non-linear path is what led us to a life of pursuing business and design.
Guided: How did you and your husband meet?
We met in college. We are both from Carbondale, but then we moved around a lot—Chicago, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. We eventually moved to St. Louis to get closer to family. Once we settled down, it seemed like the right time for a brick-and-mortar shop.
Guided: How did you start Future Ancestor?
During our time off, we would drive around and go thrifting, find stuff and sell it on Etsy. We both liked taking the pictures and setting up the website. Etsy had tutorials on the best way to brand yourself, and I loved to play around with that. We did that for a few years while we moved around, but once we had our son we knew we wanted to pursue it full time so we could spend more time together as a family. A few months later, we found the space available on Cherokee Street.
Guided: Future Ancestor is described as “modern living.” Is that the definition of the brand as mid-century modern furniture or modern lifestyle?
Modern lifestyle. While a lot of what we collect is mid-century, we like to approach it with a more current way of styling. A lot of times mid century can read retro, which is not really our style. We love to blend mid-century with other eras, like the 70’s textiles or 80’s art, and then pull it all together with modern or handmade pieces from smaller artists from today. Both shops are such an extension of how we live. Our home and lifestyle came first, and the shops are a reflection of that.
Guided: What did you learn about retail from those first four years on Cherokee Street?
We were in the space that’s the Cherokee Street Gallery now, right next to Mesa Home. There’s a lot of people experimenting on Cherokee Street, so it was a safe place for us to try something new. Nobody expected us to be perfectly polished. The business was a lot of trial and error. Sometimes you have a couple of slow weeks and question all your decisions, but the longer you stick it out, you realize that’s just how it goes as a business owner.
Guided: How did the business evolve from Cherokee Street to Shaw?
We loved the Shaw neighborhood and had a lot of customers who already lived there, so we knew we would have a community base there. There was an apartment above that we could live in, which was really exciting for us.
Guided: How was the transition from Future Ancestor to Descendant?
Brian and I have always loved working together, but it’s fun to have our own areas to be creative separately. We still come together at the end of the night and share ideas and help each other. We’ve always been such a team and truly respect each other’s opinion. There’s some product crossover between the shops as well.
Guided: What brands do you carry?
One of the main reasons why I wanted to start Descendant is that there were so many brands I wanted to try on but they weren’t available in St. Louis. We stock Brooklyn-based Ace & Jig, Ali Golden, a designer from Oakland, and LACAUSA, another California brand. They are sustainably focused, smaller batches. I pair these sustainable brands with other larger label brands and vintage, a good mix that represents how I approach my wardrobe. I want everything in Descendant to feel timeless.
Guided: How did you develop Descendant’s jewelry, body and mind section?
We carry local a few local artists, including Mahnal. We love her work. It’s so inline with everything we’re about; it’s simple, well-made, classic and timeless. I also wanted to bring in items to support daily rituals for women, like skin and bath oils, and things that help women take time out of their day to take care of themselves. We’re having a virtual pop-up with Dharma + Dwell, a local home goods and beauty shop, this month! We’re always looking for new artists to stock.
Guided: From where do you draw inspiration?
One of my good friends is a photographer, Cassidy Parker Smith. She always says that one of the best things to do for your creativity is to draw your inspiration from outside your industry. I try not to look at what others are doing because it makes it feel repetitive. I draw from my daily life and my friends. I also like reading about other creatives in magazines like Kinfolk and Dwell.
Guided: Do you make mood boards?
I do a lot of Pinterest, and there’s a good amount of planning that goes into ordering two seasons ahead for the shop. I create mood boards with colors, textures, inspiration and feeling, and break it down into products. It’s a lot of pulling from everyday life.
Guided: What are your future goals?
The main goal for us is to continue this lifestyle that we’ve built for ourselves which allows us to be creative with our work and make money but still be together, have family time and work on our own terms.
Images courtesy of Julia Leenig.