Kristen Permakoff, Jen Achter and July 5 owner Monique Toulouse pose in a festival-less Telluride Town Park last week (Courtesy photo)

For the past 27 years, Monique Toulouse, owner of July Five clothing company, has been a vendor at Telluride’s festivals in Town Park. While she was initially “shaken” by the cancelation of this summer’s music festivals due to COVID-19, she quickly discovered a silver lining: In the stillness of quarantine, she had an epiphany around how to structure and build a long-anticipated where she now sells her clothing online.

“I reserved www.julyfive.com 25 years ago and never let it go. So I knew it had to happen,” said Toulouse. 

For years, clients have begged her to launch a website but the task felt too daunting. How would she ever demonstrate and display all of her clothing? Having discussed launching an online store for years with friend and local web and graphic designer, Gabby Anstey McDonald, of Chair 8 Design, Toulouse finally pulled the trigger in June from her new digs in Manitou Springs.

“It’s the silver lining of this dumb virus. It forced me to do it,” she admitted.

Originally from New York, Toulouse moved to Telluride in 1989 by way of Burlington, Vermont.  

“I never pursued fashion or design at UVM but I always had my grandmother’s Sears Kenmore sewing machine with me,” she said. “I was born with a sewing gene.”

Thirty years and three industrial sewing machines later, Toulouse still sews July Five clothing herself. 

“It’s not the ideal way to make money because I’m sitting at the machine too much,” she said. “But I save money making the clothes, and I control the quality.”

Inspired by colors, designs and textures, Toulouse relishes buying fabrics at the Los Angeles Garment District.  

“The bolts of fabric are outside on the sidewalk, you can smell the salt air and the homeless are everywhere,” she said. “It’s an interesting spectacle.”

Toulouse first applied to be a vendor at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1994.  

“Since then it’s gotten way more competitive,” she said. “Early on there might have been 160 applicants but now I’ve heard there are more than 1,200 applicants for 26 vending spots.”

Toulouse maxed out vending at 13 events in a single year, peddling her clothes from Boulder to Steamboat, Jackson Hole to Montana. While she especially loves the magic at the Carbondale Mountain Fair, her favorite place to vend remains the festival in Telluride. 

“The times in the festival booth have been epic,” she said. “It’s like a family affair.”

Having incorporated July Five as a business in 1998, Toulouse says she never could have “sailed the July Five festival ship” without the help of her hustling “wing girls” Jen Achter and Kristen Permakoff.

“Monique, Jen and I have a special vibe that creates a show within the show,” said Permakoff. “Monique’s clothes empower me, make me feel unique and her fabric and color choices are sublime.” 

Achter first met Toulouse in 1999 while working at Easy Rider board and clothing store, which carried pieces from the July Five clothing line. Sixteen years ago Toulouse’s second child, Serena Blue, was born during a Friday night Bela Fleck set during Bluegrass.

“Monique was going home to deliver the two-weeks-past-due-date babe, handed the keys off to me to run the booth, and I’ve been a permanent fixture ever since,” Achter recalled.

Inspired by the vibrant Custo fashion brand from Barcelona, Toulouse was at first known for her shirts.

“But I wondered, why is everyone else making more money than me? Then the minute I introduced skirts, I doubled my income,” she explained. “They take a third of the amount of time to make, they fit everybody and I can make them blind-folded. They’re my favorite product. I’m proud of them.”

Longtime July Five client, Suzanne Cheavens, jumped at the chance to buy a silk poncho, a new addition to the July Five clothing line in recent years, off the website.  

“Monique sent along a free buff as a thank you,” said Cheavens. “The platform was easy to use – a great experience.”

Toulouse also re-sculpts cashmere into ponchos so that she can offer a “recycled product” in her clothing line.

“I could do something for the planet, loved working with cashmere because it’s soft on my fingers and I could get $125 for them,” she said. 

Moving forward, Toulouse hopes to establish her business as a well-oiled machine. 

“And really make a living and not have to sew everything myself and scramble so hard,” she surmised. “The goal is for the website to keep up the pace of what the festivals bring in.”

That said, Toulouse still longs to vend, especially now that the festivals have vanished, albeit temporarily. 

“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” she said. “I miss the festivals. I miss the money. I miss hanging out, the people. But the creativity isn’t done. And the friendships aren’t done.”