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UWEC English grad becomes an entrepreneur

         Walking into Tangled Up In Hue, I was welcomed by the store greeter, Emma – one of Erin’s beautiful and kind dogs, a boxer – and soon after that by Jamie. Jamie is Erin’s Klaus’ business partner and the two make up the Tangled Up In Hue team. It’s a homey shop on Eau Claire’s Barstow Street with a mission of spreading local, handmade items, art, and music through the community to celebrate the talented people in our area! I sat down with Erin to ask her some questions, and here’s what you need to know about this UW – Eau Claire English Alum.

Tangled up in Hue

Erin Klaus, Emma and Jamie, owners of Tangled up in Hue

            Erin grew up in Milwaukee and applied to UW – Eau Claire with a plan to pursue an education degree in any field. She said the move to college was an abrupt change, going from the big city to what felt like a rural area. It was hard for her, and she described having thoughts of transferring to a college in a city similar to Milwaukee’s size. She stuck it out though, a decision she now sees as one of her best, but the path to deciding on a major and career didn’t come as smoothly for Erin as it sounds.

            Coming in to UW – Eau Claire, Erin had declared a Psychology major, and this program’s required classes took up her first year. She soon realized that this wasn’t the path she wanted and a first year writing class with Stacy Thompson piqued her interest in an English major. Erin dabbled in a few different areas available to English majors before happily settling into the Literature program.

            After falling in love with Women’s studies through some feminist theory classes and others associated with her declared minor, Erin applied to University of Arizona – Tucson for their graduate teaching program in the same topic. UW – Eau Claire professor David Jones helped her instrumentally in preparing her application which earned her acceptance, so she moved and besides the difference in town size, Erin saw a lot of similarities between Eau Claire and Tucson. Her new town valued and integrated the University and local artists into the community; every business near the college had local art on the walls! Erin decided to return home after one semester at Tucson, having received news that her mother had gone into remission in her fight against cancer. Back in town and with the inspiration from Tucson, Erin was stuck on the idea of becoming the bridge between University and the community in Eau Claire, namely through a business supporting local creations. Her “strong entrepreneurship spirit” took hold! This spirit and a number of skills she mastered through her English major, plus help from her business partner Jamie are what made Tangled Up in Hue.

            When asked about some of her favorite elements of being at UW – Eau Claire, Erin answered that one was the professors, and even pointed out a couple of professors that had an impact on her. She remembers Elizabeth Preston as her first mentor and the one who urged her to work as a tutor in the writing center. Stacy Thompson taught Erin’s feminist theory class that helped her understand the world differently, and she would later act as a teaching assistant for him in a first year writing class. Erin loved the smaller class sizes that UW – Eau Claire offered and felt the genuine care for students from professors.

            Erin and Jamie opened Tangled Up in Hue in February of 2009, and were doing everything at that point including hand making products, basic store operating, advertising, etc. As they’ve grown, the pair has hired the first few employees which allows Erin to focus more on accounting and bookkeeping - something she never took a class for! Daily duties for her involve a lot of skills from her English major as she often communicates through email and creates advertisements, which means she has to communicate clearly and effectively by creating messages with a specific audience in mind. Erin also described how her expanded worldview from English and Feminist theory classes has helped her overall.

            Erin’s advice for incoming and current college students came down to a few points. Don’t fall victim to the pressure of following the straight and narrow path that the “college handbook” advocates for. It is alright to come in undeclared and use your first year to explore classes from a variety of fields before making your decision. New students may be afraid to become an English major because it seems nebulous, when it is actually very versatile, freeing, and still has the ability to prepare you for a job outside the typical English field. Erin emphasized that this was a reason she loved her decision to switch, and was the reason a few of her friends ended up changing to English majors as well.

            With the help of Jamie and the skills she acquired through her English degree, Tangled Up in Hue was able to become a huge success! The company has grown enough to start distributing their products to retailers around the Midwest, and are moving to a new location. The new store is just down the block from their current location, it will be at 505 S. Barstow Street, right next to Acoustic Café. The old Tangled Up In Hue space will become an expansion of the company, selling art supplies with Emma as the logo, so be sure to look for news on its development. Erin Klaus now lives in the Eau Claire area and has been married to her husband, an Eau Claire native, for three years. The couple has two kids, a three year old and an eighteen-month old. The older daughter sometimes helps them dust or make crafts in the shop. Her husband has recently started working for Tangled Up In Hue, shedding his former job. Emma has been the store mascot for eight years, and the family has another dog, two cats, and a turtle.

            The literature she was exposed to during her UW – Eau Claire English curriculum gave Erin a love for Ernest Hemingway’s work, and she will always remember reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck which she reveled in during a class with Blake Westerlund.

Erin Klaus is a December 2005 Graduate of English Literature and Women’s Studies.