BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The seventh in our All in A Day’s Work series profiles Paula Queen, accessories designer and founder of Pyar and Lil’ Pyar boutiques. We welcome your suggestions of people who have transformed their daydreams into their dream jobs.
Hastings, Nebraska, is her birthplace; Kanpur, India, her spiritual home and long distance workplace. Magically, Paula Queen merges the beauty of the prairie with the colors of India in her Pyar & Co. boutique, featuring glorious accessories for adults and children. Lighthearted and lovely, Paula had the doors to her Halsted Street store wide open on a recent spring day, offering a Midwestern welcome to the exotic craftsmanship within.
Her career path began in Chicago in construction management for Turner Construction, a leap to owning an India-inspired boutique. Her advice for young people starting out on their careers: “Everything you learn today will help you later—be open to it. If I hadn’t had all the jobs I did, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today.”
Paula explained the shop’s intriguing title:
“Pyar means love in Hindi, and the accessories in my store are inspired by my own wedding sari. I married my husband, Sumit, a native of India, there, and I founded Pyar there soon after. I fell in love with the quality and colors as well as the intricate beading.
“I was born in Nebraska and then moved to Storm Lake, Iowa. I incorporate a Laura Ingalls Wilder feel into many of accessories, particularly in my children’s line Lil’ Pyar.”
A visit to Pyar entices you to look everywhere: a tent bed, mobiles for children, poufs, table linens, pillows, brightly colored clutches, and vintage pieces found during flea market treasure hunts are a marvelous mélange.
Paula is on the phone every day to Kampur, talking with her artisans who make everything by hand. All beading and embellishments are found in local markets, and are fair traded and ethically sourced, with beading from Calcutta and children’s items made in Delhi.
“My home line features very ornate pillows with high-end detail, not really inductive for rambunctious family fun. I started Lil’ Pyar in 2005 with families in mind. It began with two blankets and a poof.”
A fun part of her job is bringing her seven-year-old son in on the creative side: he loves to sketch designs for accessories featured in her line and has named the signature owls with earphones that decorate poufs and handy baby travel pillows.
Previous generations have similarly inspired:
“A major influence in my life was my grandfather, who built quality things. I consider myself in many ways an urban farmer. My grandmother on my mom’s side had much style and was a lover of gardens. That is probably where my love of botanicals began. My mom was a great seamstress, and I loved going with her to choose McCall’s patterns. All of this has come together in Pyar.”
For all who love visual elements and think of starting a shop, Paula offers important advice:
“I came to Chicago in 2005 to work in construction management for Turner Construction—far different than what I am doing now. It was also not what I imagined I would be doing after college—being a soccer coach and English teacher.
“Young people have this constant dialogue about two things: ‘What am I going to be doing for the rest of my life?’ and ‘How will I find happiness?’ If they don’t like their first jobs, they become so very negative. You have to think positively about what you are doing and what you are putting in your pocket.
“I have had many jobs and just this morning I was remembering a selling job I had working for a 90-year-old man. It’s funny, I had never looked at it from his perspective. He had always done everything by himself, and he then needed me to help. I learned so much in that job.”
Regarding the skillset needed to open a shop, Paula responded:
“How you interact is key. Forget who you are and concentrate on the person coming in the door. I find it’s useful to ask if they have anyone in mind as they are looking. It often gets people talking—it is not about you, it is about them.
“Many of the customers don’t have children but are buying baby gifts or shower presents. I hope I am helpful. I sometimes tell people the stories of my pillows, how we designed them about some that have taken 18 days to make.”
Built on learning from each experience in a varied career, the rapidly expanding Pyar, which opens an online shopping site July 1, is exactly where Paula Queen wants to be.