Just four little words could have a big impact on rescued horses and people confronting mental health problems.
In 2020, Martha Wise, owner of White Rose Eclectics women’s clothing boutique, started the Beautiful People Gala to benefit the Aiken Salvation Army and its homeless shelter. During the gala’s second year, when Wise was thanking patrons for their support, she kept thinking, Aiken is a small town with a big heart.
“I remembered that slogan, and I thought I’d really like to have a T-shirt made with that slogan on it, but I want to have horses and dogs and equestrians on it because that’s what Aiken is about,” Wise said. “We have people a lot of times looking for things that have Aiken on them.”
Wise presented her ideas to graphic designer Marya Zubaty, and after months of back-and-forth discussions and prototypes, Zubaty created the perfect design: a T-shirt featuring horses and dogs and the words, “Aiken, Small Town, Big Heart.” They arrived in the shop last August.
Proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts are split evenly between Aiken Equine Rescue and Mental Health America.
“So we’re helping horses and people,” said Wise, who grew up riding for pleasure.
The T-shirts come in two colors, lavender and blue. Tote bags with the design in lavender and blue also are available. Both are for sale at While Rose Eclectics at 142 Laurens St. S.W. in downtown Aiken.
Being able to help Aiken Equine Rescue at its facility at 532 Glenwood Drive in South Aiken is especially important to Wise. Its mission is “to rescue unwanted horses who have suffered from abuse and neglect as well as work with various racetracks to ‘re-purpose’ Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds, and take horses whose owners can no longer care for them, giving them all a place to stay until they can be adopted by a loving family,” according to its website.
“I grew up with horses. I love horses,” Wise said. “I think the Equine Rescue does beautiful things, and so many people don’t know about it. It’s almost all volunteer and almost all donations, so I just kind of wanted to bring more awareness to that. There are people who have lived here forever, and they’ve never been out there. It’s a beautiful facility. They just need help.”
Supporting the community always has been an important part of Wise’s business. In the past, when she worked with the Salvation Army, she would donate 10% of the shop’s sales to the organization during certain months.
The shop always has been a dropoff for the annual Marine Toys for Tots toy drive before Christmas. Promotions have included asking customers to bring in a toy and get 10% off, Wise said.
Wise’s future charitable project is a fashion show, probably also to benefit Aiken Equine Rescue and Mental Health America, but she hasn’t started working on the details yet.
Wise, who grew up in Lexington and now lives in Ridge Spring, brought her business to Aiken from West Columbia five years ago. She operated her first shop in the back of the former Artisans Market next to What’s Cookin’ on Laurens Street.
After six months, Wise and Katherine Slayton, an Aiken florist, opened a business together at the southeast corner of Pendleton Street and Richland Avenue and named it White Rose Eclectics. Slayton moved out after a year to start Katherine By Design, and Wise stayed for another year.
Next, she moved White Rose Eclectics to its present location between the Aiken Brewing Company and Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe on Laurens Street.
Wise called her business a “ladies’ clothing boutique,” and the retail store has an inviting, comfortable feel perfect for browsing and shopping. The shop carries women’s apparel from everyday, casual clothes to special occasion apparel, including evening gowns and cocktail wear, in sizes up to three X. The shop also sells accessories and some footwear. Hats for the Aiken Steeplechase are big sellers in the spring.
Wise, who started in retail selling vintage clothes in West Columbia, also carries a small rack of vintage clothing.
“I still love vintage clothing, so if I find something funky and fun I’ll get it,” Wise said. “A lot of young girls love these ’60s and ’70s gowns for prom. Really, our demographic, the majority of our demographic, is probably 40 and up, but we have 16 year olds who come in here and shop with us. So we have a little bit of everything.”
A section of the shop is dedicated to embellished clothing that Wise designs and creates personally, a nod to her love of artisan work.
“That’s all one-of-a-kind clothing that I do,” Wise said.
Dina Coleman and Patricia Collins work part-time at the store.
Wise attributed her love of fashion to her mother, whom she called “quite a clothes horse.” The shop takes its name from Wise’s mother, Elouise Rosa Fore, who grew up in Nacogdoches in east Texas.
“When I had my artisans boutique in West Columbia, it was White Rose Artisans Boutique,” Wise said. “My mother had passed away about a year or so before I opened that boutique. A white rose stands for the people you’ve loved who are no longer with you. If you go to church on Mother’s Day, you wear a white rose if your mother is deceased.”
When Wise and Slayton combined fashion and flowers in their store on Pendleton Street, they changed the name to White Rose Eclectics.
A family photography of her mother, who was in the antique business for 30 years, hangs in the shop.
“This is my favorite picture of my mother when she was young. Everybody always asks, ‘Who is this picture of?’” Wise said. “It’s funny. People are always so interested in this picture. They ask, ‘Is she a movie star?’ And I say, no, that’s my mother. I’m amazed in the interest they have.”
Pictures of her mother and father, T.A. Fore, who served in the U.S. Marines during World War II and is dressed in his uniform in the photograph, hang behind the counter.
“I like having them here, especially after I named the shop after my Mom,” Wise said.
Most of Wise’s business career has been in retail. Wise ran her vintage clothing store six years and then opened and operated a western wear store for 10 years in West Columbia. She had an insurance agency for 14 years before returning to retail with an artisans’ market in West Columbia.
“I have worked for myself since I was about 25 with the exception of a couple of years,” she said.
Although Wise was born and raised in South Carolina and most of her immediate family live in the Palmetto State or nearby, her extended family is from Texas, where she traveled for Christmas and summer vacations as a child.
When she’s not working, Wise spends time in her studio working on the embellished clothing and crafting Christmas items. She also loves bike riding, walking and hiking.
“When you’re inside all day, it’s nice to get outside,” she said.
Wise called her move to Aiken – especially the move to Laurens Street – “fabulous.”
She knows many of her customers, some who have been shopping with her since she opened on Pendleton Street, by name.
“They’re just wonderful,” Wise said. “Then we’ve got a lot of out-of-towners. People are moving here like crazy. Every day, I have new people come in who have either just moved here or are looking to buy a house, or they’re checking out Aiken and thinking about moving here from Pennsylvania and California and Oregon and Ohio – those four states especially – and even Florida.”
Other downtown merchants have become good friends, too.
“I love Aiken,” Wise said. “It’s rare that you meet nasty people here. It’s very rare. They care about the community. They care about the animals. They’re very giving people. It’s kind of a small New York City without the attitude – a melting pot of people.”