A Modern Legend in the Making

Written By: Connor Davis | Photographed By: Easlick Photography

In the back buildings of the Cotton Exchange a new shop has set its roots. Modern Legend, run by Catherine Hawksworth, has something for every customer. While specializing in vinyl records, she also carries grooming needs, artworks, and jewelry. As Catherine prepares for opening each day she meticulously arranges her displays to manifest the feeling of balance her personality exudes.

With her hair up in a bun her face is fully visible and constantly ready to jump into a smile. Her canvas jacket shows her relaxed posture, and her height helps to extend this relaxation to anyone she talks with. Her personality, experience, and product knowledge have allowed her to become an entrepreneur at a young age, and Modern Legend is just the launching point.

Along the right wall, displays filled with small bottles of face-soaps and candles greet you as you walk in. Scarves, hats, and drinking glasses fill the middle of the store while the far right corner contains Catherine’s main focus—piles upon piles of vinyl records. It was a small world to get lost in, but each item called you forward and asked to be picked up—to be considered.

Catherine was frank about her hesitation to settle into a career in the past saying, “When it comes to chasing a career, I was all over the place for a really long time. When I came up with the idea in Seattle I was listening to David Bowie, and it was the biggest inspiration from someone who never lived within the rules. I’d always wanted to be that and forge my own path.”

Bringing this dream to fruition is a remarkable feat for any individual, but Catherine was meant to stand out. Maybe it’s the motivation from David Bowie, or maybe it’s just always been within her, but the attitude Catherine holds is magnetic. This magnetism comes in part from the experience she has gained in her professional life.

“I had my first retail job at 16. I had been waiting for the day 16 rolled around so I could start working at PacSun,” Catherine says with a laugh.

Her moves up the corporate ladder were gradual, from associate to key-holding positions at stores such as PacSun and Free People, with the bulk of her experience coming from her time spent at Urban Outfitters.

“By the end of it I was an operations manager and a visual manager for Urban, in charge of all the hiring and stuff like that.”

Through being an Operations Manager, Catherine was able to learn “the business side” of her very own business and learned how to get in contact with vendors, focus on numbers, all while still using her creative eye to an advantage.

In many ways, Catherine’s work at Urban translates to Modern Legend. She abides by a minimalist approach—with space between each product—to allow the customer to fully take in the size/style/benefits of whatever they come across. The aesthetic of wood grain and exposed brick add a level of trendiness to the products she is supplying. Her many different vendors are shown through her selection of aromatic candles and grooming needs, balanced with the novelty flasks and mugs that say, “Uteruses before Duderuses” all seeming to fit perfectly into place. This mixing of high-end body products and miscellaneous décor comes together in a fresh take the Cotton Exchange has been in need of and Catherine Hawksworth is the provider.

Catherine is much younger than her fellow business owners in the Cotton Exchange, which she admits is a little overwhelming. She worries about the differences in the market that the older shop-owners bring to the table, but there is solace in being located in the heart of downtown and looking for a younger demographic than those around her. She also feels that her store “wears a lot of different hats” repeating throughout the interview that she doesn’t want her customers to feel like they need to fit a certain mold to shop there.

She uses her vinyl collection as an example stating, “I think you could have an 80 year-old that wants to listen to Duke Ellington, and then you could have a 50 year-old man that wants to listen to The Eagles, and a 30 year-old woman that wants to listen to John Mayer with a glass of wine, and I think that’s what sets it apart.”

Catherine’s confidence in opening her own business spreads through many aspects of the store. She feels her understanding of product need and the revitalization of downtown will be instrumental in her store’s success.

Overall the largest support Catherine’s felt is that of her friends and family, whether it be a record-rack custom made by a friend or just having her family believe in her. She emphasizes her gratuity to everyone that has helped her along the way with one of her biggest supporters being her sister-in-law, Hannah Hawksworth, who appears to be one of Catherine’s biggest cheerleaders throughout the process.  

I spoke with Hannah about Catherine taking on Modern Legend on her own and her role in this venture, and she gives all credit to the owner.

“I’m mostly here for moral support,” she says, as she goes on to explain that she was on-board with the plan as soon as Catherine told her.

She views Catherine’s inspiration as “more of a culmination of things” that all worked together to become one cohesive idea—and once Catherine catches an idea she follows it to the end.

Hannah also had some thoughts on what she hopes Catherine gains from this experience. She wants to see Catherine find a passion that she can follow and thrive in, even claiming, “I hope [Modern Legend is] so successful that it becomes worldwide!” but still dialing it down to say she would be happy to see it join the other prominent downtown shops.

With all of this confidence there are some fears involved in opening a shop by yourself, and they do cross Catherine’s mind, but even as she speaks about them they seem to shrink in comparison to the high-hopes held for the store. Catherine talked openly about how easily mistakes can be made or overlooked and how that all comes down to her. But as the words left her mouth, the negative tension dissipated, and her lips picked back up into a smile. She has her weaknesses, but her strengths are spread wide throughout the corners of the shop.

Connor Davis is a recent UNCW graduate. He hopes to set his roots in North Carolina before life takes him elsewhere.

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