I've been loving meeting so many amazing entrepreneurial women over this past year, interviewing them, and telling their stories. It shouldn't be so surprising to me the vast amount of incredibly talented, driven, and caring women that Chicago has - but it still does! This woman is no different; from graduating college during the recession and jumping headfirst into the corporate world, only to be laid off many years down the road with a small dream as a back up plan, Lauren of The Colette Collection is an inspiration.
Check out Lauren's adorable boutique in Chicago's Lakeview East neighborhood, read about how she turned getting laid off into a dream come true opportunity, and grab some wine - like we did for the interview! Super excited to be featuring this woman this week! :)
Q. What do you call yourself?
I usually tell people I am a small business owner. However, you wear a lot of hats when owning a business: Sales Manager, HR manager, Fashion Buyer, Accountant, PR & Marketing Consultant, the list cold go on forever. Unless, you are a fellow small business owner it is hard to grasp everything you do, I myself did not ever think I would have as many things on my plate as I consistently do, it is a never ending to-do-list, but I love it. My boutique, The Colette Collection carries a curated collection of cute things, as one of my employees says “We specialize in cute”. Although I wish I designed everything in the store, I do personally hand pick out all styles carried focusing on quality and appearance while also ensuring the items are affordably priced. I work with unique vendors that are more boutique oriented. I like to keep everything in the store in the $30-$60 price range with several items priced even lower than $30. We only receive a few of each item and get new arrivals weekly!
Q. How did you get into small business owning?
I went to school for Textile and Apparel Management at the University of Missouri which is a fancy name for a fashion & merchandising program. I knew since I was younger I wanted to do something fashion and retail centered (although there was a time I thought I wanted to be the first female president. My parents than had me do my huge 5th grade report on the road to presidency. I quickly decided it was not for me) When I was younger I took sewing lessons, and I would make clothes for my American Girl Dolls which is ironic because I later spent a large chunk of my retail career working for that company. Originally, my dream was to be a Fashion Designer but the options were New York or LA to go to an actual design school. So I went to Mizzou and did their program which was more merchandising and business focused with product development and design classes mixed in.
I graduated college in 2009 during the recession and it seemed like no one was hiring. I had done an internship the year prior and was told I would have a job with that company upon graduating, but soon learned the company was on a hiring freeze. I was assigned an extra credit product in one of my product development classes to make clothes for American Girl dolls for a silent auction. Of course I was interested in the extra credit since this was a enjoyment from my past. While looking through current doll clothing styles on their website, I stumbled upon an internship at American Girl Place in Chicago. I later applied for the management internship, interviewed, accepted the position, and was soon moving to a city I had only visited twice in my life.
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I completed the internship at American Girl and then got promoted to various retail management positions during a little less than five year term with the company. After lots of sweat, blood, & tears invested in that company I was laid off in January 2015. It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I was left feeling happy to move on to the next chapter of my life, but had no clue what the next chapter would entail. I originally thought this is my big break to get out of retail, live a normal life with 9-5 hours and weekends off to relax, but I also still had the idea of opening my own boutique in the back of my head. However, I did not feel ready to jump into a business so quickly without a plan. After enjoying two months of being unemployed while also applying to jobs daily I decided I needed to start applying to jobs in my realm of experience and maybe the retail life was what I was destined to do. I soon accepted an assistant store manager position at another retailer on Michigan Ave.
The itch to start my own boutique only grew stronger as I continued to sell merchandise I was not passionate about, manage employees who wouldn’t show up and didn’t care. So soon after starting this new job, I decided it was time to launch a website while also selling my handmade sports dresses & Fitbit charms on Etsy on the side. I was able to save the money I was making from Etsy to open my store. In the winter of 2015, I felt ready to open a store front. I had my parents look at places with me on a cold winter day, we looked at 3 places and I feel in love with our current location. Next thing I knew the lease was being signed and I was attending Stylemax to order merchandise for the store. I actually did all the build out for the store while working my full time management job and only quit about two weeks prior to the store opening date.
Q. Was owning a small business always something you wanted to do? Was there ever a serious alternative?
It was something I always wanted to do in the back of my head, but I didn’t think I was actually going to do it. When I initially got laid off in 2015 I thought I wanted to get out of the retail industry because of the long weekends, missing friends events & Holidays. Last year, was the first Christmas Eve I had not worked in about 10 years because I decided to close my store on Christmas Eve. The crazy, inconsistent schedule became the norm to be, but it was hard for those not in the retail world to understand.
I was lucky to have two parents who both had previously owned their own businesses. It helped extremly having their knowledge of getting the right business license, taxes, and just making sure I was doing everything right. I really appreciate all the guidance and time my parents have put into mentoring me with my business. I think if I didn’t have their experience I would’ve been a lost puppy, even though I still am sometimes. I feel like I learn something new everyday, but that is something I enjoy. I like to feel like my brain is constantly being stimulated and I am learning everyday.
Q. Why did you choose Chicago?
Fate. By accident, really. When I moved to Chicago I just never moved back to St. Louis. Growing up in St. Louis I always wanted to get away, but for college I chose to stay in the state. After graduating I wanted to see other places and I landed the job in Chicago. I loved that Chicago was a big city that was still close to my home town of St. Louis, only about a 5 hour car ride and 1 hour flight. Chicago is my home now or as I sometimes say I am lucky enough to call two cities home both Chicago & St. Louis. I do not have any plans of leaving Chicago, I love this city; however we never really know where life may take us.
Tell me about the name.
Colette is my middle name. I have several customers and friends call me Colette; however growing up I always went by Lauren or in high school and college my nickname became LC. I am asked a lot if it is a family name or named after someone and the answer is no, my parents just liked the name.
Q. Do you feel like you’re connected to a creative community in Chicago?
Yes; however I wish I was more connected. I’m a part of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce and am a member on their marketing committee, this is a great way to be connected to other small business owners in the area. We are also participating in the Boss Babe Pop-up at Old Orchard Mall in Skokie. This has been a great way to meet fellow female small business owners. It’s great to interact with fellow boutique owners because a lot of people don’t understand all that goes into running a boutique. We host monthly Sofar Sounds Shows where we have 3 up and coming artists perform in our store. This is a really cool event that allows us to connect to a different facet of the creative community. We also carry some handmade rings, handmade greeting cards, mugs, and more in the store all from women owned businesses. I also have the best employees who are super creative and help out so much with everything, I have been blessed to have a loyal staff I can count on!