It is no secret that I am passionate about women's empowerment and women in leadership positions. As women's history month ended in March, a new series emerged here at The Honest Mama blog. Each week throughout April and May, Female Feature Fridays will spotlight local female entrepreneurs in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities.
Meet Erica Kennedy, a boutique owner who is passionate about providing affordable fashion to women of all shapes and sizes.
Name: Erica Kennedy
Business Name: Blush Boutique
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Erica, I’m 38 years old, married 7 years and a mother of two boys ages 16 and 4 and due in June with a baby girl. I work full time at the University of Illinois for the last 12 years. My current department is the College of Engineering. I’ve been a resident of the Champaign Urbana area since 2008
What made you decide that you wanted to start a clothing boutique?
When I was planning my wedding in 2014 I was looking for THE rehearsal dinner dress. I had something in mind but just couldn’t find it at the mall or any of the stores I loved browsing online. So I decided to make a visit to a popular local boutique in Urbana, IL. Not only did I find exactly what I was looking for, I noticed that the styles were different from the mall, there were limited quantities (so less chance of seeing yourself walking down the street) and the atmosphere was welcoming. Because it was a small business, there was more focus on customer service and soon I became a regular where the employees knew my name.
Then I got to thinking: I love fashion, I love people, I love making people feel special, why couldn’t I do something like this? From there Blush was born.
When did you open your business?
November of 2017
What do you think the average person may not know about what goes into owning a clothing boutique?
A few things actually! It’s not really a glamourous job. I do get dressed up in various items I’m bringing to the boutique and do my makeup and do photoshoots multiple time a month, but it’s a lot of work. It is tiring, draining and time consuming. Most times I really don’t feel like being the model! There is so much more to it than cute clothes and photoshoots. Most of the work is behind the scenes and not so pretty!
I also think that people underestimate how many people will be buying from you when you first start. When you first announce your new business venture to your close friends and family, you’re going to get so much positive feedback and excitement and how they can’t wait to buy from you. But in reality my close friends and family are of the SMALLEST percentage of people who buy from me. My regular customers are people that I don’t know, never met and have cultivated a relationship with through my business over the years.
What makes you unique within the clothing boutique industry?
I’d say my price point. While I love boutique stores and still shop at them quite frequently, I feel they tend to be higher priced than even some of my favorite mall brands. I know what it feels like to be in various stages of money you have available. So I try to keep my price point affordable for the woman who wants to be stylish but may not have 70 dollars to spend on a pretty maxi dress. I also try to bring styles across the size board. For the most part if a jumper or top is in size Small to XL on my site, you will be able to find the same jumper or top in size 1 to 3X (give or take a few items). I don’t want my shoppers who are in the 1-3X size range to feel that they cannot dress like someone who is a Small to XL. Women want to feel stylish and size should not make that a determining factor.
How did you decide what you wanted your clientele to be and how you would connect with them?
I don’t think I really made a decision on that when I first started. I just jumped in head first and I let my following tell me who they were and what they liked. As far as connecting, I knew that my main source would be social media. Since Blush is not a brick and mortar store I had to rely heavily on my social media presence and being consistent.
What are the biggest challenges you face within your industry?
Over saturation. Everyone owns a boutique. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it does make your business just another business that everyone has. So finding ways to be authentic, natural and real with my audience has helped me stand out somewhat in a business that is very popular.
Your Instagram page has a great balance of personal and business and provides quality content that ranges from relatable mom and wife life, great fashion, hair, makeup, and fitness. Can you tell us whether the lifestyle content or the boutique came first, and how tying the two together helps your boutique business?
I don’t think lifestyle content & boutique content were ever in competition. I just know that when I follow someone with a business on any social media platform it’s because they aren’t always shoving their product down my throat with every post and story. I feel like they are my friend (or at least could be if I met them in person), their posts are relatable and/or entertaining. The balance is what keeps me following them. So I try to keep that same energy with my own Instagram feed. Sure I run a boutique and I’d love for you to buy from me, but I’m also a mom and a wife and I have good and bad days just like you. I think that helps my business because the authenticity has really helped me cultivate real friendships and relationships with people I only know online which in turn I earn their trust. Because let’s face it, buying from a boutique you follow on Instagram can be scary! But following my page day in and day out and watching my stories daily, you’ll trust that I’m not going to take your money and never send you your romper J
You are a full-time working woman who owns her own boutique and has two kids and a new baby on the way! How do you balance your professional life with “mom life”?
There are times I’m failing at it all! Especially in the beginning. Starting a new business is scary and it consumes your every thought. So other areas of my life were lacking in those beginning months. But with time I’ve realized how to better prioritize my time ESPECIALLY since being pregnant. This pregnancy has been the least easy of the three and I’ve had to really step back and take care of myself first. As women that is hard for us to do. We want and sometimes are expected to be super women and self-sacrificing, so taking a step back and saying “hey I can’t do ALL of this” can be hard to do and admit. But thankfully because I’ve always been real with my followers and customers these announcements along the way during my pregnancy of how the boutique may be changing or different to allow myself to grow a human and take care of my family has been met with such understanding I could cry. So to sum up that question, I balance it all by being honest with myself, not downplaying my feelings to myself (“oh stop being dramatic Erica!!”) and keeping my customers aware of how things may be changing and why.
As a public figure with your large social media following, do you ever face criticism or setbacks? If so, how do you handle that?
I did face criticism last summer which I almost allowed it to turn into a setback. During COVID and out of boredom I started a Tiktok (didn’t we all?) I was making silly videos like we all do that started gaining attention and growing my following. So I decided to introduce that following to my boutique by making short videos of items I carry in my store. I started receiving LOTS of comments and criticism about why I’m not size inclusive and selling extended sizes (XL to 3X). My first thought was to get defensive. “Why don’t I sell plus size? Because I don’t HAVE to” But then I thought, “WHY AREN’T YOU?” My primary means of getting eyes on my product is FB and I knew that I had plenty of plus size following there because I had dabbled in plus sizes my first year of opening and it DID NOT go well so I eliminated it. A lot of that plus size following remained on my FB page despite me not releasing a single plus size item in years. So I had to think about why I wasn’t trying it out again. And I determined it was because I was afraid of failing (again) and because it is HARD. Anyone in the boutique industry knows that finding cute, stylish plus size clothing is like finding a needle in a haystack. My main downfall the first time I dabbled in it was mistakenly thinking plus size women and women who are a small to large wanted different things when in reality all women want to be stylish no matter our size. So I got rid of my fears and tried it out again, this time offering what I thought was cute in size Small to 3X. I had to get rid of assumptions that women in the plus size category didn’t want anything fitted, didn’t want tank tops, didn’t want bright colors and just offered what I would wear in the entire size range. It has done well from my first release in late summer up until now and I’m so happy that I let those comments make me better and not bitter.
What would you say to someone who is wanting to start their own business but is hesitant?
Just do it! Especially if it has been on your heart for a while. It’s going to be hard, you’re going to get mad and frustrated, and feel like you’re failing and doing everything wrong but there will be times where you’re killing it and feeling like you’ve got it all figured out. I have days where my sales are low or maybe choosing that top in neon green was a bad idea since it hasn’t sold and I’m beating myself up that week, then someone will post a selfie in my FB group or tag me on Insta in one of my items telling me how confident they felt or how many compliments they got on their outfit that night and it makes all the sour parts of this business worth it!
You can find Erica on Instagram @masonmichael_2 and shop the boutique at shop blush.online.