I have started a new category on this blog called ‘Work’. I aim to talk to entrepreneurs and creatives who have set up their own businesses.
One of the reasons I am inspired by these individuals is that I used to own my own business- a women’s wear boutique- for seven years. I know the challenges of taking an independent career path. People who work for themselves take a leap of faith, throw caution to the wind and just go for it. It is what makes America great – if you have a dream, a vision, and you work hard, there is a very high chance you can make your dream come true. Therefore, whether you have a designated career path or are unsure about your next move career wise, I hope there will be some tips, some ideas, and some inspiration you can take away from this work series.
I stumbled upon Onyx boutique one day when my daughter needed leggings for dance class. We were outside the dance studio and we realized she had forgotten her leggings. Onyx was across the street. I went in and found the perfect pair of leggings. Onyx is a charming, cute, colorful store- in Wicker Park, Chicago- selling items from around the world. Nothing is mass produced here; just unique pieces that no one else will have. I talked to the owner Shara Mcglinn about her inspirations for setting up her own business.
Having your own business is a universal dream. Everyone wants to do it, but few people actually do it. What made you jump in?
Honestly, it wasn’t something that I had been planning on until just a little while before we opened. My mother (and now business partner) had brought it up a while back, but I was wrapped up with other work and didn’t consider it at the time. She has this weird sixth sense though and started collecting store displays a couple years before we opened!
I hopped on board about two years ago (we opened a year and half ago) and everything was a whirlwind from then on. I found our location within two months, we moved on in and I spent the next few months basically living in the store before we opened. (I still do!) Seriously, there were nights that I just slept in the store while preparing it for the public.
What were you doing before opening Onyx?
I was modeling long before opening the boutique (and still do). It has played an important part in helping figure out what to carry in the store, and what people like. Interestingly enough, I took the route of carrying things that I don’t believe people can find elsewhere… at least not in the States. Modeling has me tired of wearing the same types of clothing. Although I know there is a reason these big companies carry similar things, I believe people should push out of their comfort zone with fashion and wear things that make them feel unique. Hence, we don’t carry many of one item. A lot of our clothing is one-of-a-kind actually.
How do you decide what to stock in the store?
Well, my mother has been traveling overseas for a long time (in part for her and my father’s wholesale silver jewelry business). I’ve accompanied them quite a few times and my mother and I adored all the unique clothing, jewelry and accessories we’ve seen abroad. Most of it is unlike anything you will find in the States and many people don’t get to travel and see these things.
That prompted our idea of an eclectic, bohemian-type boutique that is now Onyx. We decided we wanted to share these things with other people who don’t have the opportunity to get them themselves.
Since I am generally always in the store (I do take short trips here and there to shop), I will send my mother pictures of things I think our customers will like and descriptions. She then finds similar things and ships them back to the store. However, since we don’t usually buy from the same people (we just find new things we like and purchase them), I never know what I’ll be receiving! It’s like Christmas when I get shipments in!
So far, we have traveled to India, China, Thailand, Nepal and Peru for Onyx. I’m hoping to go to Morocco next…
What do you love about having your own store and what do you find the most challenging ?
My favorite part of having a boutique is changing the window display, dressing the mannequins, putting new stuff out, changing up the displays inside… and receiving new shipments, of course! The artistic side of owning a boutique is the most appealing to me.
The part I find most challenging is not taking it too personal when we have a slow day. There are a lot of things that factor into this (weather, day of the week, etc.), but it can be hard to not think, “I’m doing everything right. Why aren’t more people coming in today?” It’s a great lesson in patience and gratitude though. I keep reminding myself that.
What advise would you give to anyone who wants to open a boutique ?
First off: it’s not easy. There is a LOT of physical and mental work involved. There are a lot of slow days involved. However, if it is something you have the passion for, I think the most important thing is to find a niche. As mentioned before, there are so many stores that sell the same or similar items. If you can supply a need that’s not already easily met, you’re onto something! Another important thing is that you are personal with people. An outgoing and cheerful personality is very important. You have to be able to engage with your (future) customers and keep them wanting to come back as well as tell their friends about you.
Thank you Shara for talking to me. I really appreciate your time.
901 N Damen Ave,
Chicago, IL 60622
Phone: (773) 252-9004
If you know someone who would like to collaborate on the work series drop me a line. I would love to hear from you.