How I Started My Own Fashion Boutique as a Full-Time College Student

I’m always looking for the next best thing to do to bring joy into my life. I’m a full-time college student at Towson University, but I also run an online boutique and custom graphic tee company full-time, too—and it’s the best journey I’ve ever been on. I’m living proof that college students can be entrepreneurs, and be successful in finding a passion and sharing it with others—all while building a business and enriching your resume and skillset in incredibly valuable ways. Palm and Pearl Boutique officially launched in June of 2019, and this journey is one I want to share because it’s so amazing and has taught me more than I ever expected, boosting my confidence and creating opportunities I never imagined.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Soft and Sweet Knit Top in Cream, $36.99, Palm and Pearl Boutique {Shop Now}

The story behind the business

In January of last year, my mom, sister and I were laying around in a post-holiday haze, tossing around ideas for something new and exciting. I had been fundraising for a few months for PALS Programs, the nonprofit organization I volunteer with every summer, and my most successful fundraiser was a shirt I designed to bring awareness to Down Syndrome in a fun way. At the time, I had launched the shirt design on a fundraising website. I had no control over the shirts themselves, and I received “payouts” from the shirt sales monthly. I sold over 70 shirts, but I was quickly becoming frustrated with how little of the profits I received to donate back to PALS—on a $50 sweatshirt, I’d only get a few dollars.

We also live in a really rural community with very few quality clothing stores that carry contemporary apparel nearby. My family and I had started shopping online through boutiques, and loved finding unique clothing. However, sometimes it felt sad that on every single website or boutique we stumbled across, all of the women in the photos were blonde, athletic, thin, size-zero models. These women didn’t look like me, and they didn’t look like most women I know who have healthy bodies of all different shapes, styles, and curves.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Pick-of-the-Patch Thermal Top in Oatmeal/Red-Brown, $36.99, Palm and Pearl {Shop Now}

I’ve always loved fashion and shopping, especially for soft, wearable clothing that girls would want to snag in every color. The idea for starting the boutique—a place that made every woman feel comfortable in her own skin—was born, and quickly grew to include graphic tees when we realized I could re-launch my fundraiser as my own.

We set off to learn how to produce quality graphic tees ourselves and began the intense research process required for starting a boutique. That night in January, just as the year began, I came up with a name that encapsulated our family’s love for the beach and the breezy-yet-unique and beautiful styles we wanted to cultivate: Palm and Pearl Boutique.

Dog Mom Long Sleeve Tee, $30, Palm and Pearl Boutique {Shop Now}

How I actually started a boutique

The main challenge for the first few months was intense research. Finding our fashion vendors without attending a trade show (an event where we’d get to meet the designers and feel the clothes in person) was hard. Sifting through so much information and misinformation was a process. I started a massive launch task spreadsheet (Google sheets and docs are life for collaborative projects like the store!) and slowly we crossed items off, whether from the legal standpoint of securing our business and tax licenses, or from the standpoint of figuring out which ecommerce website we’d use to house the store.

In all honesty, YouTube was a huge help in learning some of the more challenging things. It’s where I started learning how to design and create my own clipart for shirts (I draw all of our artwork by hand on the iPad with the Apple Pencil! It’s an amazing tool for artists and designers) and how to do different things on our website and social media. My mom and I did attend a trade show in March, but for the custom graphic side of the business—it was so overwhelming because there are so many niches and avenues in the apparel industry!

I had so many things on our list to begin with, I didn’t really know when we’d launch. We decided to just pick a launch date, and then prioritize our tasks into the necessities and the “can-be-done-later” items. On June 1, as soon as midnight hit, I made the website public. We were fully prepared to have nothing happen—in all of our research, everyone said that usually on launch day, there wasn’t going to be a lot. Five minutes after midnight, we made our first sale (if you're curious, it was one of these pineapple shirts!)—and we hadn’t even told anyone outside our immediate family about this entire endeavor.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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All day we made sales. We actually had to order a restock for one of our prettiest tank tops. Since then, it’s been important for us to be patient and appreciate every small win, and we’re growing consistently every month. Sometimes I forget that we’re only a few months old as a shop.

Being able to customize items has been amazing in its own right. I have women who reached out to me describing their struggles with finding clothing that they loved and fit them well, and I custom-made them tees in their size (I’ve gone all the way up to a 4XL). I’ve made shirts for realtors in our community, other young entrepreneurs looking for a way to promote their businesses, and even provided an in-person try-on experience for an entire florist shop full of ladies who wanted matching shirts for Halloween. Being able to say “yes” every time someone come to me with a request, and learning how to design quickly and in a way that makes people happy has been so much fun.

What I do for the store

Learning to find balance has been the biggest challenge of the whole process. I take 18 credits a semester at schoo,l and am double majoring in English with Family and Human Service, so school alone is busy all the time. I do everything for the shop from running the website to designing and producing graphic tees, and everything in between. Social media, design, copywriting for our products, cultivating our product lines, selecting new products to try out, shooting and editing photos, being in video content, being in photos, fulfilling, packaging, and shipping orders—you name it, it’s something I’m doing behind the scenes! The whole shop is a collaborative effort between myself and my family, and having such a close and supportive family has definitely helped in making this dream a reality.

Sherpa Pullovers, $49.99, Palm and Pearl Boutique {Shop Now}

A typical day for me during the semester involves waking up and having breakfast, working on tasks for the online boutique until I have to get ready and go to class, fitting in homework and studying in whatever gaps I can, and then when I get home, balancing out school work and boutique work. For the boutique, I use Trello to stay organized, and every week update our boards with new tasks and ongoing projects, plus add checklists and deadlines. It's great for keeping us on track with our goals!

Finding my confidence

Most people would never assume it now, but throughout high school, I had absolutely no self-esteem. I hated looking in the mirror because I was so bullied and so self-conscious. I had internalized the negative things I’d heard, and saw myself in a way so negative and unrealistic that I feel so sad thinking of it now. As I entered college, I quickly learned that I love the person that I am. Learning to be confident has been a process, but opening my own business has helped me blossom into the outgoing, confident, and positive person I am now.

Being in photos that are going to be shared across social media and on our website seemed intimidating at first, until I actually got out to our first photoshoot. As soon as I had on the clothes, which I was so passionate about and absolutely adored, I felt beautiful and confident. Being in the photoshoots is straight-up fun. I’m having the time of my life and being my most genuine self in the photos, and from the feedback I’ve gotten from some of our loyal, repeat customers, it shows.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Fireside One-Shoulder Top, $36.99, Palm and Pearl {Shop Now}

Although we started an online store, we’re creating a space where women (and even some of the men we’ve had shop with us, whether for themselves or their wives/moms!) feel that sense of positivity and authenticity, and feel comfortable asking questions and trying bold looks. We have multiple graphic tee/sweatshirt campaigns that we created to donate back to the causes we care about. I’m so proud of the business we’ve created, and I’m proud of myself for doing something different as a college student—and I encourage everyone I meet who feels inspired by what I'm doing to find a passion and start a business for themselves. Anyone can be successful at having a business, even young people like us: with passion and hard work, you can make it happen. I’m so excited to see where we’ll be at by our first anniversary on June 1st, 2020. I know that balance will continue to be a challenge for me, but I’m definitely getting better at it. Starting a business has been the most fun thing I’ve ever done, and I know these next few months and years are going to be amazing. My main goals for the next few months is to find more size-inclusive boutique styles and to grow our social media accounts. 

Come hang with us on Instagram and Facebook, and visit our website too.