Ember Boutique looks like an average clothing store aimed at young women in not-so-fashion-forward Central Arkansas. Airy dresses hang from racks pushed against walls and jewelry spills over a large table in the middle of the room. There's a charming seating area near a large floor mirror, perfect for watching a shopping companion try on clothes.
But what makes this Heights boutique different from those down the street is that its owners, sisters-in-law Kathryn Richardson and Jamie Richardson, are selling their own line of clothes, purses and baby items and putting a spin on what's not of their own manufacture. They go for original, but not overly trendy, designs, many in relaxed cotton fabrics.
It's a simple design philosophy, according to Kathryn.
“We do a mixture of things. A lot of our own line is all handmade and some of it is just deconstructed.”
Kathryn, a fashion design major at Philadelphia University, and Jamie, a fashion merchandising major at Harding University, slogged through the requisite stint at Dillard's that just about every Arkansas woman with a fashion degree takes. Jamie also honed her business skills at various boutiques, including the long-time Little Rock fashion go-to (but now defunct) Elle boutique. Kathryn pioneered her fashion career in Hong Kong, where she mined the city's huge wholesale district. Later, when she came back to the States, she began hosting trunk shows of the clothes she'd purchased for friends.
Then Jaime and Kathryn started collaborating. Working out of a tiny studio in West Little Rock, they added their own touches to Kathryn's wholesale wares. They started soliciting clients from Facebook and MySpace and the business took off.
Inspiration, Kathryn says, comes from street-style, Hong Kong and the quirky English brand Luella. Kathryn concentrates on sewing, while Jamie spends a lot of her time painting their creations.
Jamie says owning her own boutique had always been “just a dream” of hers, something she never thought would actually happen. But by teaming up and starting small, the women didn't have to take out a large business loan or look for financial backers.
Once they had their base clientele, they made the move to the Heights, where they have steady foot traffic. They also purchase the majority of their stock online, saving on pricey trips out-of-state to market. Their showroom furniture is all second-hand, and Jamie created any art you see on the walls.
Their business model combines common sense and a love for creating clothes, and is a creative way, they say, to stay out of the corporate fashion world and offer inexpensive and unique clothing. Ember, they believe, is poised to catch fire.