I have always loved fashion and the fun and creativity of choosing what to wear. When I dress, I’m making a personal statement about pieces I love. I suppose, in a way, it’s much like the interiors I design. What we wear, how we live—our aesthetic preferences and presentation—are a calling card for style.
Regular store closings say that retail is dying. That’s what we are hearing and seeing. The old-school way of adding to your closet with a visit to a boutique with a door and dressing rooms is fairly uncommon. It seems as outdated as rhinestone-studded jeans and hair-sprayed bangs that reach to the sky (although ’80s style is back with a vengeance, and I wear high-waisted jeans all the time).
But let’s be honest, even with the convenience of online shopping and overnight delivery, the sensory fulfillment of milling about clothing racks and hunting for a special piece is irreplaceable. In Des Moines, the go-to spot is Blond Genius, a destination for a fully stocked denim bar with every cut imaginable or for chic sparkly looks for a night out.
I still shop online, and thanks to the internet, small boutiques across the country are accessible to everyone in Des Moines. And online shops in Des Moines are just as accessible around the country. If you have not checked out Blond Genius in person or as an online go-to, I highly suggest their website no matter where you live. Because it is a small business owned by caring and lovely people, the customer service is above and beyond. But since I live here, I love to make my Blond Genius visits in-person.
Not long ago, Erin and I sat down to chat. I got her take on retail, fashion, and her business. She asked me about my closet must-haves, my design inspiration, and my favorite escapes. After you read about Erin and Blond Genius, pop over to her blog to check out her feature about me.
First things first. Blond Genius. Tell me how you came up with the name. It’s fantastic!
I wanted something fun, playful, and cheeky. This name garners a lot of laughs!
On one hand we hear about the decline of retail. On the other hand, there is a trend for brick-and-mortar retail venues that offer an experience. Explain online shopping vs. doing so at a physical location.
It’s so important to us to offer a real-life experience. It’s a place for clients to come in and understand the stories behind the product. For our team, it’s the ability to understand the client’s needs through personal conversation. It’s fun to be able to share my passion for the collections that we carry. We love when clients come for the fashion but stay for the friendship. Over time, we’ve built relationships with clients…I know when their vacations are coming up and with what’s going on in their lives. You don’t get that online. You just see what people are excited about. I like that personal connection.
How did you dip your toes into the world of fashion?
After college at UNI (University of Northern Iowa), I worked for Lands’ End in Wisconsin for almost four years. The fashion side of the business intrigued me, but I was working in human resources. I wanted to make a move and a change. I had always dreamed of having my own business and solving the need for designer clothing in Des Moines. The whole industry was different then. There weren’t really online stores or boutiques 15 years ago. I was so young and the business was blooming so that I could take risks and make mistakes.
You carry boutique brands that are special and not easy to find in a community like Des Moines. How do you educate your clients on these brands?
What’s so fun is sharing the stories with our clients. Someone who is using a unique process, maybe all sustainable, or young up-and-comers. Everything has a story down to our $7 hair ties. We are trying to re-create the experience that we receive at market, so that they feel just as educated about it as we are. Especially within the target of our business, we want to offer pieces that are quality. Our prices tend to be on the higher side so the quality needs to validate the price. People want to feel better about spending a higher dollar amount.
What was the focus/mission of the initial business?
Two words. Premium denim.
We opened in 2005 when online shopping was not as popular, and premium denim was just starting to take off at that point. Des Moines’ offering was pretty limited. We took advantage. This new category had been created, and our focus was primarily jeans and tees, we had a niche that people wanted—to be fitted for premium denim. It’s been wild to be in this for 15 years. People came for the experience of being fitted in premium denim. Designers didn’t have everything figured out yet. Boot cut was popular back then, no stretch. We were doing a ton of alterations to every pair that went out the door. It made sense to the buyer that the cost was more because everything was tailored to the client. Clients came into the store right off the bat—people who are still with us today. There are different bodies and shapes and how every single person fits in jeans varies. We would request certain changes and fits to the designers. They took our feedback and started offering more stretch and skinny options.
How has the buying market changed?
We find that more and more designers want to do showroom appointments. Just as we want to create an experience for our shoppers, the showrooms want to create that experience for us buyers. And that happens most easily in their owns spaces vs. those temporary environments at a trade show. We go to Dallas once in a while. Sometimes Chicago. Lots of New York and Los Angeles.
How do you evolve the business?
I do feel like, up until this point, most of the major decisions have happened organically and by client request. I’m on the floor every day hearing what people are asking for, what they think is missing, and where opportunities lie. That’s typically where changes come from. Personally, I am that person who continually needs to be challenged. I started a business and then a website. We opened a summer shop in Okoboji. We opened an Ankeny store. We had a mobile boutique. We’ve experienced all these different arms of retail. We would love to be on the wholesale side and design our own line. I like to be challenged and think about what’s next. Being forced to think creatively.
Tell me about the engagement between you and your clients.
I love it because of the relationships that have been built over the years. I’ve met so many incredible women. It used to be that trends would start on the coasts and trickle back here. But now anyone can access anything and so that prompts many visits from our clients. It is so much about relationship-building. And we want our clients’ time with us to be fun with great conversation that goes beyond them simply looking for a new piece to add to their wardrobes. It’s fun to be the hub of where people come for style. Then there are the industry relationships. Those are especially inspirational because you hear the influences that led to a specific collection.
Why is fashion important in 2020?
You are a billboard for yourself. You are building your personal brand, telling the world what you are about. It’s your story and you get to direct it. Finding your personal style so you feel confident in the pieces that you are wearing is important now more than ever. It’s always better that someone is excited about what they are getting dressed in or what you are going home to. That makes life fun and comfortable. I think too, with age, you develop your personal style. It can evolve based on your life experiences and what you’ve been exposed to.
Experience Blond Genius for yourself. Check out my curated collection at Blond Genius. I handpicked favorite clothing, scarves, shoes, bags, and jewelry specifically for Blond Genius customers.