Written by Rachel McKeighan
When you think of trendsetters, you may think of the celebrities and Instagram models who decide what is stylish right now. But where do people go to find trendy pieces inspired by Kendall Jenner’s latest Instagram post? For University of Arizona students, that place is University Blvd.
Amy Jesionowski, the owner of Collette Clothing and Boutique 816, has been keeping Tucson trendy for over a decade now. She discussed business, fashion, and empowering students with me.
Could you tell me about your boutiques, Collette Clothing and Boutique 816?
I used to own an antique store here in town, and when my business partner had to leave for personal reasons, it became too much to manage on my own. I couldn’t lift the big furniture by myself, and it was hard to get enough inventory to fill the whole store and large backyard. So, I was looking to start something new, and my sister-in-law had actually opened a clothing store called Collette near Purdue University. She suggested that I look near the University of Arizona, and that is when I found the spot where Collette now is. It used to be an Ed Hardy. I opened that store with my sister-in-law in 2010.
Then, a few years later, another one of the stores in Main Gate Square went out of business. I had been thinking about expanding Collette to different locations. Still, I didn’t want the space to be taken up by another replica of the boutiques that were already on the street when that space became available. I realized that if I took that space over, I could have control and make sure that it wasn’t a carbon copy of the stores already on the street. So that is how I opened Boutique 816. I wanted to provide some diversity to the options available for my main client, college students.
What makes Collette Clothing and Boutique 816 different from each other?
I look at Collette as more girly and feminine. It is the quintessential cute, trendy college girl. Boutique 816 is the opposite and much edgier.
How do you decide what to sell in your stores?
I get most inventory for the stores from the fashion district in Los Angeles or trade shows. I basically just buy anything I think our customer will be interested in. Because trends come and go, we are always trying to stay on top of what people want to wear. We want to know what people are looking to wear to brunch, bars, and frat parties. We wouldn’t survive on the street if we were not providing those outfits. Then, everything we buy gets delivered to Collette. We take a look at it and decide which boutique is a better fit for each piece of clothing. The best way for me, someone who is not the demographic we are targeting, is to figure out what we should be selling through my employees. They are another set of eyes in what is happening in fashion, and more specifically, style at the university right now.
I bring my business knowledge in how many we should buy and how much product moves through the store, and they bring the more current and trendy fashion eye. To accomplish that balance, I started a buying internship program at my store. It is usually one of my employees who eat, sleep, and breathes fashion. It is someone who is always looking at social media for what the next thing will be. I definitely can still make buying trips on my own, but I feel the store, and the customers benefit the most when we have more than one person’s opinion in our decision-making.
You employ many University of Arizona students. What do you hope that they take away from experience working at your stores?
I have seen my stores as a platform for young, typically female, people to springboard into the business world. In addition to sales associates and buying interns, I also created social media internships at each store. We have weekly meetings for those internships. I have been fortunate over the years to find passionate people. My favorite employees are those who come to see the boutiques as their own. They care about its success and want to see them be the best shops on the street. I also have a fantastic manager who is a former student and one of my best salespeople ever.
I think we do an excellent job in our interview process to find the people who can carry out my vision for the stores, which is to have them be where customers get the best experience as a whole. We always emphasize how people feel about themselves when they come in and how they feel when they leave. I want that to always be a positive experience. We definitely promote that experience through our salespeople, and because of that environment, my staff usually becomes very close to each other, which is always great to see.
What is your favorite part about owning the boutiques?
I love the opportunity to be creative, but providing a platform for young people to get into business has become my favorite part over the years. It is incredible to have the ability to provide that and really see it work. Some of my employees have gone on to great positions right out of college, and it is exciting to have been a part of that journey.
What is one article of clothing that you can’t live without?
I am tall for a woman, so jeans are long enough for me. It has been easier to find in recent years, but it used to be very difficult to find a pair of jeans that fit right.
Collette Clothing and Boutique 816 are a great way to shop locally. Located right by campus, they provide cute and trendy clothing conveniently. If you need a cute outfit last minute, you can head over there and find what you need. The environment is super inviting. My roommate used to go there for some retail therapy after exams, and she indeed came back to our room happier than when she left. You don’t have to be in Tucson to shop there, thanks to their new website: www.shopcollette.com.