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how to open your own online boutique

Fashion
Photo via Amy Lynn Straub for Hello Holiday

takin’ care of business.

Spending time searching for the most unique clothes and accessories, connecting with customers on social media, and putting together cohesive personal styles—online boutique owners sure have a dream job, and they certainly know their way around the web. While anyone may be able to open their own vintage Etsy shop, it takes a little more planning and strategy to start an online shop from scratch. That's why we talked to three of our favorite online boutique owners to find out just how it's done.

Lauren Jade Katz of Emerging Thoughts, Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik of Hello Holiday, and Lisa Williams of Lisa Says Gah weighed in on the things that help to make an online shop thrive from the get-go. Follow their advice and your shop-owning dreams may become a reality.

1. Make a Plan

Before starting any creative venture, it’s necessary to have a sense of the direction you’re moving in—no matter how much that direction may change over time. As a business, online boutiques require careful thought and planning, whether they grow slowly or become established right away. Depending on your background, current job, and current place in life, the ways you can develop your online boutique vary.

Lorsung Tvrdik developed her plan for Hello Holiday with her business partner Megan Hunt after a late-night meeting. The two wrote their business plan, formed an LLC, and took out loans to start up their business venture. “Looking back almost 3 years later, our business plan was pretty funny and our budgetary numbers were very off from reality,” she says. “But writing that plan really helped us in deciding how to spend our initial funds (mostly inventory and building out our website) and allowed us to decide early on what our branding identity would look like.”

While Lorsung Tvrdik and Hunt came to their business from freelance stylist and bridal designer backgrounds respectively, Williams opened her shop after years of e-commerce experience, leaving her buyer job at Nasty Gal to move to San Francisco and open Lisa Says Gah this past July. “It’s possible to start an online shop without any previous e-commerce or buying experience, but you’ll be years ahead if you put in the time at an established company first,” she says.

However, it’s still possible to start slowly, if you’re simply bored by your full-time job but unable to quit just yet or if you’re busy managing other side projects. Katz began Emerging Thoughts as a hobby in 2006 when she was living and working in New York City. “I started by purchasing inventory I liked off of LiveJournal—designers used to sell their stuff via blog posts,” she says. Once her shop started taking off, she quit her job and placed full focus on her growing business. 

2. Figure Out Personal Finances

Opening a shop is an investment—you won’t be rolling in the dough the second you open for business. These things take time, which means that you may have to wait a while before cutting yourself a paycheck and also strike a balance between working on your startup and earning a living doing other jobs.

While Katz kept her office job in NYC during the beginning phases of Emerging Thoughts, living in Manhattan made handling finances trickier. “I couldn't afford an office space so I stored some inventory, like the accessories, in my stove,” she says. After quitting her office job, she moved to Chicago to cut down on living (and office space) expenses.

Lorsung Tvrdik and her business partner Hunt also worked other jobs before shifting all their focus on their blossoming business. “As a startup, it’s really important to be able to focus your funds on the things you need to run your business right and most small business owners aren’t able to start out taking a salary,” she says. “But at the same time, you need to live, so having another job or another source of income is the best way to get by in the beginning.”

3. Find a Platform

Before you can sell a single item, it’s necessary to figure out just how you’re going to to sell things on the internet in the first place. “Building your own site from scratch isn't something you want to get caught up in first off unless you have a skilled friend that’s willing to help,” says Williams. Luckily, there are plenty of e-commerce sites available to make establishing your virtual shop a no-hassle experience. Lorsung Tvrdik swears by Shopify, an e-commerce software that can be used to sell items in-person and online: “It’s very user friendly and customizable from a design standpoint. We’re able to contact them easily about any issues we’re experiencing and they’re very quick to assist and are always adding new features to their platform.”


Photo via Lisa Says Gah.

4. Develop Your Style and Brand

Once you’ve sorted out your business plan and general set-up, the creative part can officially begin: branding. And with hundreds, if not thousands of online boutiques floating around the internet, it’s essential to make your shop stand out with an easy-to-remember name and a definitive, original style. “Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. It's the sincerest form of laziness,” says Katz. “People will commend you for being unique.”

While style can change over time, store offerings should reflect that change. “We updated our branding about a year ago to reflect the styling direction Hello Holiday had taken. We’re now a little less vintage-inspired, a little more vintage-modern, lots of ‘60s inspired pieces, funny prints, badass tees and some really smokin’ handmade lingerie. And we’re focusing on small designers now more than ever,” says Lorsung Tvrdik. As for Williams, Lisa Says Gah has always been about quality over quantity. “It’s not about pushing trends or fast fashion,” she says. “We take the guesswork out of shopping and provide a well curated selection for the conscious consumer by exclusively working with designers who are creating timeless original pieces.” With their unique perspectives, these shops have been able to stay true to their brand, making them distinctive and memorable in a sea of online shops.

5. Scout Out Inventory

With a personal brand established, a shop needs inventory to match. With so many online shops run by big brands and designers, what most helps an online boutique to thrive is unique products that can be found anywhere from Etsy, blogs, buying markets, and showrooms.

Lorsung Tvrdik and her team have started searching for inventory at the WWD Magic Marketplace in Las Vegas twice a year, and they have plans to travel to New York in the fall. While the co-founders established the general aesthetic of Hello Holiday, choosing exactly what to stock in the shop is a larger team effort. “I’ll often pick a dress up at market and say, ‘Can’t you see Jenny/Katie/Pavielle loving this?’ and our small buying team informally votes on how we think something will do, sales-wise,” says Lorsung Tvrdik.

For Williams, choosing inventory has been a more intimate experience. “To insure that our shoppers have an original selection to choose from we skip the major tradeshows and mostly shop in small showrooms of New York and LA by appointment,” she says. “Reaching out to designers directly has also been a big part of our process—working with international designers involves a lot of lookbooks and email correspondence.”

With a penchant for crazy-cool handmade goods, Katz has found the depths of the internet to be most helpful when stocking Emerging Thoughts. “I am an insomniac so I pretty much spend my nights on Etsy, obscure fashion blogs, and Googling weird search terms. I've found a lot of unique merchandise by clicking deep into Instagram accounts,” she says. However, working with small-scale designers and artists has its own challenges. “Last year I was working with a college student who handmade products in her dorm room,” she says. “I had to wait for her to fill my re-order because she was busy studying for finals.”

6. Ship Out Orders

Once products are selected for a shop’s inventory, they must be ordered, either from designers, individual artists, or wholesale companies. Katz, Lorsung Tvrdik, and Williams all keep their inventory on-site and have teams to help package and ship orders—but that means a lot of trips to the post office, so staying organized is crucial.

To make the shipping process less hectic, Lorsung Tvrdik recommends ShipStation, an an e-commerce shipping fulfillment platform. “ShipStation integrates with Shopify to easily sync our orders and do things like print packing slips and shipping labels,” she says. “We do all of our shipping in-house because it allows us to quality-control what we’re sending out, add signature packaging, write personal notes, and send a little something extra to customers from time to time.”


Photo via Emerging Thoughts.

7. Create a Reputation

To truly stand out from the crowd, Emerging Thoughts, Hello Holiday, and Lisa Says Gah shy away from traditional advertising, relying instead on blogger relationship and social media to help draw their followings.

While Williams and Katz point to word-of-mouth as their most tried-and-true form of advertising, Lorsung Tvrdik has found partnerships with bloggers to be especially beneficial. “We work time and time again with bloggers like Rebecca of The Clothes Horse, Kailey of Mermaidens and Jenny of She Loves Dresses because they’re genuine and creative people and I think that really shines through in the work they do,” she says. “We ‘advertise’ with them but since it’s from their point of view, it doesn’t feel like an ad.”

Through social media, these shop owners have also been able to connect and communicate with their customers, and develop a following on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. “A happy customer will post about their purchase on social media, and that organic, free advertising means more to me than paying a popular blogger to promote it,” says Katz.

8. Consider Expanding to the Storefront

After a boutique is established online, there still lies the potential to expand. Selling items in-person can help to advertise an online shop and create new connections.

Katz suggests that new shop owners go local to develop a larger network of customers. “Cross promote with local shops. If you're starting an online shoe shop, have a pop-up shop in your favorite coffee shop. Become a vendor at your city's artisan market. Have private shopping events every month,” she says. Besides helping to advertise your online boutique, holding a pop-up shop can also provide valuable face-to-face time with customers. “It gives us a chance to go brick-and-mortar without long term commitment and connect with our clients in person. Events like this provide an invaluable point of intersection for the creative community,” says Williams.

However, for other shops, establishing a brick and mortar shop ends up being the next logical move for expansion. Hello Holiday recently opened up a storefront attached to its Omaha offices. “We now run our online shop and can offer easy in-store pickup and shopping for our local customers. ‘cause ya know, online shopping is awesome and all but sometimes your cute-as-hell cousin comes in from out of town and you want to take them shopping—the world needs boutiques too,” says Lorsung Tvrdik.


Photo via Hello Holiday.

9. Don’t Give Up So Easily

From the very first moments of developing a business plan to connecting with customers and shipping out orders, starting and running an online boutique is not an easy feat—but that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding. By putting their plans into actions despite any roadbumps, Katz, Lorsung Tvrdik, and Williams have all made their dreams a reality. “If you have a real vision that you know will eventually take off, then it will,” says Katz. “I've cried in post offices, considered throwing my printer out the window, wondered if I should just close my shop and get a regular office job. Find your vision and stick with it.”

Photo by Rachel Dennis

Finally

"What do girls even do together?" This question, or some iteration of it, is frequently posed to me once someone finds out I'm bisexual or hears me mention my girlfriend, or if I make any reference to being interested in girls. I would be annoyed by it, but I have empathy because I know how hard this kind of information can be to find. In fact, the details of how two people with vaginas have sex isn't very widespread information. And, I know that I didn't really have all that much information about girl-on-girl sex before, well, actually having it myself. It's precisely this kind of situation that queer sex educator Stevie Boebi is trying to fix.

Boebi has gained a big following for her informational YouTube videos about how to use a strap-on, how to scissor, how to fist someone, how to choose a vibrator for yourself; any question you could have, she will get you an answer. She doesn't shy away from topics that people wouldn't be quick to ask someone about IRL, either, like BDSM. And she covers the kind of things that are definitely not what we're taught in sex education classes—likely not even in the most progressive curriculums. A study from GLSEN notes that only 4 percent of teens reported learning anything positive about queer sex in their sex ed classes, and points out that in some states, it's actually prohibited to mention queerness at all.

Particularly when it comes to sex with two vaginas, the lack of available public education leads to a general lack of understanding of how we have sex, which then leads to a lack of understanding in the queer community, too. "I just think that lesbian sex is so oversexualized, and we're the least educated," said Boebi when I asked her recently why it's so important for her to spread knowledge about queer sex in particular.

Boebi said that she started out on YouTube making videos about technology, but after she came out as a lesbian, her audience flipped from mostly male to mostly female, though she would prefer a less rudimentary gender breakdown ("the algorithm only deals in binaries, sorry," she quipped).

Ultimately, her sexuality led her to change her content entirely, because she wanted to educate people who couldn't find answers to their questions anywhere else—even on the internet.

"I started getting a lot of what I called 'stupid questions' from very confused teenage girls saying, like, 'How do I do it? Can I get AIDs from fingering someone?'" Boebi told me. They were questions that probably should have had easily Google-able answers, but, when Boebi looked for lesbian sex education content to send to fans who were asking her, she came up empty-handed. "I couldn't find anything. I think I found, like, two articles on Autostraddle, and that was it," she said. "And then I was like, Well, shit! If no one else is going to do it, then I guess I will."

Boebi's audience is mainly comprised of 13- to 24-year-olds, so she keeps in mind that she's helping people who may not be experienced, or even out yet. She uses her own experiences to inform her work sometimes, but also researches extensively and talks to people she knows who "have fancy Ph.Ds in sexology and shit," who can answer her questions or point her to resources she should be referencing.

Boebi's charm is in her relatability; even if she's talking about things we've been conditioned to feel shame around, she does it in such an open and honest way that all that shame disappears—as it should. She does this by perfectly meshing professional talk with jokes and sarcasm, and even uses characters based on star signs. She knows the importance of taking on taboo topics, because there are so many people who won't otherwise find answers to their questions. "I don't actually struggle in my everyday life asking people if they've ever been anally fisted before," Boebi joked with me. "I'll take that burden."

And keeping her tone light and humorous is of the utmost importance to her. "When people are laughing, they're comfortable, and I want people to feel comfortable," Boebi said. "And I want people to know that I'm comfortable talking about sex, and they can be, too." It helps also, Boebi told me, that her audience is separated by a screen, and she's not "in a room with a 12-year-old talking about my labia."

Beyond instructional sex videos, Boebi also deals with other rarely discussed facets of sexuality and physicality. Boebi is polyamorous, and talks openly about it, confronting the stereotypes and the misinformation about the identity head-on. And, she was also recently diagnosed with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome after going years without a diagnosis, and she aims to start working more with disabled queer sex educators to make her work more inclusive of people with disabilities. Though she pointed out to me that her work was already encompassing of disabilities, she "hasn't been a part of the disability activist community for very long," and so she has a lot to learn.

And, though Boebi's happy that she has the platform she does, she wants a more inclusive array of sex educators to join the scene. "My voice is my voice, and it's unique to me, but I think there should be way more," she noted. "Especially people [with intersectional identities]. That would make me so happy if we could diversify sex educators."

And, though Boebi says there's no "ideal way" to educate people about sex, she's definitely on a better track than the public education system, and she makes clear that there's nothing shameful about sexuality—in fact, it's just a part of being human, and a really fun one, at that.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Screenshot via YouTube

The band shared details about their new St. Vincent-produced album that will drop "you into the world of catastrophe"

Sleater-Kinney just shared more information about their St. Vincent-produced album and dropped a new single.

Per Billboard, Sleater-Kinney revealed that their new album, which they've been teasing since early this year and will be their first since No Cities To Love from 2015, will be called The Center Won't Hold. It's due out on August 16 via Mom + Pop Records. "We're always mixing the personal and the political but on this record, despite obviously thinking so much about politics, we were really thinking about the person—ourselves or versions of ourselves or iterations of depression or loneliness—in the middle of the chaos," Carrie Brownstein said in a statement. Corin Tucker further noted that the new album will "[drop] you into the world of catastrophe that touches on the election."

Janet Weiss noted that the band will "explore a different sound palette" with this album, and pointed to St. Vincent as the reason behind it. She said that St. Vincent "has a lot of experience building her own music with keyboards and synthesizers so she could be our guide to help us make sense of this new landscape and still sound like us."

To satiate us until then, the band released a lyric video for new single, "The Future Is Here," which is very grungy. Bump it, below.

Sleater-Kinney - The Future Is Here (Official Lyric Video) www.youtube.com

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This is so satisfying!

Even Jon Snow knows just how unsatisfying the final season of Game of Thrones was, and he's ready to apologize. Well, a deepfake of him is at least. A heavily-edited version of Snow's speech from the fourth episode—just before the bodies of those lost in the Battle of Winterfell get burned—now features Snow apologizing for the conclusion of the show and lighting the script on fire.

"It's time for some apologies. I'm sorry we wasted your time," Snow begins. "And I know nothing made sense at the end. When the Starbucks cup is the smallest mistake, you know you fucked up! We take the blame. I'm sorry we wrote this in like six days or something," he adds, before signaling to his peers to light the script with torches and "just forget it forever." "Fuck Season 8," he says before the pages begin to crackle and burn.

If there were more lines left to alter, we would have loved to see Snow also tackle how messy Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister's story line ended up, as well as Bran's kingship, Cersei's boring demise, and the water bottle appearance.

Watch the entire deepfake and try to heal the wounds left by HBO below.

BREAKING: JON SNOW FINALLY APOLOGIZED FOR SEASON 8 youtu.be

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Photo by Darren Craig

It premieres today, exclusively via NYLON

In LP's song "Shaken," the most recent single from her 2018 record Heart To Mouth, she tells the story of seeing her lover out with someone else—ouch. Today, exclusively on NYLON, she releases a cheeky animated music video that pokes fun at the song's heightened drama and perfectly demonstrates all the angst that comes with falling hard for someone.

"She looks at you like I used to/ And I'm just sitting in the corner sh-sh-shaken," LP sings, as the visual—with art by Maayan Priva—depicts the singer hanging out in a bar, watching the girl she likes meet up with another girl. Despite the situation's inherent drama, "Shaken" is less of a ballad and more of an upbeat bop. LP told us she loves the way "this little video captures some of the fun of the song, and its inherent comical anxiety." Sure, heartbreak isn't that funny, but our (sometimes) overly dramatic reaction to it kind of is.

"'Shaken' feels like a bit of a wild card on this record," LP says. "It's the closest I've come to writing a musical, which I hope to do one day." We heartily endorse this idea: Please, LP, give us the queer jukebox musical we crave.

Until that day comes, though, you can watch the music video for "Shaken," below.

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This cameo has the Beyhive buzzing

I went to see Men In Black: International alone. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the shock I received when I saw two specific characters on the screen. Unable to keep it to myself, I shared a curious look with the stranger next to me, who was obviously thinking the same thing as me. "Is that them...?" I whispered first. "I think… so," she replied. Then the two men in question started to dance, and we were both sure: "Yep, that's them."

It was Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. Fans of Beyoncé will recognize the duo as the talented brothers who often accompany her on tour and in music videos. In Men In Black: International, the two of them play shapeshifting entities—they're more like energy forces than aliens—who pursue Tessa Thompson's and Chris Hemsworth's characters throughout the duration of the film. The twins' ability to manipulate their bodies in ways that are graceful and otherworldly really helps sell them as extraterrestrials and is fun to watch.

So if Thompson in a suit or Hemsworth shirtless weren't enough motivation, here's another reason to go see it. If you look close, you can see them in the trailer below.

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL - Official Trailer www.youtube.com

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