Hometown & Current City
Houston-Aspen, CO-Kerrville, TX/New Orleans, LA
BA in Art History/Business from TCU // MA in Art History from Tulane
What was your first job after college?
I went straight from college to graduate school, so my first “real” job didn’t come until after I’d finished my Master’s. I was on the opening team for the Anthropologie in the French Quarter, one of the largest in the country, and eventually made my way up to management in Operations.
What made you decide to start your own business?
I definitely saw a niche in New Orleans for a different kind of boutique—one that was focused less on the “quick sell” items or huge, impersonal brands and more on well-made, quality products from smaller, independent designers. There also wasn’t much out there that sold a complete lifestyle, so I saw an opportunity to create a place where a customer could quite literally outfit every aspect of her life. All of that was realized during a pretty incredible wave of entrepreneurship happening in the city—especially on the small business level. I’d been researching and brainstorming this for years and honestly the timing was right and I decided to jump.
What were the first steps in starting your own business?
The first step happened long before I even began the operational steps that come with opening a store. It began by forming a very strong, clear vision of what I wanted to create and building off of that. Almost every decision I made along the way was impacted by my commitment to a certain aesthetic and feel–down to things like the location, floor plan, and buildout. It was important to me to stay consistent in the choices I made so that even before the doors opened we’d have a strong brand foundation in place.
I was lucky to have my cousin, a very talented creative collaborator and brand developer based in Atlanta, help me nail down my branding concept and what kind of lifestyle I wanted the company to communicate. He designed my logos (which couldn’t be more perfect) as well as helped me build out the website and the beginnings of the online store. He was a huge resource for me when it came to learning about strong brand identity and how that impacts the public’s perception of your company.
Finding the location was what I thought would be the most daunting. I knew I definitely wanted to be in the Uptown area of New Orleans, but it can be tricky to find a place that’s in a good shopping area without sky-high rent, or one that’s so saturated that it makes it difficult to stand out amongst the sea of other businesses. I spent a ton of time in the Maple Street neighborhood while I was in graduate school, and saw the area begin to really come up during my last year. There were some very established, well-known cornerstone businesses but all of a sudden the rest of the street began thriving—several boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants all popped up and really made the area come alive. So, when I saw a listing for a retail space I was familiar with opening up in the area, it was a no-brainer.
Once I had the space, it was full steam ahead with mapping out the interior build-out, marketing strategies, and a buying plan. It all happened very fast, which I think made me stay so intensely focused on achieving the goals I’d set. I think if I’d had more time to work with, I wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard to finish tasks in a timely and effective manner.
What did you learn in your first job that’s helped in starting your own company?
Athropologie was a wonderful place to learn about so many aspects of the retail world. I mean, in my opinion they’re the standard-bearers for thoughtful merchandising, customer service, and aesthetic integrity. So while I was there I tried to learn as much as I possibly could about not just the selling side of things, but about the operational ins & outs as well. One thing they do very well there is encourage, and almost require, their associates to really learn about the products sold in the store. What makes it special? Does it have an interesting design element the customer should know about? Where was it made? Who was the artist behind the collaboration? This emphasis on knowing the sum of a product’s parts and why they’re significant really stuck with me and is something I try and implement at Hattie Sparks. I’m personally drawn to things with a backstory, but it’s important to be able to communicate that backstory in a way that connects with the customer.
Was there anything you wish you’d known when you first got started?
To take things week-by-week in retail, not day-by-day. There are slow days, but you can’t let that discourage you—instead, focus on how to make the whole week great and step back and assess everything at the end of it. Things seem a lot better when you’re looking back on a Saturday evening than on a Tuesday.
What was the toughest part about starting your own business?
Feeling like I wasn’t going to be taken seriously because I was so young (I turned 26 just a month before we opened) and because while I’d had some retail experience, it wasn’t nearly as much as other people I’d met working in this industry. I don’t know if that was the toughest part—all the operational stuff I discussed above was a challenge—but it was definitely something that nagged at me mentally for a little bit. I eventually got over it and felt proud to have accomplished so much at a young age
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?
Learning to say “no” to things. I want so much to support everyone and see everybody succeed, so for a while I was taking on too much which spread me pretty thin. I’ve learned that saying “no” isn’t the end of the world, and generally people are really understanding about it.
Who or what do you look to for support?
My husband has been such a great source of support and encouragement throughout this whole process. He really helps me focus on the big picture and reminds me to not get overwhelmed by trivial things. He was the one who’d sit with me at dinner, listening to all my ideas, goals, and dreams and told me emphatically to go for it. No matter what, I know he’ll be my biggest believer and champion which I realize is such an amazing gift to have.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned since opening your shop?
To stay true to my own work, taste, and objectives. To not worry about what anyone else is doing, but instead just keep my head down and do my own thing as well as I possibly can.
What’s your favorite part about owning your own company?
My favorite part has to be seeing shoppers respond positively to the lines we carry. It’s such an affirmation to get great feedback on something that I took a chance on and to see those products flourish.
What does the future hold for Hattie Sparks?
We have a handful of co-branded products in the pipeline–exclusive collaborations with designers we carry. More trunk shows, including one that I’m taking on the road, and our second anniversary coming up on February 27th!
Do you do all the buying for your shop?
Yes, some of it is done at market, some directly through the designers, and some online.
How has social media benefitted your business?
Social media has been such an incredible tool for connecting with our customers and growing the brand beyond New Orleans. It’s exposed Hattie Sparks to people all over the country (and some all over the world!) and has made the store a shopping destination for people visiting from out of town & has also benefitted our online business tremendously. Nothing makes me happier than hearing “I’m here from New York/Chicago/Boston/Florida and I follow you on Instagram and Hattie Sparks was the one place I said I had to visit during my trip!” Without social media I don’t know if that kind of exposure would have been possible, and I’m very grateful for it. My social media accounts pull double duty as my business and personal accounts, so while it’s very important for me to keep things light and positive, I still want people to feel like they can relate to me and my journey of trying to balance it all.