Alright friends, it’s time for another local small business feature so I hope you’re excited. I’ve been a huge fan of Undeniable Boutique for god knows how long, and I’m high key obsessed with the Mosaic District so I’m especially pumped for today’s post. I’m interviewing owner Alicia Russman so you guys are in for a serious treat so without further ado, let’s get to it.
Could you please introduce yourself?
Hi all, my name is Alicia Russman and I’m the owner of Undeniable Boutique and Be Seen Branding. I leverage empathy and creativity to help people stand out from the crowd. I do this in my boutique, where I help women express themselves through style and I do this in my branding agency, where I help emerging businesses reach and connect with their target audiences online. I’m also fiercely feminine and advocate for women’s equality. I recently served as President of the DC Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
What inspired you to open Undeniable Boutique?
I spent 20 years in corporate marketing. During the last five years of my corporate career, I traveled all over the world as a Creative Director assisting clients with the design and development of multimillion-dollar websites. Every place I traveled, I sought out the local boutiques where I’d find unique styles and accessories.
I loved having items that represented my travels and I enjoyed the experience of shopping and supporting small businesses. When I started burning out from constant travel and the industry in which I was working, I decided I wanted to bring that destination shopping experience I so loved, to women in Northern Virginia.
Have you always been passionate about fashion and retail?
Prior to launching Undeniable Boutique, I had no fashion retail experience whatsoever. I’ve since learned A LOT. I’ve made a ton of mistakes but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished considering. I’ve always personally followed fashion trends and as my career in marketing evolved, I started dressing differently. I was tired of the standard corporate suit look and got hooked on brands that allowed me to appear professional, but to not look like everyone else in the boardroom.
When did you open?
I opened my first store location in Fairfax Corner in 2011. I launched a Mosaic District store in August 2016. I consolidated both stores into the Mosaic location and at the end fo 2019, I moved out of my Fairfax Corner space, never looking back. Mosaic is an incredible community that has been very supportive of my small business.
And is there special significance behind the name?
When I considered names for my store, I thought about two things—how I wanted women to feel about the items I carried and how they would feel wearing the styles. I wanted my customers to feel like they couldn’t deny themselves of the unique pieces we would carry. And when they wore the clothes, I wanted them to feel Undeniable!
What makes Undeniable Boutique unique?
We understand shopping can be challenging for a lot of people. Women are busier than ever with families, social lives and careers and don’t have time to fish an endless sea of styles, deal with size inconsistencies, or grapple with unhelpful salespeople at chains and big box stores.
Undeniable Boutique was created to make shopping easy and fun. We hire experienced women as stylists to help customers find pieces that fit and flatter. We carry brands you don’t find in department stores and most specialty stores and our curated collections change weekly with new arrivals.
We also offer personal shopping appointments in-store or virtually, Loyalty Credits, and VIP Shopping Parties. We’ve created a wonderful community of incredibly supportive fans and enjoy hosting fun, themed events for them monthly.
I’m proud that Undeniable Boutique has been voted Best Women’s Boutique in Northern Virginia by the readers of Northern Virginia Magazine eight times and think it’s a testament to our focus on making shopping easy and fun for our community.
How would you describe UB’s aesthetic?
We have a lot of different styles, from bohemian to conservative and everything in between. The one common theme is that our pieces are distinct; they appeal to women who like wearing clothes that are comfortable and different than what you see everyone else wearing.
How often do you buy new items for your collection?
I attend about 4 apparel markets a year buying 4-6 months ahead of season. I also leave room in my budget to bring in new, trending styles weekly. Fashion changes so quickly that I hate committing to styles six months out that may not be relevant by the time we’re in that season.
It’s a real challenge to predict what someone will want to wear in the winter when you’re buying in the spring. There have been instances where we’ve received a shipment and I don’t remember, or even like, a style or two. I’ve found myself saying, “what the hell was I thinking” more times than I’d like to admit.
Most buyers in our area go to markets in NYC. I travel to other markets across the country to find new and different brands and ensure I’m not getting the same lines as everyone else.
What’s your buying process typically like?
Mental and physical exhaustion, lol. People outside of the industry think the buying process is fun and glamorous. The reality is it’s just the opposite. First, you’re spending money you don’t have, which for the owner, is stressful. You’re on you rfeed for at least 12 hours a day in a cold convention center rifling through 1000s of items trying to determine what people will buy months in advance.
My daily buying schedule during market typically involves seeing all of my existing brands the first couple of days at the show and then spending 1-2 days finding new brands and products.
What are some factors that go into consideration?
My first run through a booth is gathering everything that stands out to me as something our clients would like. At the end of that exercise, I go back and look at every single item individually with a discerning eye.
I’ve trained myself to weigh all of the reasons people won’t buy something—unflattering color, awkward fit, too young/too old, too big/too bold. Haha, there are SO many considerations! Making mistakes are costly and it takes A LOT of experience to get it right. I still constantly question myself 8 years later.
Where do you personally like to shop in the DMV area?
I tend to shop more when I’m traveling as I just don’t have time to shop locally while running two businesses. When I have some time to run out, I love visiting my neighbors’ stores in Mosaic District.
Do you have any favorite local boutiques?
Not surprisingly, I like a lot of the shops in Mosaic. Scout & Molly’s next door to me has a great selection and carries one of my favorite local jewelry designers, Love Soul Style. Sophie Blake creates stunning jewelry and accessories. I only buy perfume from Arielle Shoshana. And, I get all of my undergarments and intimates from Belle Mode in Fairfax Corner.
How has COVID-19 affected you and your business?
Well, like many other local businesses trying to flatten the curve, our storefront is closed. It was one of the most difficult, gut-wrenching decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I know it’s the right thing to do. Thankfully, I have a website where people can still shop, but our customers are used to the in-store experience.
I’ve had to pivot and think of innovative ways to recreate the in-store experience online. One thing we’re doing that’s different is offering Virtual Styling & Free Delivery services. You can schedule a virtual styling appointment and a stylist in the store will select items for you, try them on, help with fit and sizing, and we’ll ship them to your doorstep for free. I’m trying to get the word out about this service and also working around the clock to get all of our inventory online.
How can customers help support you and Undeniable Boutique during this difficult time?
I’d be overjoyed if everyone in our communities worked together to save ALL local businesses during this difficult time, not just mine. I’m connected to a lot of local small business owners and we’re all hurting. I appreciate every single virtual styling appointment, website sale and Gift Certificate purchase our fans have made. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming but sadly, it won’t sustain a brick-and-mortar store with sky-high rent and overhead expenses for much longer.
Are you still allowing people to browse in person?
I’ve personally had several in-store shopping appointments with individuals but am not asking my team to expose themselves to anyone else. My immune system is compromised so I’m being very cautious and do prefer virtual appointments. You can accomplish so much over Facetime!
Other than brick and mortar, how can they shop your collection?
You can visit our website to shop online. I also hope people try out our new virtual services offering. Additionally, I regularly post new arrivals on facebook and instagram with direct links to shop online.
On a final note, I hope everyone is staying healthy and positive during these uncertain times. This pandemic is taking a toll on us all emotionally and mental health check-ins are important.