When Lauren Young was a kid she had a big collection of Converse sneakers. And Vans. And flat hats. And whatever else her father brought home as a sales rep for shoe and hat companies.
The bounty set her apart at middle school: “No one else had what I had. It was pretty cool.’’
Her love for her father and all things retail stayed with her in high school, at the University of Rhode Island and now as the founder and sole owner of two women’s clothing stores – at the Kingston Emporium, just a hop from URI, and in Wakefield.
Elle G Boutique (a play off her first name and maiden name, Greif) has been in business at the shopping plaza at 99 Fortin Road for nearly a year. The Wakefield store at 330 Main St. had its grand opening this week.
“I can’t believe this is happening,’’ says the 27-year-old North Kingstown resident. “I really like being my own boss. It’s incredibly fulfilling – and challenging.’’
She remembers the carloads of sneakers – funky, street-smart designs that she happily wore strolling the halls of Marblehead High School in Massachusetts. Her dad, E.K. Greif, took her to trade shows and special promotions, including a memorable event showcasing the acclaimed skateboarder Tony Hawk.
“I thought my dad had a really fun job,’’ she says. “He traveled a lot. He had samples around the house, and all his friends were in the industry. Plus, he was buying me clothes that no one else was wearing in school.’’
She worked at a GAP in high school, then headed to URI, where she majored in textiles, fashion merchandising and design, taking courses in everything from the science of color to the history of fashion. Two internships – one in Florence, the other in New York City – gave her hands-on experience that instilled confidence and sparked ambition.
“The program at URI is one of the few in New England,’’ she says. “That was appealing to me.’’
After graduating in 2010, she worked at Nordstorm in Peabody, Mass., and then a shop in her hometown, where she learned how to run a retail business. “I knew I could do it myself,’’ she says. “So I gave it a shot.’’ Three years ago, she put her life savings into a shop in Wickford, eventually moving it to the Emporium.
Her clothes, she says, are a mix of casual and dressy: “I try to get a decent range – not too young, not too old, not too preppy, not too edgy.’’ That includes a low-back red halter dress or a quilted black leather jacket. She also sells purses and jewelry. Shoes are coming.
Two URI students interned at elle G last spring, including Nina Perry, of Somerset, Mass., who graduated in May with a degree in textiles, fashion merchandising and design and is now working at the corporate office of Talbots in Hingham, Mass.
“I learned so much at the shop, from marketing to how to display clothes and set up a window,’’ she says. “It gave me an opportunity to apply what I learned in class – and it definitely helped me find a job later.’’
Meg Mattera, a URI sophomore from North Kingstown, plans to intern at elle G in the fall. Mattera hopes to expand the shop’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“Internships are a great way to learn,’’ she says. “You're dealing with an actual person, instead of a textbook. And I really like the idea of being an entrepreneur. That’s where I’m trying to go, too.’’
Years in the retail business have given Young insight into how to treat customers (“with grace’’); install a point-of-sales system; and care for fabric. One particularly helpful tip: never put clothes with spandex in the dryer. “The heat breaks down the fabric and ruins it,’’ she says. “Jeans have a lot of spandex today, so be forewarned.’’ Also, never put rayon in the dryer: “It shrinks.’’