By Melissa Delgadillo
hrough our movement of 360-degree influence, we are champions of women who are building community, both on-line and in-person. Cody Shown, our April Guest Editor, has dedicated her career to building in-person communities. As she approached us with her tribe of women that she wanted to shine a light on within her issue, friends and colleagues Jessica Brown and Michelle Cook were must-have collaborators. Cody crossed paths with Jessica and Michelle when building community and strengthening creative commerce through the OPEN Downtown Pop Up Shop Program program she managed. Jessica Brown and Michelle Cook share candidly on navigating the ups and downs of life and entrepreneurialism through friendship, support and collaboration.
MD: Jessica, as someone currently experiencing loss, I am moved by your journey–how you found the strength to move forward, and the courage to rebuild your life in a meaningful way through your grief. Share your journey with us and how it led you to founding Red Cat & Co?
JB: I moved to San Antonio from New York City around eleven years ago and started working with an amazing group of people at Neiman Marcus. I formed long-lasting relationships with both clients and fellow employees there before moving over to Anthropologie years later and working with another great group of people.
In 2012, Julio–my husband and partner of fourteen years–passed away, and with him also passed everything I had known since I was seventeen years-old. The devastation laid me flat and it felt like I had died alongside him. All that was left was this angry, sad shell of a person–as you can imagine, not a great person to work with or be around. It was about a year later that I realized no one was going to come and rescue me. I needed to help myself, and in order to do that I needed to build confidence in who I was and in the strength I held to get back up. I forced myself to seek a grief counseling group and then I made the decision to leave my job and take my first solo road trip. I then stepped way out of my comfort zone and took my first solo overseas trip. From there, I just kept going, challenging myself to see new things, do new things, take chances and make the most of each day. This helped me to start building a strong foundation of self–love and confidence in who I was and who I am.
It was through this push to take chances that led me to open a pop–up shop with a friend through the OPEN Downtown Pop Up Shop Program from July 2016 to December 2016, lasting six months at Hemisfair in San Antonio. When that business closed at the end of the six months it propelled me forward to explore a different, more long–term business concept that focused on a love of whimsical and beautifully made goods by independent makers and share it all in a unique setting. So, I retrofitted an old school bus with lots of help from some good friends and neighbors, and opened Red Cat & Co for business on October 7th of 2017. I have been rockin’ her since.
MD: Michelle, tell us about your journey to founding Chic’tique?
MC: I dabbled in fashion school a little bit during college, but ultimately graduated with a degree in fine arts. I kept my finger on the pulse of fashion and had summer retail jobs here and there, but most of my experience was managing and buying for a small local boutique. I fell in love with the scene, from the customer service to the fast–paced rush at tradeshows.
When I came back to San Antonio, I knew owning my own boutique was what I wanted to do. I found some old notes of brainstorms and concepts from when I was younger, collages and magazine cut outs (pre Pinterest) and the name Chic’tique in bold letters on top of a page. I decided to make that dream happen. I wanted to offer San Antonio a place full of color and fun affordable clothes, and I wanted women to feel their best wearing my curations. So, my business started from a small rack of clothing in my living room with my friends modeling the clothes for Instagram (that has not changed). It immediately caught the attention of people and I’ll never forget how embracing the San Antonio community was toward my small business. The interest and demand of customers pushed me to open a showroom at Warehouse 5, then a Pop–Up Shop at La Villita downtown, and now my current space at Broadway News.
Coincidentally, a few years later we are now neighbors again, this time at Broadway News. We see each other almost every day and it’s amazing to watch our businesses and friendship grow. Jessica has been a great support to me through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, and I have tried to be the same for her.
MD: I have been impressed with how collaborative you two are. As entrepreneurs with seemingly competing businesses, what led you to choose collaboration over competition?
JB: I genuinely adore Michelle, admire her hard work, and want to see her business continue to succeed and grow. I feel strongly that she wishes that for me as well. We can talk to each other openly about the ups and downs we go through as small business owners and offer that bit of motivation that is so invaluable. Our shops also have different aesthetics from each other and we both take a lot of pride in how we curate our assortment, so it’s always fun to share and get excited over new arrivals and find fun ways to style them.
MD: How has building a collaborative community helped you on your journey?
MC: Community has been the driving force behind my business since I opened it. The most incredible thing to me is that I have been able to build so many relationships and genuine friendships during this process. I have been lucky enough to have worked with amazing local photographers, makers, bloggers and anyone else in the creative industry. The artistic energy, insights and support in wanting each other to succeed helps to stay motivated and it always brings me back to my goals.
JB: Being able to share struggles, to give advice, to provide valuable feedback with someone you admire and who is in the same industry…. it is such a luxury. Michelle and I have both experienced a lot and have our own unique perspective on things, so it is great to be able to share that with each other and be stronger because of it.
MD: What advice would you give to women as they work toward achieving their dreams?
MC: The first piece of business advice I got was from my grandmother, someone who has had retail businesses her entire life. She is the most hard–working woman I know, next to my mother. She told me to pace my business according to the demand of the customers. In her words, “El negocio te va a pedir más” (the business itself will ask you for more). It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear starting out, because I was so eager to grow, but I followed that advice nonetheless. Don’t be afraid to start small. Don’t go overboard wanting to have the best branding, the best inventory, the biggest shop and most importantly, don’t burn yourself out. What is important is having a message that people want to hear, and to make sure to stand out from the rest. Be thoughtful in your next business decision and what you have to offer and you will eventually be heard.
JB: Don’t get discouraged easily. It’s not an easy road and there will be tough times and lots of them, but keep pushing forward and that light will shine through. Also don’t ever be afraid to ask for help when you need it. That advice is a lot easier to give than it is to follow, but asking for some help when needed can save you lots of time and headache. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and to those around you.
Edited from an interview by Melissa Delgadillo.
Melissa Delgadillo is the Founder of Monde and the PR & Events Manager for Snake River Farms. A creative enthusiast with over a decade of experience shaping brand stories, she thrives curating experiences and producing uplifting content that inspires the imagination. Follow her journey as she tells out-of-the-ordinary and uplifting stories at Monde.com, and connect with her on social media @melissa__delgadillo and @mondelyfe.