When any person wakes up and begins preparing for the day ahead, there is one factor that always inches its way to the front of his or her mind: the outfit choice of the day.
It’s easy to see why clothing plays such a significant role in day-to-day life, as it has a way of communicating so much information without the need for any words at all. It can express a person’s personality, celebrate an event or occasion and even, admittedly, reveal whether someone was in a rush that morning or had plenty of time to get ready.
Sometimes, clothing has a way of bringing people together to unite for a common purpose and create connections that span beyond dresses and shirts.
This is undoubtedly the case for three local women from the Houma-Thibodaux area that have launched online clothing boutiques over the last few months.
Owned by Emily Rodrigue and Marlo Rodrigue, MAREM opened for virtual business in July at https://shopmarem.com/, while blogger Saadi Francis launched U R WHAT U WEAR in September at https://urwhatuwear.com/.
For these avid fashion lovers, owning their own boutiques has been the fulfillment of a longtime dream. Weeks into operation now, though, both shops have come to hold a deeper meaning: one of self-love, support and sisterhood.
“My whole thing is like ‘you are what you wear,’ so wear whatever you want. So, a big thing for me is confidence and being comfortable in what you wear and feeling good about yourself. If you look good, you feel good,” Saadi says. “I don’t want people to say to me, ‘Oh, I wish I could wear that.’ I want people to just wear whatever they want to wear and feel comfortable.”
A mental health counseling graduate student at Nicholls State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Saadi’s passion is mental health advocacy. However, the Houma native has always had a love of fashion, even studying retail at LSU for two years before going to Nicholls.
After working for a few local boutiques, she discovered that she had an itch to dive into the fashion world. Thus, U R WHAT U WEAR was initially born as a fashion blog. However, Saadi knew she wanted to pursue her love of fashion even further through an online clothing store.
“I was terrified at first. I was like, ‘How am I supposed to do this on my own? How do I even start?’ I had no idea,” Saadi says.
Roughly four months of preparation later on Sept. 5, U R WHAT U WEAR’s online boutique officially debuted to the community, fusing Saadi’s passion for mental health awareness and her love of fashion. U R WHAT U WEAR’s purpose was clear: what people wear can substantially impact how they feel, so it’s important to choose clothing that makes them feel confident and distinctly like themselves.
Keeping in line with that push for confidence, Saadi says her approach to the style she’s chosen for her boutique centers on bold statement pieces.
“I like bold pieces, but I also want to provide basics. Everyone has a basic white tee. Everyone has a good pair of jeans. I just want to find pieces that people are going to look at and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen something like that before,’” Saadi says.
Saadi says that working remotely as a result of stay-at-home measures put into place to slow the spread of COVID-19 was a “plus” that gave her the time she needed to save money, develop her website and connect with brands.
Now, she’s balancing her blog and online boutique with graduate school, a graduate assistantship on campus and a job working as a life skills mentor to juvenile delinquents.
Saadi says she makes local deliveries around town twice a week and sends packages out for shipment three days a week when she’s working on campus. She also spends a great deal of her time browsing through her retailers to search for pieces for her site, as well as unboxing and organizing new shipments of clothing.
“I keep a planner for my school stuff, and then I keep a planner for my work stuff, and I have a calendar dry erase board that I write what’s coming in when, when I’m going to do a giveaway, when I’m going to do a sale. I try to map out the whole month so that I know what’s coming,” Saadi explains.
Over in Baton Rouge, the women behind MAREM are also learning how to navigate the demands of school and work with small business ownership. The self-proclaimed “inseparable” pair leans on each other for support to make their online boutique a possibility.
“It’s just all about respecting each other’s schedules and times and picking up the slack when the other one has a busier day,” Marlo says. “There’s also things that I always do and that Emily always does, like I always edit the pictures, and Emily always describes the products. There’s just things we both know we have to get done.”
It’s easy to mistake Marlo and Emily, who are currently in their junior and sophomore years at LSU, respectively, for sisters. Though they share a last name, the women behind MAREM are only distant cousins.
However, since meeting during their seventh and eighth grade years and forming a close bond through their dance team in high school, the duo might as well be sisters.
The women both share a deep love of fashion, becoming involved with brand deals over the years and even attending modeling school together in New Orleans. Emily says that they always joked about starting their own clothing boutique years down the line after they’re both married.
A relatively impulsive decision, though, ultimately led to that dream becoming a reality this summer.
“I remember it so vividly. We were in the car one day, and I turned to Marlo and was like, ‘Let’s do this. I’m tired of waiting on our dreams,’ and she was like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do this,’” Emily says.
When the “new normal” set in as a result of COVID-19, Marlo says the pair found themselves with more free time, along with a desire for a change in their normal routine. It was these factors, coupled with the shift to online shopping that many people made in response to COVID-19, that ultimately helped to pave the way for MAREM.
Of course, every business needs a brand that captures what’s at its heart. After trying countless name options, the one that stuck was a combination of both of their names—another testament to their close bond.
MAREM officially made its debut on July 25 after two months of preparation and one month of teasers across social media. The duo celebrated with a launch day gathering of close family friends.
“When I tell you, when we launched, the love that we received was just crazy,” Emily says. “We literally lost our minds. We were like, ‘What if this just flops?’ We were so nervous, and obviously we were excited because we had all this support so far.”
Marlo says the duo wanted their boutique to be one geared toward college-aged women, featuring clothing that was youthful and edgy, but most importantly, affordable for college students.
Additionally, the women sought a unique way to pay tribute to the people who supported them in their journey to launching the store. The result was naming each piece of clothing after a close friend or family member.
“If they see something named after them, they’ll get so excited…It’s just been super fun. One of my favorite things is naming clothes because if something reminds me of someone, it’s like, I get to name it after them and see their reaction,” Marlo says.
As the women behind MAREM and U R WHAT U WEAR look toward their futures with dreams of opening storefronts for their businesses and, for Saadi, plans to launch a men’s clothing line in October, they’re leaning on support from the people around them, including each other.
In August, Saadi hosted a pop-up event for local women-owned small businesses, including MAREM, to come together to show support for one another, gain exposure for each other and give each other advice.
For both boutiques, the event highlighted the value of women supporting other women.
“I think it’s better to just be like, I want everyone to be successful. You do you. I hope you’re successful. We can support each other, and I think coexisting with other people doing the same thing as you is so important, and when they’re thriving, you congratulate them…and it’s just like a ‘girls support girls,’ [thing],” Marlo says. “It feels good to know other people who have been through what we’ve been through want to see us thrive and succeed.
For people looking to start their own business, both the MAREM team and Saadi stress the importance of being confident in pursuing their dreams.
“Go for it. I definitely needed the push that I got from other people when I started my blog,” Saadi says. “Have your own message. Make it personal. Ask questions….I know that so many small business owners are always willing to help.” POV