hey friends! it’s been a while! i hope everyone’s summer is winding down well, and you’re enjoying these last few weeks of warm nights and (hopefully) a little more laid back schedules.
today i’m going to be collaborating with tennessee willow boutique, an online shop based out of nashville, tn. i’m super excited to share this post with yall, because i know a few of my friends are looking to start something similar to what sandi is building in nashville, and i think you’re going to love hearing from her! i also was able to shoot with a local photographer, shauna, and love the shots she got of these pieces. so here we go!
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself! (Name, age, husband, etc.- whatever you want us to know!)
My name is Sandi Bledsoe. I am 28 years old. I’ve been married for 4 years to my high school sweetheart, Chaz. We live in Mt. Juliet, TN with our two dogs, Oliver & Bella.
We actually met in Band in middle school and became friends and then started dating in high school. Now we both teach at our local high school, he teaches the percussion section and I teach the color guard in the Fall and in the Winter. We are both foodies, and love to travel, and try new things. Chaz is definitely my #1 supporter and has been amazing through this whole process of starting a new small business and I could not do it without him.
2) Tell us about your journey to opening the boutique.
I’ve always loved fashion and as a little girl dreamed of owning my own clothing store one day. After high school, I pursued fashion at Middle Tennessee State University and graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Textiles, Merchandising, & Design. I went on to work in the footwear industry and have been a footwear designer for the past 6 years here in Nashville. I loved my job as a footwear designer and the jet setting across the World that came with it, but I did miss working in clothing. Earlier this year, I was actually laid off from that footwear company. I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me emotionally. It came at a complete surprise and something, at the time, I didn’t know I was ready for.
What do I do next?
I knew two things were true in that moment, I had just lost my job that I had made a career out of, and that I was not going to let that bring me down. I took some time off to weigh my options. Did I want to find an office job that I really had no interest in? Did I want to find another footwear designer position? The first question was never really an option for me and I knew I would not be happy going down that road. The second question was scary because that would mean moving, since there were no other footwear jobs in the Nashville area. But Tennessee had been my home for so long and everything that I knew and all my family & friends were here in Nashville. I went ahead and looked into designer positions in Boston, New York, and California. Chaz kept telling me, “Sandi, you find a footwear designer position where ever you want, and I will go. I can find a Human Resources job anywhere.” I’m pretty sure he was just saying that because he wanted to move to Boston! Lol jk. Like I said, he’s definitely my #1 supporter. :) Some time went by and I still had not come closer to making a decision, or where to even start. One day I get a text message from Chaz, he said, “Have you thought about opening a boutique?” What he didn’t know was that this was something I was thinking about too. I had not mentioned it to him, I had only been thinking about it and researching what it would take. When he brought it up, I knew in that moment that that’s what I was meant to do! That was God telling me you’re going to be okay. And that is how Tennessee Willow came about.
3) How did you choose the name “Tennessee Willow?”
Choosing the name was a fun process for me but it was also a little difficult. I wanted to make sure I made the right choice and chose a name that represented my boutique well, but I also wanted it to be cute and memorable. I decided I wanted Willow to be a part of the name because I have always loved Willow Trees. We had a huge willow tree in my parent’s yard growing up, and I remember running and dancing through the willow branches as a kid.
One of the most valuable traits of the willow tree is its flexibility as it is capable of bending without breaking. The leaves represent the balance, harmony, and growth that we experience through life’s challenges. For me, the willow tree stands for flexibility and growth which at this stage in my life has been something I’ve had to grab ahold of. It reminds me to let go and surrender to the process.
From there, I brainstormed many ideas for words to go with Willow and as silly as it sounds one day I just thought “Why not Tennessee Willow?” It’s the state we were going to be based in but more importantly it’s my home and a place that I love. And so Tennessee Willow was born. :)
4) How long did the process take from start to finish to open Tennessee Willow?
It took about 3 months from start to finish to launch Tennessee Willow. You have to research, write up a business plan, fund your business, choose a business structure, choose and register your business name, register your business, get federal and state tax ids, apply for licenses and permits, open a business bank account, register for state and local taxes, choose accounting software, choose your location or website platform, build your website including photos/item descriptions/sizing/pricing/etc., purchase your website domain, choose and purchase inventory, choose and purchase supplies, get business insurance, create social media accounts, & promote your new business before launching/opening.
5) What does a typical day look like in regards to boutique business?
Everyday I check and answer emails, schedule social media posts, and process and ship out orders.
Depending on what is going on or what day it is, I may also place orders for new inventory, or unbox & prepare new inventory for the website, or take care of any financials, or order any supplies that are needed.
Because we are online only, social media and getting the word out is very important for us. We are also in the process of scheduling pop-up shops and participating in Festivals/Fairs in the Middle Tennessee Area so that we can start meeting our customers and they can feel and try on the clothing in person. Pretty much every day is different and I love that!
6) What’s been the hardest part about this business, and what advice would you give to someone who might be trying to break into the industry?
The hardest part for me has been the process of starting a new business (applying for the correct licenses, building a website, getting all the proper documents, etc.). I didn’t really know where to start and had to research online ALOT and figure it out on my own.
My advice to someone that might be trying to break into the industry or that is interested in starting their own business would be to do your research. It is different in every state but it takes a lot to form a new business (longer than you think) and a lot of it is a waiting game (hurry up and get this filed and paid and then wait for the state or city to process and mail you your licenses). So the more you know the better off you’ll be when you do get started with the process. It’s definitely not easy, so make sure it’s 100% what YOU want before jumping in. And then just take it day by day, some days you may feel overwhelmed but just remember why you are doing what you are doing and trust the process.
7) What are your future plans/goals/dreams for Tennessee Willow?
My future plans/goals/dreams for Tennessee Willow is to really get to know our customers and what they like and what they want.
I want to always provide cute, comfortable, quality, & affordable clothing to make women feel confident and happy.
I want to participate in at least 10 pop-up shops/shows/festivals in our first year in business.
I also hope to continue to increase e-commerce traffic and revenue in our first couple years so that we can open a physical storefront within our first 3 years in business.
After everything that I went through I know this process changed me for the better. I’m excited for this new journey in life and business and cannot wait to see where this all takes us!
be sure and check out Tennessee Willow on instagram and facebook, and shop their website here. sandi brings in new arrivals every week, and some items go quickly- so make sure you’re keeping up with them on social media!