When retailer Katie Echeverry, 39, began Unique Vintage Clothing Boutique out of her Burbank home 11 years ago, she had no experience or training in retail or fashion. But she has since become so successful that Echeverry just recently opened her second store at the Westfield Valencia Town Center.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Echeverry found herself as a college graduate during a Los Angeles County hiring freeze, she said. Needing a job, she found work in pharmaceutical sales. Around the same time, she began working with one-of-kind vintage clothing pieces picked up from estate sales. Soon she launched a website to sell her re-fashioned clothing.
“At the time I was doing about $1,000 a month,” she said. “And then I have no idea how it happened but Glamour magazine mentioned my website and suddenly I was doing $5,000 a month.”
That spike in sales really got her attention, Echeverry said, and led her to thinking that perhaps she could sell retro-fashion clothing for a living. Inspired, she quit a corporate job that provided her with perks — like a company car — and pursued her online business full time.
“I poured my heart and soul into my business,” she said.
As the number of orders grew, Echeverry hired a neighbor to help fill and ship the orders out of her house. Soon she had three employees, a nanny for her two children and delivery trucks driving up and down her street. Her husband also worked from home, and her home was filling up with inventory and shipping boxes.
By the time Echeverry needed to hire a fourth employee, she said she knew she had to move the business out of her home. Not long before the recession first hit, the retailer rented a Burbank store on Magnolia Boulevard as a base for her business operation.
“Everyone told me not to open a store. My dad was freaking out,” she said.
Using the storefront as a small showroom, it began attracting more business. Unique Vintage didn’t even have a salesperson, Echeverry said. If a customer walked into the store front, she’d send a shipper out to help them.
As the walk-in business grew, Echeverry expanded her store by knocking down a wall when a neighboring business moved out — expanding to 4,600 square feet — but that only lasted a couple of years, she said.
“Two years ago, we moved to a 12,000 square foot warehouse for the website operation and left the retail store as a stand-alone business because it was doing so well,” she said.
But, the retailer recently took another calculated risk after noticing Unique Vintage visitors who said Santa Clarita did not have a dress shop.
Echeverry leased retail space on Town Center Drive, next to the Pottery Barn, to open Unique Vintage. The store was move-in ready, Echeverry said. All she had to do was paint the interior.
Unique Vintage opened over Labor Day weekend and is planning a grand celebration Sept. 22. The boutique is managed by Valencia resident Kelly Edwards.
While the retailer tests the local market, Unique Vintage is initially placing greater focus on offering its unique line of prom and homecoming dresses — which aren’t as pricey as her other lines. If business does well, Echeverry plans to add her other lines of retro-inspired fashion pieces.
“Our lease is only for 10 months, and we negotiated a great lease,” she said. “If the business fails, it’s a minimal risk, but if it’s successful, that’s fantastic. It’s a great situation.”
Echeverry stocks her stores with her own clothing label, along with lines from small vintage-clothing wholesalers.
Using fashion designers from local schools, Echeverry’s team designs and sews prototypes, which she then sends off to be produced in limited quantities. She only produces about 80 pieces of each design, she said.
“I took leap of faith,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t grow my business only selling one, one-of-a-kind dresses,” she said.
Hoping to pump up sales even more, Echeverry recently hired a wholesale sales manager to attend trade shows to sell her line through other vintage boutiques. And she’s eyeing a location in Huntington Beach to open a store as well.
Unique Vintage is located at 24251 Town Center Drive in Valencia next door to the Pottery Barn. More information can found at www.unique-vintage.com.