“Most people think personal styling is for celebrities and debutantes. Our mission is to provide affordable styling that helps clients improve their confidence with flattering new looks,” says Corinne Phipps, founder and commander in chic of Urban Darling.
In her first year, Phipps — who left her job as an administrative assistant in 2006 to start her own business — had eight clients. Today, her Santa Clara, Calif.-based company serves more than 500 clients, for whom it provides closet audits, personal shopper services, wardrobe remixes, and fashion overhauls. More recently, Phipps added event styling, virtual styling for online clients, and licensing opportunities for independent stylists who want to work with the Urban Darling brand.
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently spoke with Phipps about building a company that brings out people’s sartorial best and keeping it together with QuickBooks Online. “QuickBooks is phenomenal. It has helped streamline and organize my business,” she says. “It’s straightforward and simple to use … why complicate things?”
ISBB: What prompted you to start your own business?
Phipps: Several things, but my husband encouraged me to do something on my own, because I’m sort of a bad employee. I need to be creative, not in a cubicle. He said, “Get out there and do something you want to do.” I thought, “Really honey, you’re cute, but that’s hilarious.”
What I really loved to do was shop. I loved finding deals and discovering things that could go with A, B, C, and D [in my wardrobe]. It didn’t happen overnight, but I began to realize that the way you look has a lot to do with how you do your job and how you are perceived. In my second year, I had 45 clients and thought, “Gosh, there really is a need for this.”
Early on, what was the best marketing vehicle?
Networking was really helpful. I joined a number of entrepreneurial groups like Ladies Who Launch and Biz-eWomen, a national organization of women business owners. You just have to be consistent in the group meetings you [attend] and people will start referring [customers] to you. When you get one mom and have a successful meeting, that mom will tell 15 others in her mom group. I spend about 35 percent of my time on social networking. Facebook has been phenomenal, and Pinterest is beginning to get more exposure.
We don’t want to be in Vogue or Glamour. We’re not for fashionistas or people who kinda know how to dress. We’re more like the Target of wardrobe styling. We look for clients who know and understand the value of extra eyes on their wardrobes. This month, we were very excited to be featured in American Airlines’ magazine. Wow! Real people.
What demographic do you dress?
Moms love us. They want to shed their old mom clothing after a year or two. We have a great following of professional women. We’ve helped doctors who are in scrubs all the time. College grads come to us to get ready to kick-start their careers. A lot of women ask, “Can you style my husband?” and we do! We have a feminine name, but we do work with men.
What do guys do wrong?
[A lot of them] just don’t know what they are doing. They blindly trust a salesperson at Nordstrom. We open doors to many places. They don’t have to go get an outfit head to toe. We know all the places and are able to find what a man needs. I’m not a fan of the geeky engineer look — khakis, pullover shirt, the underdressed individual in jeans and a T-shirt. I’ve managed to find better pants with a relaxed fit. Lose the khakis! And pleats in front are just bad.
How do you dress plus-size women?
Plus-size women have limited shopping options. There’s Macy’s. Most places are [either] very expensive or very cheap, but nothing in the middle, so they tend to hold on to their clothing a lot longer. They have really nice curves. Often their calves are very slender, but they wear huge pants that cover great legs. We tailor to their body in a way that makes them look good. We put them in skirts that fit.
What is your biggest fashion don’t?
Wearing T-shirts to work. It doesn’t give a professional look, even if everyone else is doing it. I see a lot of women who wear old clothes from 15 years ago: You know, when black T-shirts are not black anymore? An update will not cost thousands of dollars. Give me $300 or $500, and I can get you brand-new things. I hate TOMS [Shoes]. No, no, no. I understand. They are trendy for moms and high school students. The easiest thing to update in your wardrobe is shoes. If you have really cute new shoes on, people will notice.
What do you like to wear?
I’d love to live in jeans and striped shirts all day long. I’m not perfect. But, I have to get dressed up and put on skirts. If you like the way you dress — awesome. I’m only opinionated in this area because I get to be.
Got any tips for editing one’s wardrobe?
Here are three ways to become more “green chic”:
1. Be thoughtful about your clothing and accessory purchases. Only buy things you truly can’t live without. This is a sure-fire test that you will wear them and reduce buyer’s remorse.
2. Hate your clothes? Perhaps you need a closet audit. DIY: Try on every piece of clothing you own. If it’s just OK, let it go — you will not miss it. Your goal is to love everything that’s in your closet.
3. If something you love is, well, tired, see if you can have it repaired. It’s much more cost efficient than buying a new piece.