spotlight: amy strother

Hey there! I hope everyone had a splendid weekend. How about we start our week off with a dose of inspiration? This past spring, I interviewed Noelie Harmon and Denicola’s owner Amy Strother for a 225 story on young, female professionals. Her insight on the challenges of opening a small, green retail business is both valuable and accessible, so I wanted to share some of it here with you. Read more below…

Amy Strother formerly served as the CEO of United Healthcare Group before making the leap to small retail and furniture business four years ago.

During her time with United Healthcare, she started a sustainability program that focused on reducing waste and conserving energy. She even created a hybrid fleet of Priuses for every full time RN to drive.

But Amy slowly began to feel burnt out on healthcare. Around that time, she attended a green business conference in San Francisco. It was there that she visited green stores for the first time, and it was there that inspiration took hold of her.

“Fair trade and social responsibility are two of my greatest passions. It’s not just about being green, it’s about being a responsible shopper. So I conceived this idea to have a store where all the green guess work was done for you,” Amy says.

Right after calling her crazy, people would often ask her, “Why here? Why not California?” which is where Amy was living half of the time.

“There were always two answers to that,” she says, “because Baton Rouge is my home, and just like any other social entrepreneur, you have a burning desire to help your home and then secondly, why would I not open the store where it’s needed most?”

So Noelie Harmon opened its doors in the summer of 2008. With her house as collateral for the small business loan and her life savings at risk, Strother had a lot to lose. And she almost did.

“We were heavy eco-apparel in the beginning—bamboo, organic cotton and socially responsible clothing. It was probably 50% of our floor, and it completely flopped,” she says.

Amy explains that the concept of a green boutique was very hard for the Baton Rouge market to initially grapple with. It wasn’t that Noelie Harmon’s eco-apparel was unfashionable. Far from it—eco-apparel like what Amy was stocking has graced the runways of New York fashion week. It was a question of trendiness.

“The price point [of eco-apparel] is high, and it’s not that women in Baton Rouge aren’t spending money on clothes, because they are,” she says, “they just hadn’t seen anything like it before. Because I’m in the fashion industry, I’m of the notion that you dress according to what you like, but I think a lot of people here dress according to what other people wear.”

Amy quickly realized that a store filled with completely unfamiliar brands and styles simply wouldn’t work. She had to make a choice.

“Rather than think about my tastes and what I like and being vain in a way, I had to think about the person crossing the threshold of the store,” she concedes.

So Amy flexed according to the customer and began stocking more popular products, such as TOMS shoes and Paddywax Candles. With an equal offering of apparel and gifts at varying price points, the store has now achieved a balance that’s more accessible to Baton Rouge shoppers; and it’s made quite a difference.

“We are more popular now than we’ve ever been and I spend less than I ever have on marketing and advertising,” Amy says. “Sometimes, you’re going to have to sell some stuff that you’re not crazy about. If it sells, it sells. You’ve got to be willing to accept that.”

Amy’s reconciliation with local buying trends can be likened to something quite remarkable: resolve. I expand upon this concept more fully in the 225 article, but basically, I think resolve is vital to career-building success. Resolve is often the result of inward reflection—taking time to assess personal strengths and weaknesses honestly. Amy didn’t compromise her fundamental nature or Noelie Harmon’s original vision to make the store successful. She simply reevaluated ineffective biases and ways of doing things. In turn, she’s made Noelie Harmon so popular that she’s opening a second location in New Orleans.

I couldn’t be happier for this local merchant, or more of an admirer. It would have been easy for Amy to point to Baton Rouge’s slow-to-adapt market if the store had failed. Instead, she’s created a popular Capitol City boutique while raising awareness of eco and socially responsible shopping. Mad kudos, Amy!

Learn more about Noelie Harmon by visiting its website or Facebook page.

To read the full 225 story on young, female professionals, click here.

All photos are courtesy of Noelie Harmon and Amy Strother.

I’d like to spotlight inspiring and intriguing individuals more often. If you have spotlight-worthy person in mind, please reach out to me anytime. I hope you have a great, productive Monday! I’m sure as hell going to try to.

Quote of the day:

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” –David Brower 

Comments

  1. I absolutely love this store! Great feature on Amy!