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Kerry O’Brien-Judy, confirmed carrot top, draws on eclectic designers for her Red Head Boutique.
This story first appeared in the October 9, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Lest anyone wonder, the month-old Red Head Boutique in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is not for redheads only. But it’s run by a redhead — Kerry O’Brien-Judy. And there’s a certain pixieish charm and mischievous daring about the shop’s stock that’s in keeping with the redhead mystique.
Bold red awnings and a whimsical painting of a spike-haired redhead beckon from the street. Inside, a wide-aisled layout manages to marry a coolly industrial space with a warm burgundy color scheme and welcoming atmosphere.
Racks are filled with garments from over fifty designers, ranging from vintage-inspired Haley Bob, a Los Angeles-based line loaded with embroideries, lace treatments and bohemian touches, to the soft touch of Brooklyn-based Ohm’s baby blue and brown angora sweaters with silk cowls and matching wool-embroidered tapestry skirts.
Prices range from $38 to $72 for simple peasant-style blouses to dressier Cynthia Steffe designs ($162 for a ribboned polyester silk sheer blouse in plums and browns; $175 for a pair of cotton/nylon spandex pants that are like jeans but dressier).
O’Brien-Judy left a career in advertising sales just over a year ago to pursue her own boutique. “I always wanted to do something like this,” she said, “and loved this neighborhood.” (In fact, the boutique is right down the street from Krista K, profiled on page 74.)
Learning the ropes, O’Brien-Judy worked for a few local boutiques for several months “to get the feel and logistics” of the business before she started building her mix.
“In the beginning, I just went through my own closet, looked at the labels and selected the vendors I liked,” she said. Her biggest challenge thus far: “Figuring out how much inventory to buy and how it would fit in the store.”
Conversations with designers — such as Julie Diller, designer and owner of Ohm, in Brooklyn — helped O’Brien-Judy become familiar with fashion shows and the sequencing of seasonal clothing collections. In Diller’s opinion, O’Brien-Judy’s direct approach made a lot of sense. “When it comes to boutiques,” said Diller, “I find that when the owners believe in the labels they bring in, they’re usually very successful with them.”
Thus far, the strategy’s worked for Red Head. For fall, corduroy skirts by Ruth and blouses by Haley Bob sold out almost immediately, and have been reordered. “But everything’s selling well,” said O’Brien-Judy, who added that the store had hit its first month goal of $70,000. “My clientele ranges from singles to young moms. I make it possible for them to embellish what they already have in their closet—to make it more fun with a special blouse or sweater.” She hasn’t hit New York for spring buys yet, but generally speaking, is looking out for “lots of color and softer materials.”
“Right now the majority of my designers are from New York and Los Angeles,” she said. “But I’ve got some Chicago designers — such as Neesh by Dar, and jewelry by Kristen Amato and Jean Beckman — and I’m very open to adding more.” Accessories range from painted-leather and bead belts by Chan Luu, to oversized floral duffles by Wisconsin-based Tracy Porter and bracelets made from vintage records by Chicago designer Meg Makely.
Her advice to fellow new store owners, “It’s really important to have a strong identity. There’s a lot of stores that you can walk into that are selling so many styles that it’s confusing to the customer.”