Company profile: Trish’s Garage is an online boutique owned by Ebony Rutherford. The store features distinct fashions and accessories, with a specialty in hand-sewn peplum tops. Trish’s Garage is also known as a fabulous retail pop-up.
Ebony has a knack for creating eclectic styles for various body types. Ebony’s alter ego, Trish, helps women unleash their inner fashionista with “Trish’s Tune-up Tips” and customized style consultations.
Contributor Raquelle Harris peeped Ebony’s 80’s baby vibe once she saw the Jem and the Holograms t-shirt that Ebony was rocking. This peplum and pop-up pro has mastered the art of pop-ups and is now teaching others how to expand and maximize their growth opportunities. With almost 10 years in the retail game, this Empirelista is steadily rising.
Ebony Rutherford: We’ve been doing Trish’s Garage since 2007, we actually started off doing pop-ups at colleges. We would travel to Michigan, Michigan State, Grand Valley, Bowling Green and would set-up a 6×6 table (me and my sister). “Do you like our stuff?” “Will you buy it please?” And then, kinda seeing that every time we did a pop-up, we’d get a lot of people coming. The “pop-up” really wasn’t a coined term until later on. So, we’ve been doing that progressively and then we did our pop-up at Russell’s Bazaar in 2010. I was there from 2010-2012. It was a weekend event; we had a 10×10 area where we were able to decorate and we were able to set it up for success and drive customers in our store.
Raquelle Harris: So, what did you do before then? Did you have a 9-5?
ER: I absolutely had a 9-5. I worked at AT&T, I did technical support. So, the speaking part of it, I did very well; I could talk with customers, relate to them, understanding them. The problem I had, was the process; there was a certain process you had to follow and I always figured out a way to think outside the box. I would get in trouble because I wasn’t following the process the right way. I knew it was something else for me to do, but I was scared. That fear held me back from doing what I thought I needed to do. I was in a committed relationship at the time. On my birthday, he told me, “You’re a distraction.” The pressure of the work and then my breakup took a toll on me and I ended up having some depression. Something intuitively inside of me was just like, alright it’s time to make a change. I literally would be at work with my computer under the table, sending out emails. Me and my team—I would wake up and sew before I had work at my 9-5. On my lunch break, I would be giving people stacks of stuff to cut while I’m at work.
It’s kind of like a domino effect. When all the bad stuff happens to you, you think the world is coming to an end, but you have to get rid of the old to go to the new.
From there, it really helped catapult Trish’s Garage. I ended up quitting my job, ended up moving back home and saying, from 2013-2014, I’m going to aggressively work on my business. It made a huge difference in the business as it is now.
RH: But your family was like, “You need to go back and get a real job.”
ER: Yes, like, “Are you crazy?” “Are you sure?” I bartended on the side, they were like, “Are you really about to live off of bartending money?” I had to take a reality check and ask myself… am I? But, then I realized my wants and my needs. All I need is to be able to pay my cell phone, my car note and eat. I have a living space. I have somewhere that I can wash my clothes at. And once I determined that, everything else was like, oh yeah, I can live off of bartending money ‘cause I don’t need that much.
RH: And you don’t have children?
ER: Nope, I don’t have children. I could only fend for myself and nobody else. I had to challenge myself to be better and sometimes it brings out more than you imagined. I was a work in progress; the real way. A good friend of mine emailed and he was like, “Ebony, take this class.” It was Tech Town’s Retail Boot Camp; I was in their first class in 2012 or 2013. That class opened my eyes to the ecosystem of Detroit. A lot of times, I was just doing stuff on my own, just winging it and not realizing with the ecosystem that it’s about relationships and resources. Going through that class, I was able to build those relationships and get access to resources. I would park my car and I would walk neighborhoods and I would talk to all of the business owners and introduce myself and get to know their character and see where my business could be a good fit.
RH: Where were/are you located?
ER: Initially, I was doing Russell Bazaar and then I was doing strategic pop-ups. I was at Eastern Market, Livernois and then, I got a spot on Woodward for six months and then Grand River for six months. I am a mobile boutique; we’re online full time. We don’t have a physical location—which is on purpose. What I realized with doing those pop-ups is that overhead is a lot and time consuming and my best asset is talking, communicating and building relationships. That’s hard to do when you’re in a permanent space. For right now, us being online and just capturing people’s attention while they’re there is kind of like a demand. The biggest thing with the pop-up is, it allows people to try on the clothes first, and say, okay I know this is going to fit me, so when they go online and buy something they already know the fit’s going to be right and everything’s going to be smooth.
RH: So, you prefer the pop-up versus the permanent spot because it allows you to be more flexible?
ER: Absolutely, it’s more flexibility, it’s a great opportunity to create connections and loyal customers and it’s also great to build community relationships. Even though I’m not at the pop-up now on Grand River, I still have a community relationship with them. That relationship, I think, trumps the money and then when I do have events over in that neighborhood, they already know who I am, so they’re going to come support.
RH: What are some obstacles that you face?
ER: Right now, I’m ballin’ on a budget. I think that a lot of times as a business owner, you think you need to take out loans and sometimes those loans can be great for the short term, but not for the long term. So, my biggest dilemma is being patient on my growth and not wanting to have money right now. Everything is a process and so for me, the chunks of money that I get, I literally try to hold on to it until the last possible need for me to use it and I try to use resources like my sales. I use collaborative efforts as well, before trying to go to lenders.
RH: Have you thought about going to pitch competitions?
ER: I’ve actually done like four pitch competitions. It is a learning curve, each pitch is different, but as you do more pitches you get better at it. Once you go through that first one, you’re like alright, he might ask me that question, let me be prepared now.
Entrepreneurship is about learning. The only way to really find out what your true gift is, is by failing and then once you fail, you fail faster and recover faster and make up that difference in sales and your customer service.
RH: I read on your website that you know how to sew, so you already know how to make the clothes?
ER: Yes, I know how to make the clothes; it is a labor of love. I love t-shirts, I think t-shirts are comfortable and sexy, however you wear it. From that love, I just started playing around with different fabrics and making unique items and realized that people like the uniqueness of it. The dilemma of that, is that I am the sweat shop. My orders can be anywhere from 50-100 shirts and so, it’s very time consuming. That’s one of our growth hurdles, we have a manufacturer in place, but I have to be justified to spend that money.
RH: You’re doing the shirts yourself?
ER: I have one other seamstress that helps me as well, but it’s still time consuming.
RH: How long have you been sewing?
ER: I’ve been sewing since I was 16, I’m like Punky Brewster! I like putting stuff together and making unique things; YouTube University is my source of inspiration. I get on YouTube or Pinterest, get ideas from there and make it my own.
RH: I do like a lot of the pieces; they are unique and I’m glad that you have plus sizes as well. So, what are some short term goals for Trish’s Garage? Trish is like an alter-ego right?
ER: Trish is like my Sasha Fierce. When I get in the zone, where I know I’m about to network and talk to people, the “Trish” comes on. Like, What’d you just say? You said, “no”? You just said, “no” right now, but you’re gon’ say, “yes” later.
I always think about to transfer that energy, like you know, the energy that you would put in a date. You wanna impress, them, you wanna look good. It’s the same way when you’re with your customers or your prospective investors; you wanna woo ‘em, the real way.
So, I make it a point that when I’m Trish, I am aggressively trying to woo them. Whether it be a conversation, whether it be a compliment, whether it be me telling them factual data.
Ebony on the other hand is really chill, quiet, to herself. I think one of my growth opportunities right now, is there is what I call the transition from college, to your real job; that in between. Where you have the skills, the knowledge and the ability, but you might not get that top level position, until you put in some work. And for me, pop-up is that, “putting in some work.” A lot of times, businesses are scared to set-up pop ups. They don’t know how to start, where to start, where to go. So, I would be that liaison person to help them with that. I can help them with branding—telling a really true branding story, working with sales goals and tracking; building that strong foundation that they need. I’m helping them set up resources for pop-ups in strategic neighborhoods and locations.
Statistically, about 75% of start-up businesses fail and 85% of that is minority businesses. A lot of times with minority businesses we focus on the hustle and not on the foundation. I’m passionate about building a strong foundation.
RH: The theme for Empire Life Magazine this month is Ethics, it’s also Women’s History Month. What are some things that you’ve had to deal with ethically?
ER: I think the biggest thing is learning to deal with myself. I say that to say, as a female, I’m an emotional creature. And a lot of times, business is not about how you feel, it’s about facts and information. And the biggest dilemma I had, was trying to balance those two. I surrounded myself with really strong men that challenged my logic, all the time. They helped me to think as a business owner instead of someone that loves doing what they do. I think sometimes, it can be hand in hand, but when it comes to the world that we live in, you gotta think like a business owner and tell your friends and family about how passionate you are.
Another thing ethically, is having honesty and integrity; not every opportunity isn’t an opportunity.
A lot of times, we think someone is looking out for us when they’re really not and you to have to be sound minded to say, this not a good opportunity for me and for the business and for the course that I’m trying to take. And so, saying, “no” is better than saying, “yes.”
RH: Long term, what do you see for Trish’s Garage?
ER: Long term for Trish’s Garage, I see aggressively being a wholesaler, wholesale accounts with the peplums. I would love to franchise my business model in different cities and areas where there are opportunities for start-ups. Also, to be a teacher and a leader.
Sometimes being a leader, means having courage to do the things that are uncomfortable and things that people don’t want to talk about and having the integrity and honesty to do it.
RH: What are five words that you’d like for people to think of when they think about Trish’s Garage?
EH: Five words for Trish’s Garage are: friendship, connection, great conversation, honesty and passion. I really take to heart my customers as my friends and I want them to be honest with me. And a lot of times when someone tries to squeeze into a top, I’m like, Girl, you’re my friend, this is not gon’ fit you. As much as I want you to buy this, it’s just not gon’ work boo. I’d rather you feel confident walking out the store.
I want to help build confidence.
I wholeheartedly believe in mentally thinking positive, not worrying; when you start worrying, that’s when it comes into reality. My biggest thing is staying focused and going through the path. You have to go through it to get to it; from the darkness, comes light.
Clearly, Ebony doesn’t just march to her own beat; she creates it with a zen-like infectious vibe.
All Photo’s courtesy of Trish’s Garage