Ever since I was a little girl, I loved wedding dresses. When I was 10 years old, I drew a strapless ballgown dress with roses all along the bodice and hem. I must have sketched that dress over 100 times and can still remember how I drew this dress. I don’t know what it particularly was, but I was really drawn to wedding dresses.
My love for bridal turned into a love for fashion in high school, where I fell in love with following designers and trends. I would cut out Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and make boards that I would tack to my wall. I knew every designer and could recall specific collections from past seasons. My obsession with fashion would lead me to constantly think of owning my own shop. I would design different kinds of shops, imagining what brands I’d carry and how I’d display my clothes.
In college, I was pre-med because I thought I wanted to be a dermatologist, but was not enjoying it at all. I worked at our school’s Career Services, and one of their counselors helped me realize that I had to pursue what I was driven by. I changed my major, and hoped for a career in fashion marketing or public relations. I found a program in New York that helped students get internships in fashion, while attending college. I got accepted and managed to convince my parents to let me move across the country without them ever seeing where I would live.
I did it. I moved to New York and found an internship with Donna Karan. It was an incredible dream come true that I couldn’t believe I was able to take part in. I worked in the publicity department, and helped with everything–from the runway shows, helping pull together information for their corporate reports to dressing celebrities. I had the most amazing time and was so fortunate that they taught me so much about running a fashion business.
It was there that I first knew I wanted to open a bridal shop. I had a friend who lived above one in Hoboken, NJ , and each time I visited, I would stop and stare into this shop in amazement. I loved everything about this shop, seeing the dresses hanging to the mannequins in the window. My friends would laugh at how excited I would get, but I couldn’t help it. What would come over me when I would see this shop was this hard to describe feeling–a feeling that I was going to own a shop one day.
After coming back home to Texas, I worked at a startup company, Rackspace. We were a small company and all of us were active participants in growing the company. It was there that I learned about running a business. A big philosophy behind Rackspace is Open Book Management, where our executives walked us through our financial statements, line item by line item. The founders had a strong entrepreneurial spirit that was contagious amongst us and they were incredibly focused on growing the company profitably. We were all focused on profitability, and it was there that I learned so much about metrics and business management.
Running a profitable business was just one of the many lessons that I took away from Rackspace. Another big lesson I took was the commitment to the customer. Customers were at the core of Rackspace–we realized early on that there were dozens of technology companies doing what we were doing–but what everyone really needed was people to service them. We combined great technology with great people–people who all believed in the core mission of Rackspace. I saw that it was not only the right way to run a business, but it is what led it to be successful.
While there, I met and fell in love with my husband, Luke. As we planned our wedding, of course I got super into planning the wedding, but I also fell in love with planning too. I had friends who came to our wedding and asked if I would help plan theirs. I started a little planning company, and I would often accompany my brides to their dress or alteration appointments. I would get excited to go with them. I would find the right time to go off on my own to admire dresses, and I would listen so intently to the seamstress throughout alterations and what they were doing to the dress. I loved seeing the construction of the dress, learning about the different designers they chose and why they chose them. In each appointment, that feeling I got in New York came back a little stronger.
My brides were always in search of a bridal boutique experience that was special, in a cute shop, and one that was known for its service. It would always lead us to shops in Austin! I love the shops in Austin, but after a trip left me stuck in Austin traffic, I thought “San Antonio needs shops like Austin.” On that traffic filled day that stretched all the way to San Marcos, I said I was going to do it, and this time, I knew I was going to.
I spent the next few years learning while convincing my husband. He and I have had many business ideas, and yet this one felt different. He was really supportive and thought it was a good idea when I laid out everything, and encouraged me to dig in deeper. I respect him immensely for his business acumen, so I began to work extensively on my business plan. I spent hours talking with my best friends, family members and mentors about my idea.
I also spent an incredible amount of time at Starbucks and other coffee shops. I researched, sketched, and analyzed so much that it’s hard for me to step in a Starbucks today. I became familiar with everything, and immersed myself heavily. I created vision boards that changed often, and little did I know that my fashion boards in high school would come in handy. I pulled together different shop ideas from all over the world, I made boards for designers and what I wanted to purchase. I had to see the strategic vision of it all to pull it all together, and I didn’t want to cut any corners. If I was going to open a store, I was going to go 100% in.
One aspect that was super important to me, was my bride’s shopping experiences. Also important was my own. I remember shopping and sharing my mirror with others. While not a problem for most brides–I felt uncomfortable with people seeing me in something I was seeing myself in for the first time as well. Plus, my mom was with me and she is my best friend–I wanted something just she and I could enjoy and be able to talk privately.
That led to my decision to have intimate dressing rooms. I sketched cute, chic rooms that allowed a bride to feel very special, while having the privacy of celebrating with just her and her loved ones. I wanted to curate a beautiful, yet comfortable shop to help brides get a memorable experience, along with shopping amongst a beautiful collection. Since location was part of the core of what I set out to build, I searched for over a year for the right location that would allow me to execute on that vision.
I also pulled from their service experience. The most memorable, special appointments were the ones where the stylist truly listened to the bride, and helped her execute on her vision while making her feel special. Along the way, the stylists that stuck out to us were the ones that were engaging, friendly and genuine. Combining my bride’s experiences with my strong commitment to the customer from Rackspace, I formed our mission to change the dress shopping experience for brides in San Antonio.
I sought to create something where brides were at the heart of all that we did, where we focused on making the dress shopping experience as beautiful and memorable as the dress itself. I wanted every bride to feel like they got the VIP shopping experience without paying extra for it. I knew that this was such a special moment in life and it was our job to honor it. I made it my mission to hire women who supported and thrived in that.
My business plan was starting to win over my husband and get us closer to pulling the trigger.
The next aspect was solidifying the branding and name. When I first came up with this idea, naming it after our little girl, Olivia Grace, came immediately. I thought it was because of her that we were doing this, it was because of her that I had the confidence to do this. It was because of her that I grew so much as a person to be able to dream big. She is my inspiration and best friend, so I, in turn, want her to be inspired. Even if she doesn’t ever want to work there, at least she knew she could start something of her own. I want her to always know that it is for her and our family that I do what I do, and she is always with me.
Piece by piece, Olivia Grace Bridal started to come together. We made our dress selection over months and months of review, as it had to be right for the San Antonio market. We found the perfect location–a guitar shop where our landlord allowed us to transform the space almost entirely. We found the perfect employee in our manager, Alice, who helped us build our shop to what you see today. She immediately understood the vision and supported it, and was instrumental in helping me piece all together. I will forever be grateful for Alice–from shopping for furniture at 10pm to helping us sell our very first dress, Alice was at the heart of everything and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to do it with.
Luke, Alice and I were working around the clock to get it ready for opening–Luke too handled it all–from getting us all wireless and running efficiently, to making sure our lighting was perfect–Luke was the power behind it all. Not only was he the jack of all trades, he was our cheerleader after many long nights and gave us the push to open our doors. He was the most helpful person in it, and saw and supported my vision and helped me bring it to life. In what most would consider a stressful time in a family’s life–Luke and I bonded together to make this dream happen. Today I look back and can’t believe I had my two best friends by my side to build it with.
Next to having my children (we have three), opening this shop has been a dream come true. My life is forever changed by what we have created–from the brides and their families that I get to meet (oh have I struck many genuine friendships with my brides), to the employees that I get to see thrive and shine in their career. This has been an incredible journey.