Empowering Young Women With Mimi & Emma's Boutique



RV Business Style: Mimi & Emma's Mobile Boutique

 Empowering Younger Women While Teaching Them About What It Means To Be An Entrepreneur

Shopping At Mimi & Emma's Mobile Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma]

After 21 years in the business world working as an HR representative, Mary Ann DiMarzio has developed a passion for mentoring young entrepreneurs, particularly young female entrepreneurs.

“Because I am a woman in business, I understand now, as I am older, the importance of relationships and building your circles,” Mary Ann reflects. “I didn't learn that at a young age. I want the girls to understand that relationships are so important and [to] see what happens when you build a relationship one person to another person and all the dots will connect. If you can figure that out and recognize it through your college years and see how those relationships build your business, then that will parlay into something successful as you go on in life. It’s about life lessons.”

Mary Ann is sharing these life lessons with young women in her community through her small business in Atlanta, Georgia, a mobile boutique called Mimi & Emma’s.

“I’ve always had that little bit of entrepreneurial spirit,” Mary Ann says of her idea to start a mobile business. The inspiration came to her when her daughters were college aged. When her youngest daughter took an interest in Greek life, Mary Ann found herself overwhelmed by the wardrobe needs of her pledging daughter.

As Mary Ann explains, “[Sororities] have certain colors [members] are required to wear or a certain style of dress. They also have events where they have to dress semi-formal…. Through rush, there may be a requirement for white dresses…. Everything is based on color depending on the college they’re at.”

Out of the overwhelming need to provide her daughter with the right clothes, Mary Ann had an idea: “As a mom I was going crazy. At that point, it just came to me. You know what would be awesome? If we could just pack everything up, put it in a truck, and just sit it outside of a sorority house and let these girls shop. “

After mulling the idea over with a couple of friends, who encouraged her to develop the concept, Mary Ann decided to make a go for it. She very quickly had the support of her daughter and their circle of friends. That was the first circle of women that helped to set Mary Ann on track for accomplishing her goal.

“My daughter has a very wide group of friends, so there were always girls coming in and out of our home. That’s really how it all started.  One thing led to another and all the pieces fell in place for it.”

Packaging A Customers Purchase [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma]
Outfit As Seen At Mimi & Emma's Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma's]

Mary Ann knew that she was stepping into an industry that was currently trending and also dominated by mobile truck businesses. She also knew very quickly that she wanted her business to be different.

“I didn’t want that truck feel. I wanted everyone who walked in to feel that they were walking into a boutique. That’s why we went on the search for an RV.”

Mary Ann found a 1997 Chevy Winnebago which her carpenter husband began gutting to prepare for the interior renovations. They worked with area contractors to build out the inside, and then with Kandrac & Kole, a local interior design company, to develop the vision for the inside of the mobile boutique.

JoAnn Kandrac and Kelly Kole, along with kitchen designer Caren Danneman became the second circle of women that Mary Ann leaned on to make her vision a reality.

JoAnn Kandrac, of Kandrac & Kole, recalls her response to the phone call from Mary Ann, requesting their services: “Our first reaction was what? Is this for real? And our second reaction was absolutely--it was a great collaboration and learning experience. Mary Ann knew the vibe she wanted, but also gave us the freedom to incorporate some of our ideas.”

JoAnn continues: “The size constraints were the most challenging, so we introduced Mary Ann to Caren Danneman, a kitchen designer and a whiz with cabinetry and organization to work on the clothing displays. The rest was a matter of making selections that would be functional, efficient and aesthetically beautiful. We used a gray and white palette with touches of black to not compete with the colorful clothing. We used a wide-plank, gray laminate flooring, a white faux tin ceiling, a gray vinyl grass cloth wall covering, a hip fabric for the dressing rooms, and custom reclaimed mirrors. This was clearly our most unique project in the 11 years we’ve been in business!”

As Mary Ann prepared for the grand opening event of Mimi & Emma’s with her daughter and some of their friends, she realized that her idea for a business serving the sorority houses could be so much more: she discovered the opportunity to inspire the girls beyond just the clothes they would wear to the next Greek life event.

“The very first event we did was in a local neighborhood… I will never forget the girls gathered around and worked until two in the morning. They were tagging all the inventory, pricing, making sure everything was set, and got it in the vehicle. They really [started] to look at what looked good. They got into it way more than I thought they were ever going to get into it.”

Cute Top At Mimi & Emma's Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma's]
Cute Top At Mimi & Emma's Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma's]
Bracelets At Mimi & Emma's Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma's]

So Mary Ann’s primary focus with Mimi & Emma’s became two-fold. Not only would she make the job of shopping for rush clothes so much easier, she would help young women learn basic business skills by involving them in every aspect of Mimi & Emma’s.

Since opening, Mary Anne has found numerous ways to support this goal. For example, often her events are fundraising events for a sorority.

“[The sororities] have fundraising goals and the girls have to put time into it. It brought it closer to home for them because they were working for their various charities…. A portion of the sales goes to the charity. We write the check for them directly to their philanthropy.”

Mary Ann found that the girls were motivated by this philanthropic angle to get as many people as possible into the RV to shop. They marketed the event and called their friends the day of to make sure they would come check it out.

Another way she involves the girls directly is by featuring the creative talents of young women from the sorority houses and selling their products in Mimi & Emma’s.

“It started out as sort of a sorority spotlight… We would reach out and say, ‘is there anyone in there doing something, such as making jewelry?’ Some of the girls were doing t-shirts, some were doing glassware… As it progressed, I started to build the relationships with the girls and that was the amazing part. What I found is there are so many girls out there that are working their way through by using their creativity. Its helping them pay their bills. Whatever it is, they’ve made the decision that they wanted to take their creativity and market that. So that’s when it really took off.”

Mary Ann also offers the opportunity for young women to serve on the advisory board for Mimi & Emma’s.

“[It] was really important to me to have an advisory board. And the advisory board is [made up] of girls. Girl from various walks of life and in different stages of their college careers…. They [are] an integral part of choosing what we sell, what looks good to them and [they are] responsible for that, too…. It was part of my focus that they had to be a part of this so they could see it from the ground up [and see] how you can take an idea and add in a lot of hard work and effort and eventually you can turn it into a business.”

Inside The Mobile Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma's]
Hanging Out Outside Of Mimi & Emma's Boutique [Courtesy/Mimi & Emma's]

Mary Ann finds the young women are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to highlight their product, sharpen their marketing skills, or be a part of building up inventory.

“They were so gracious and so grateful that they were being recognized. That is what's important. That is what it’s about. I mean clothes are clothes, but the fact that they turned their creativity into something that is marketable, something that is recognized, and people are wearing it or people will buy it, it’s huge for them!”

Mary Ann knows that her success with her mobile business is in part to the circle of professional support she’s received as she has built her business. Her goal as a shop owner today is to help young female entrepreneurs build the same circle of support, starting with Mary Ann herself.

Mary Ann has a good example to follow in the women from her own family. In fact, the name of her business is in honor of her hardworking mother and grandmother.

“My mom is Mimi, and my grandma was Emma. They are definitely a part of the business.”

Now Mary Ann has channeled the inspiration and strength she attributes to her mom and grandma into the next generation--her daughters--and into the business of Mimi & Emma’s.

“That’s a mom and a daughter--my daughters are part of this, that’s why I’m here--and we’re just going to keep that cycle going. It’s near to my heart. We’re not out there to have the world, but we’re out there to help some girls learn about life in business and those business relationships and how wonderful they can be.”

If the young women passing through the door of Mimi & Emma’s mobile boutique take even a few of these life lessons to heart, Mary Ann knows that she’s done something that will have a lasting impact. For something she has poured so much of herself into, it is the girls she works with and the relationships she is building that are the greatest joy of Mimi & Emma’s.

“It’s my heart and soul. It’s what makes me happy.”

Kailyn Clay

A graduate of Trinity Christian College with degrees in English and Political Science, Kailyn has written for GEMS Girls’ Clubs, Spark Hire, The Grand Haven Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and other sources. She enjoys reading, writing, and camping.

Mimi & Emma's Mobile Boutique

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