The Minority Bride: Podcast Episode #78
Alyssa: Hi, welcome to Ask the Doulas. It’s Alyssa and I’m talking with Gaby again if you remember her. Last time she told us her lovely birth stories. Hi Gaby.
Gaby: Hi Alyssa, good to be back.
Alyssa: I want to learn about your business. So Connie’s Bridal Boutique.
Alyssa: Who’s Connie? Beause you’re not Connie.
Gaby: No. We’re not Connie. Connie’s actually the name that the original owner gave the store, it was her nickname. Her original name was Veit Vu, she’s a cute little Vietnamese lady. Maybe 5 feet.
Gaby: She was a powerhouse of a woman. These dresses get heavy, so you’d just see her hauling dresses back and forth. My grandmother used to work with her and when she decided to retire we purchased the brand and the store.
Gaby: And we kind of molded it a little bit more towards our personalities, and growth, and developed it a little bit further.
Alyssa: Okay. So I’ve been in your store. It’s huge! It’s not little, it’s huge. I walked in and I’m like, “Oh my God! Look at all this space.”
Alyssa: So tell me what did you change? What’s your target market? Do you have a certain type of dress? Do you kind of focus on one area or is it a pretty broad range?
Gaby: Yeah, when we originally bought the store, if we’re getting down to nitty gritty business, we used to be on 44th and Kalamazoo. I think that was her second or third location. The target audience when we originally bought it, was for brides looking for dresses and formal gowns from $100 to, I think it was, $800. Around there. We began molding it to a little bit of a higher price range, just because that good chunk of $100 – $800 dresses, a lot of that is online. So it’s not really long term, sustainable, at least for how we run it. Which is a lot of sample and special orders, we don’t have stock of the same dress in 30 sizes.
Gaby: We might have a couple in a small and a large, but most of what we do is a custom dress, custom measurements, custom length. We specialize in that and customizations, custom additions, and our clientele is the minority bride. That falls in so many categories. It could be “last minute,” so less than 6 months. We often do weddings like 2 weeks, 1 week, we can have a quick turn around time. My grandmother is magic as far as alterations! Our formal bridal gowns are anywhere from $600 to $3,000 – $5,000. We’re kind of snug in the middle between David’s and then you have the beautiful Renee Austin and Becker’s, who is on the higher end.
Gaby: We’re kind of snug in the middle for our minority brides and whether that be size, whether that’s brides that purchase and then they go and get married and they have beautiful African ceremonies in Africa, so that’s kind of the whole other package. Beause they’re buying for people where bridesmaids aren’t all here. We serve a lot of our “minority brides” that have that spunky and creative need.
Alyssa: Okay. Yeah, when I went in it was your grandmother and your mother.
Alyssa: You said sometimes your sister’s even there?
Gaby: Sometimes my sister’s there. On Saturdays, it’s me and my sister comes to help on and off. I kind of finagled my way to be like, “Grandma you can take Saturdays off and I’ll be here on Saturdays.” So now she’s there Monday through Friday, which is when our alterations and more complicated orders if she needs to kind of see as far as detailed illusion neckline, or anything like that. Then we’ll see them Monday through Friday and on Saturday we’re just seeing brides in their beginning phases and if they need basic fittings, then I can, of course, do that. I can fit you and pin you, but if anyone’s cutting your dress, it’s her.
Alyssa: It’s gonna be grandma.
Gaby: Yeah, it’s gonna be grandma!
Alyssa: So we learned last time that you have two children. How do you balance a three-year-old, a six-year-old, and helping to run a bridal shop?
Gaby: Yeah, I’m extremely lucky in the flexibility that not only working with my grandmother but having … working with my grandmother in our own business, close to home. So it’s kind of like a great little triangle of support. So she definitely wanted to see the grandkids, so when I had my first daughter and even with my son, I think I worked up until a couple of days before I gave birth. If not, the day before. I was very active, I don’t like to just down. When I gave birth, it was strap them up, literally carried them on and off up until they got too big to be carried. That was great! I could bring them in whenever and if I really couldn’t bring them in, I didn’t have to come into work. It wasn’t like I had to bring in a doctor’s note, and then I could work from home or work on off days. So I can move my schedule around pretty freely. So that’s definitely been a great opportunity for me to work, but also raise my kids and be as involved as I need to be or they want me to be. If they want to go chaperone, it’s great during the week because we’re not too busy. So I can say, “Hey, I’m not gonna be here until… today or until next time. I’m gonna go in the morning, I’m gonna be with my daughter or my son all day and then they can come back and work.” Sometimes work means I have to work until 9 or after they go to sleep, I’m gonna have to finish that, or I’m answering emails in the middle of the night.
Alyssa: Typical business owner stuff. I feel like I’m doing that all the time. You take out a chunk of time during the day to spend with friends, or family, or your children, and you always have to make up for it later.
Gaby: Right, you make up for it later.
Alyssa: That’s like the pros and cons, right? Of having your own business.
Gaby: Exactly. It’s definitely been a balance for them, as well. Because we open on Saturdays, so it’s not like we can just do all kinds of fun activities on Saturdays. My friends are like, “Oh, we’re having birthday parties.” And I’m like, “That’s great, but I’m at work.” So we can’t really just take that off. It’s Sundays. Everybody on Sunday kind of has a different schedule. In our industry, our busy time’s during the summer. So our vacations are in the winter.
Alyssa: Which is perfect! You want to get out of Michigan in the winter.
Gaby: We do! Everybody’s like, “You want to go to the beach?” I’m like, “Yes!”
Alyssa: On Sunday, I will!
Gaby: On Sunday, I will. Or Sunday usually ends up being trying to manage your household in half a day. Like a crazy person! That you have not been able to do the whole week. We kind of balance that out and my friends are like, “You never come out!” Like, it’s not really vacation ever for us, unless it’s winter. And during wintertime, regular jobs they’re still working, but we can be like, “Oh, we’ll take December off.” Because we’ve been working nonstop until December and we’ll just take a couple of weeks off. So it’s kind of a balance of where do you … it’s good to find other entrepreneurs because they have similar rhythms. Where it’s like, “I’m kind of just checking to see if you’re breathing for six months.” And then you can really hang out with them.
Gaby: During the slow time I’m like, “Just send a quick text like, ‘Hey, are you alive?” Yeah, we’re just working away. It’s been good to connect with other entrepreneurs and other busy moms that are kind of doing more.
Alyssa: Yeah and I think it’s important because we are definitely a specific breed of business owners and mothers. Because I might have, like this morning, I randomly had time to go for a walk around the lake and what did I do? I texted a bunch of people, but the only one that responded was the other mom who owns her own business. She was like, “Oh yeah, I can get out for an hour.” So it is good to have that network because otherwise you do kind of feel isolated. Thinking all of these other moms that work during the day and then at night maybe they want to get together, but that’s when I actually need to spend time with my kid.
Gaby: Right, right! That’s kid time. My free time could be, “Oh yeah, I can meet with you in the morning when the kids are at school.” I can kind of plan that out. But when I pick the kids up from school, I need to make sure that I’m with the kids because Saturday/Sunday. One day I was working on putting crystals on a dress and that was consecutive days of working past midnight. I think the kids came one day to the shop and they like slept in the stuff for a couple of hours. I’m just like, “We gotta get this done! We gotta get this done!” So we don’t have time blocks, it’s definitely an adventure to find people that match your schedules. Also interests, but also match the schedule of when you can free time and then understand that maybe I will be free three Sundays in a row, maybe you won’t see me for 5 months.
Alyssa: Yeah, I used to be able to plan ahead. Now I’m like, “I don’t know.” Can I go for a walk tomorrow? I don’t know, text me tomorrow and I’ll see.
Gaby: I will know an hour before!
Gaby: I think we’re maybe doing a month ahead of time. In my house with family events, I’m usually like let’s bring out the book of calendars. Everybody just dish out appointment cards. Like, “Here’s your Mother’s Day event, here’s this, and here’s that.” And now we’re just like, “We don’t know what we’re going to do.” Sometimes you’re just overwhelmed that you just don’t do anything.
Alyssa: Yeah, to have a weekend of nothing is totally fine.
Gaby: I don’t want to plan anything. You know what sounds good? Just being home, and cooking, and eating.
Alyssa: I think it’s the other side of owning a business that people don’t realize. You know, “Oh, you have so much free time.” Or, “Oh, you run your own schedule.” But there’s this opposite side of it where you do feel, like I said, isolated or that nobody quite understands. So I love these mom groups, like how I met you at the Mom Brain group. There’s always something to talk about because we’re always going through these same struggles. They might be a little bit different, but deep down we’re moms and we own our own businesses and we know what it’s like to be like, “Oh, yeah. I’m working until midnight tonight and I still have to get my kid up. I haven’t made lunch for school. Oh, yeah, and it’s library day and I don’t know where the library book is.” All these 20 little things, all these little details, but you still have a business to run.
Gaby: Right. There’s still something else that kind of, depending, is like two different … which, being a mom in itself has so many independent tasks that happen individually. Like these completely unrelated tasks that happen independently.
Alyssa: Mm-hmm, but we’re doing them simultaneously, often.
Gaby: Yes, yes! With two different children. One is your business and two is your actual kids that are kind of just, “I need all this stuff.” And then all of a sudden, business might have an emergency or your kid might have an emergency and if you don’t build those connections, you might be left struggling a little bit.
Alyssa: Well, it would be really easy to burn out. If you didn’t have, like you said, if you didn’t work with your family and it’s super close to home, you have that support network built in. If somebody owned a business, had children, didn’t have family, didn’t have friends, didn’t have a support network, and had no plan in place for these emergencies, whether it was family or business, you burn out.
Gaby: Yeah, I would imagine you’d just kind of be sitting there feeling lonely. It’s not even like, “Somebody come and help!” But it’s just the pure connection of like, “I just want to talk to somebody.” Or just a quick text to kind of get your mind out of maybe something serious that’s happening. Okay, then you can relax and go back and focus on your job, or your kids, or whatever it is. That’s so important to be able to have that extra support, in a multitude of forms, kind of sprinkled all over your life so that you can progress and move through the really hard, complicated times. In the end, you love your job. That’s why you’re doing it! That’s why we’re crazy still there. We’re still holding on because you love what you do.
Alyssa: Yeah, you work with brides who are in this specific zone and we’re working with new moms who are in this specific zone. Although many of our clients are probably, I’d say the majority of them are married, we do have some who are pregnant and then getting married or getting married while pregnant. So do you work with clients who are pregnant and need a dress? You say the minority, that would be the minority. How do you help? How does that dress grow with the belly if they’re not getting married right away?
Gaby: It definitely depends. The first thing for us is to make that bride feel comfortable. Some brides are just chill, they’re just loving it, they’re embracing what is happening. Some brides are nervous in the way of like, “This is not how I envisioned it.” Or it was how they envisioned it and they were fine with it, but there’s an outside pressure. So we want to make sure that that is relieved. Because once you are in a good, happy, neutral position, you can really see yourself in a wedding dress, calmy. Not like, “I need to cover this or I need to cover that.” You just want something that fits and that’s comfortable and it depends. Some brides are going to grow, right? They’re still going to be pregnant when they get married, so we have to talk about that. Are you going to come in the week before for alterations? Are we going to hold out until the week before? Couple of days before? Alter it and then it will fit and then take it? So it might be a last minute alteration. Or sometimes they buy it when they’re pregnant and then they’ll have the baby … it’s a bit of a guessing game. Are you going to buy it smaller? Are we going to allow for alteration costs to make it smaller? Is it a shape of a dress that can fit both ways? Are you going to be comfortable? Is it too tight for baby? You need to think about can you sit down, can you stand? Because you’re not as agile, though I’m clumsy anyway, so that was not a good clumsy pregnant mom that is wobbling through a bridal store was a funny scene. We just sit and talk with them and say, “How are you feeling?” Some moms have had multiple kids, so they’re like, “I don’t grow” or, “Tomorrow I’m going to be double the size. I’m just telling you for now.” And that’ll be fine. I had one bride, she was so sweet. She was like, “I’m going to be this size by the time I get married.” And she was. She knew! She’d already had children, so she was like, “I’m pregnant, I’m going to give birth and my body’s going to go relatively back to normal by the time I’m there.” It really ends up being a matter of a last minute alteration and just understanding that we just need mom and baby to be comfortable. If you want a nice, snug dress, it might have to be a different fabric versus a more stretchier fabric. Not because we can’t make it fit, I mean you can cut anything to fit anything, but just because it’s a little bit more flexible and movable, and not so restricting. Just a little bit more of guiding and consulting and you’re going to look beautiful! Everything’s going to come out good. Don’t worry about it!
Alyssa: So if we have any moms who are thinking about getting married, where do they find you? Tell us website, phone number, address. What’s the best place for people to find you?
Gaby: Yeah, well we have multiple ways of contacting us. We are on 28th Street, pasT Burlingame. We are next to Marge’s Donuts, so if you’re pregnant it’s always good.
Alyssa: I was going to mention that. Like, “Oh!” When I came to visit you, I couldn’t leave without visiting Marge’s on the way out.
Gaby: Yes, stop by and have a yummy snack. We have brides that come in with a very like, “I’m going to plan [to lose weight]!” If that is your healthy goal, we’re going to support you and empower you for it. But we don’t want you to be like, you need to all of a sudden only eat lettuce for the next six months. We want to make sure that you are being healthy with your path and if this is how your fiance is seeing you right now. Like he proposed to you right now, he’s loving you, he’s going to care for you, he’s going to embrace you no matter what. We want to dress you how you are, not with the pressure that you have from somebody else. You can find us next to Marge’s Donuts. Go ahead, we support your purchase of donuts, cakes, custard-filled pastries, bring us one on the way back if you’re coming before! We are on Facebook, it’s Connie’s Bridal. You can find us on Instagram, you can give us a call at (616) 455-5233. Our website is the same, which I think nowadays is the easiest thing to do.
Alyssa: Cool. What about the LGBTQ community? Have you ever had two brides? Because we do get calls from-
Gaby: Yeah, of course. Like I said, that’s our main focus is to make you feel comfortable, and empowered in your decision. If you’re wanting a suit, if you’re wanting two dresses, if you want a mini dress, if you want to alter something, we can do that. What I mainly see is the hesitation. Come on in, if you need extra time. That’s for any brides if you feel like you’re going to need extra time, if you’re going to need extra space, if you’re going to need extra quiet, or you’re going to need extra quiet because your support group is extra loud! We like to accommodate for that. Two bridess, we just want to support and celebrate alongside of you.
Alyssa: I love it. Thank you for sharing.
Gaby: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Alyssa: So yeah, check her out if you’re in the market for a wedding dress. As always, you can find us at goldcoastdoulas.com, Instagram, Facebook, and you can listen to our podcasts on SoundCloud and iTunes.