By John Kennett Midland Daily News, Mich.
From Midland to Nepal to Chicago and back to Midland on Ashman Street. For a young person that's a lot of ground to cover. But, the lessons learned along the way have provided the impetus for Hailey Smith as she opens Chance Boutique.
"My intention in owning a storefront is to make our community a more vibrant place. I want Chance to be a place that women come to be inspired and feel empowered," says the 19-year-old. "I want my customers to feel inspired to be a part of a bigger cause."
Using the tag line, "everyone deserves a chance," the quaint boutique located inside the Ashman Plaza carries a little bit of everything: refinished and up-cycled furniture, trendy home décor, modern fashion made in the United States, and fair-trade jewelry and accessories that support the efforts to globally elevate the status of women.
"As I thought of the phrase 'everyone deserves a chance,' I was thinking of what my store would represent, and my overhaul on furniture as giving it a second chance. So between the furniture and my desire to give women around the world a chance to succeed, and the fact that I was taking a huge risk/chance opening the store, I thought it would be a fitting name."
The boutique, at 713 Ashman St., desires to carry ethically and socially responsible lines.
"We provide our customers with the opportunity to support women around the world by sourcing the products in our shop from businesses who make ethically responsible decisions," said Smith, a 2013 Midland High graduate. "We share what we love with the community: fashion with a conscience, vintage and antiques, home-decor, stationary, terrariums, stimulating conversation, support, creativity and love."
Customers to Chance will be able to participate in guilt free shopping.
"The (merchandise) is conflict free, and my customers can feel good about the companies they are supporting with their purchases," Smith said. "There's a few major things you can look for when shopping ethically; fair-trade (producers are receiving fair compensation for their work in a safe work environment), 'Made in USA' (laws in place that prohibit most unethical business practices and brings the jobs back to the states) local artisans, second-hand (we have a line 'The Bethany Collection' of high-quality vintage clothing), eco-friendly, or support charitable global efforts (ending hunger, encouraging at risk youth, freeing sex slaves etc.)"
Locally, Smith has chosen to carry product from businesses such as: Coyer Candle Co., Athalia's Boutique, Dear Sister Love, Sew Nifty Thrifty, Forever Free Art and The Sword. Customers will also find global companies at Chance including: 31 Bits, a group of American and Ugandan women in Uganda making beautiful necklaces out of hand rolled recycled paper, or BopsLove, a Louisiana based company that travels all over the world to help women start their own businesses.
However, finding companies that fit the mission of Chance wasn't easy.
"It took a lot of research to find lines at first, but once I did, one line would introduce me to another and another... and now I have a whole collection of potential lines that I would love to carry at Chance. I look for companies that have integrity. If they don't advertise where they source their materials from, I will ask, and if I don't get an answer I won't represent them in my store," said Smith.
For Smith, the road to Chance began with a life-changing trip to Nepal in 2010 followed by an investigation into fair-trade.
"I began to hear about fair-trade from buying a few fair-trade accessories here and there and started to research the global garment industry. It made me feel guilty about the clothes in my closet, but there aren't many options for shopping ethically so I continued to wear the clothes I had been wearing."
Following attendance at a design school in Chicago and general education classes at Delta College, Smith came to a crossroads.
"At this point, I was under an enormous amount of stress that every college student feels," she said. "I went in for a check-up and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I took the diagnosis as an opportunity to truly evaluate the amount of stress I was under and if it was worth it."
During her free time, Smith began refinishing furniture.
"People started asking to buy it and then I started having pop-ups in a parking lot and people seemed to like my stuff. I couldn't sell other lines without having a permanent location, so when the opportunity opened up here at Ashman Plaza, I jumped on it!
I have a passion and a talent, and I hope that by having a storefront I can combine those. I also hope that my decision to go a different route than college and take on something like this would inspire other people my age, who feel like they are stuck at college for something they aren't passionate about and have no idea what they want to do with their life," she said.