USC Grad Opens Store In West Columbia After Winning eBay Young Entrepreneur Award

By Isabella Cueto The State (Columbia, S.C.)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As reporter Isabella Cueto reports, Hawa Lukulay really started her boutique "Messie's Closet" years ago. When Lukulay was just 17 she used her lifelong passion for "treasure hunting" to dig through thrift and consignment stores to find statement pieces to sell online. Now she has a new brick and mortar shop to sell her wares.

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C.

Hawa Lukulay sits in her new store, afternoon light filtering in through the large windows where stylishly dressed mannequins live. Lukulay is 23 years old, a graduate of the University of South Carolina and winner of eBay's 2018 Young Entrepreneur award.

She also owns Messie's Closet.

Her boutique selling new and "pre-loved" clothing at discount prices opens Dec. 1, and she's rushing to put the finishing touches on the place -- lights, curtains, partitions.

"I still need the universe to give me blouses and jeans," the Washington, D.C. native says, looking around. This whole project of expanding what was an online business to a physical store was all done on kind of a whim, anyway, she says.

She read "Big Magic," a book about creativity by "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert. In the book, Gilbert tells readers to follow their creative intuition. So one day, Lukulay drove by the empty storefront right across the river from downtown Columbia, stopped and paid the security deposit on the spot using her $5,000 of eBay award money.

Over the summer, she had been selected from thousands of applicants in the annual eBay SHINE Awards for Small Business as the 2018 Young Entrepreneur.

"Hawa stood out as a successful young entrepreneur who exemplified an inspirational story of grit, determination and a continued desire to grow her business," Bob Kupbens, eBay's vice president of seller and marketplace operations, wrote in an email.

Lukulay was flown out to Las Vegas and met eBay CEO Devin Wenig, then she came home and followed her impulse.

But really, Messie's Closet started years ago, when Lukulay was a 17-year-old high school graduate. She used her lifelong passion for "treasure hunting" to dig through thrift and consignment stores and find statement pieces to sell online.

"I started my business from my iPhone and a measuring tape," Lukulay said.

She used her middle name, Messie, to capture her no-pressure-to-be-perfect brand.

By the time she was 20, she was putting herself through college at USC and making $10,000 to $20,000 in sales per month. She had started a business.

Upon graduating from USC, Lukulay said she couldn't afford to do unpaid or low-paying internships, so she dove headfirst into her work. Five years after starting her business, a brick-and-mortar Messie's Closet sits on Meeting Street.

The store is airy, the walls lined with racks of eye-catching dresses, jeans and shoes. Chunky stone necklaces sit on a table right when you walk in. To your right, floral wallpaper sets the stage for hip booties, bold patterned pump heels and accessories.

As a "shopaholic" who has perused many a store through the years, and in different places -- "My car has a lot of miles on it" -- Lukulay knows the discomfort shoppers can feel. In some shops, she said, she felt pigeonholed when she was pointed to a certain section. Other times, she felt totally unwanted, she said.

So she set out to make Messie's a space for everyone and a place for anyone to find clothes they would "make an occasion" for.

"I want people to feel very comfortable in here, really, and very welcome. And you can find your one obnoxious piece of clothing that people are going to be sure to compliment you on," she said.

Lukulay calling her clothes obnoxious is all part of the Messie's Closet identity, which asks shoppers to not take themselves too seriously with fashion and to wear what they love.

If that means a lime-green sequin jumpsuit or an embroidered tulle gown, it's there for you. If that's a simple black cocktail dress or cool pair of jeans, shuffle through a few more hangers and you'll find it.

Aside from hearty price cuts (a $600 dress with a dangling $60 tag), Lukulay plans to have a $10 sale rack.

Messie's carries more than 150 pieces, in sizes 00 to 26.

"There should be something for every price point," she says, running her hand through the fringe on the sleeve of a jacket.

What's in-store will almost always be available at messiescloset.com and on her Instagram page, almost always, she said. So customers can reserve in-store favorites or have clothing mailed to them.

Lukulay said she also hopes to start accepting consignment pieces from customers by next year.

Messie's Closet's grand opening will be from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. All items will be 20 percent off in store. There will also be cinnamon rolls from Devine Cinnamon Roll and a raffle for a $100 Target gift card. Messie's Closet is located at 729 Meeting Street in West Columbia.

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