PHOTOS BY Hillary Ehlen
At the end of February, Vanity closed its doors in the retail world. Jill Shea and Laura Polanski didn’t see this as losing a job they’ve been doing together for 12 years but instead as a sign to embark on a retail journey they’d been dreaming about for years, leading them to open leela & lavender on Oct. 25.
Shea and Polanski have had retail in their blood for a long time, and both loved the mall retail scene. As retail was evolving, however, they started to see many ways it could be done differently.
“It was starting to become really promotional and heavy with tables of merchandise,” Shea said, “and we always thought retail could be more special and fun.”
They had conversations about what they would like to see in retail, daydreaming about what it would look like to open their own store. Then when Vanity announced it would be closing its doors, “all of those ideas over the course of many years, we really began talking seriously about them and decided to go for it,” Shea said.
Style and fun for everyone
“With all of our buying background, choosing what to sell should be the easiest part for us,” Polanski said. “I think it’s just knowing what women want and need. Our biggest thing is going after items we feel are important for any woman’s wardrobe: staples and fun, trendy pieces that are different and unique. We look at every aspect of a woman’s life — work, casual, dressy — and try to find the best in each category.
“We also love the gift aspect. That’s something we don’t have a lot of background in, but I would say is one of the most fun things we have added. Again, we picked out things that resonated with us, hoping it would resonate with others and things that had a sense of humor. We want people to be laughing and having fun with their friends.”
In every category, Shea and Polanski also tried to have a range of prices, from moderate all the way up to premium. “We want to hit the trendy college students’ budgets all the way up to someone who might want to invest a little more in a pair of jeans or shoes,” Shea said.
Leela & lavender also offers free style sessions. By filling out a form online, they’ll contact shoppers, asking their sizes and what type of clothing they’re looking for. When they come in, the dressing room is ready for them.
“People can come in and get a little extra one-on-one time with one of our style catalysts,” Polanski said. “Her sizes are already pulled so she doesn’t have to take the time to go through the whole store.”
“When we’re talking about our store, we have a lot of conversations about not only honoring our customers’ wallets but also her time,” Shea said. “We want to be respectful that she’s busy but can still come in and get an outfit for whatever event is happening in her life.”
Leela & lavender not only wants to be open to different budgets and schedules but also ages. “Everyone keeps asking, ‘who is your target?’ We just say, ‘we don’t have a target,'” Polanski said.
“Fashion is not about age, it’s about taste. We’ve said that the whole time. Just because you’re 70 or you’re 16, it shouldn’t matter. You hear so often, ‘I’m too old to wear that’ or ‘that’s too young.’ Those stereotypes don’t make sense. It’s clothes. You should wear what you like and feel comfortable in. All women can shop together.”
“We’ve had so much local support since we’ve opened,” Shea said. “We are also trying to partner with people who are local as well as those who give back.
“We knew when we started our business that we wanted to be a force for good and pay it forward. We’re partnering with FM Women’s Foundation and on our opening night, we offered customers a discount or they could donate their discount to the women’s fund, which a large percentage did. Hopefully, we can be a spark that ignites others to be the same and think about how they can contribute in a more meaningful way.”
leela & lavender
3265 45th St. S, Suite 116, Fargo