Today’s Real Women Report is all about Festive Collective. A Chicago hub for all things party-supply, including balloons, stationery, tableware, and décor, this pretty boutique shop takes the cake for women working together in retail. Three businesses under one roof, Festive Collective is a sweet retail spot worth hitting up if you’re in the area, and the space doubles as an event venue and workshop hub too.
Festive Collective’s founder Angela Water recently sat down with us to chat about how she started this business with her #girlboss squad. Realizing they’d be stronger together, Angela’s business Bash Party Goods teamed up with Anne and Kate Stationery, and Luft Balloons to create this one-stop party shop. Here’s the story from Angela.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Angela: I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember, and I’m never satisfied unless I’m working on at least five creative projects at once! I had the hardest time selecting a major in art school because I wanted to do everything- I ended up studying a bit of fashion, illustration, interior design, printmaking, and graphic design. I found it impossible to pick only one field to focus on! Once I graduated, I started working as a visual merchandiser, and in that field, I felt like I could finally use my wide range of creative interests to build something impressive.
After seven years as a merchandiser for Urban Outfitters, I had a weird late-night epiphany about the lack of modern, trend-reflective party supplies. I started doing market research and studying production techniques, and I became obsessed with the idea of producing my own small line of party tableware. After a couple months of nonstop googling, hard work, and no sleep, I was holding my first set of samples. I posted a few photos on Instagram and international wholesale requests starting pouring in immediately! A year and a half later, I’m running a party brand with a catalog of over 70 unique items and over 100 stockists in 29 countries.
Anna: Hello! I'm Anna! I live in Chicago with my husband and two cats. I have a vintage shop on Etsy called Barbie Roadkill (the name is just a combination of tough and girly words...Apocalipstick was already taken). I sell clothing mostly from the 80s and 90s, with a few older pieces. I like bright colors and all things fuzzy, sparkly, and loud.
Tell us about your business and how you started Festive Collective.
Angela: I came up with the idea for Festive Collective while looking for a storage space to move my growing wholesale inventory into. I came across this gorgeous two-story storefront and was awestruck- I could instantly imagine all sorts of inspiring gatherings, parties, and workshops happening in this building! I knew I couldn’t use the entire space alone, so I teamed up with two other Chicago partyware designer/makers - Kate Jensen of Anne and Kate, and Elaine Frei of Luft Balloons. The shop is a collaborative effort between all three of us. Kate and Elaine moved their studios into the back half of the building, and I moved Bash into the lower level. The storefront only stocks our three brands and features rotating collaborative balloon and art installations from all of us. We added Anna’s rack of party vintage so we could mix in an unexpected element to the space, and customers have loved it! I also host two workshops a month, and I pull in other makers to lead workshops in the space. We’ve been renting the space for events as well, mainly showers and birthday parties so far.
Anna, How did you and Angela meet?
Anna: I first met Angela 7 years ago when we were both working for Urban Outfitters. She was higher up on the totem pole than me, and I admired her work as a Visual Merchandiser. Eventually I got promoted to Assistant Merchandiser at the downtown Chicago store Angela oversaw, and she became my boss and mentor. I learned everything I know about the process of merchandising from Angela; from gathering inspiration to creating a story to executing a successful vision. We've lived in different cities over the years but always maintained contact. When Angela left Urban to start Bash Party Goods, I began to entertain the idea of developing my own creative niche, but it took a couple of years before I had the guts to do anything with it.
Every Girl Boss has challenges. Tell us about the highs and lows of opening a store.
Angela: Party and paper items are pretty inexpensive, so my entire business plan was dependent on event rentals and workshop tickets to cover rent and our operating costs. The scariest month was the month before we opened the doors because I had no real way of being sure people would want to rent the space or buy tickets. My mother is a CPA and financial planner, and during that month she said something to the effect of, “If you aren’t scared, then you’re stupid”. Fortunately, we had booked every weekend in February by our opening party, and everything really picked up from there. The high point was definitely our opening party- we had no idea how many people to expect, and as soon as the doors opened, the space was absolutely packed! It was a warm, enthusiastic mix of curious locals, Instagram fans, and fellow business owners who had supported our individual brands.
Tell us about your business! What inspired you?
Anna: I've always loved thrifting, and the Midwest is home to some of the best thrift stores I've ever seen, especially in small towns in Nebraska and Iowa. I get a rush from it; digging through racks for hours and hours, sifting through all that polyester and coming out with a few gems. It's the thrill of the hunt, I guess! I wondered if there was a way I could turn my love of thrifting into a full time job, but I didn't think it could be sustainable. Recently I've seen more and more of the women I admire (like Angela) leaving the security of their "real" jobs to pursue their passions and I felt empowered to give it a try, too. I left Urban and started Barbie Roadkill a few months ago.
What's your best piece of advice for other women who want to start a business?
Angela: Start with a very honest, well-researched formal business plan, even if you aren’t applying for loans, and have someone in business or finance take a look at it. If you can make a substantial profit and you have a strong potential for sustainable growth, invest in your business. It’s tempting to start a business because you’ve always dreamed of owning a shop, or you’re great a brand curation, or you have a vision, but if you aren’t making a profit, you’ll drown. Making your dreams come true is not a business, it’s a project!
How did you get involved with Festive Collective?
Anna: Angela wanted a rack of party vintage clothing that played off the color story and mood of the paper goods in Festive Collective, so she asked me to pull something together. I brought over several bags of clothes and we selected our favorite items reflective of the shop's aesthetic. At the moment it's a lot of iridescence, glitter, and pops of pink and black--all items a girl could wear to a fun, colorful party. We'll pull in more floral printed slip dresses and worn denim for summer. I have a lot more free time now that I'm working for myself, so I like to stop by Festive Collective once a week or so and help Angela with any projects--we just made fringe garlands for the March window--or do my own work in the space. It's an incredibly stimulating environment to work in, a visual experience!
Angela: The day before our opening party, we had just completed all our opening projects and installations, and I was about to head home for the night. I looked around and couldn’t believe that three people who hadn’t even know each other six months earlier had built this in such a short time.
Tell us about your lowest and proudest moment?
Anna: Both moments occurred on the day I launched Barbie Roadkill on Etsy in November. I had only 25 items in the shop, and I had this brief, stinging feeling that I was unqualified to do this...what if my idea of what's cool doesn't translate to anyone else? What if nobody likes my shop and it's too late to get my old job back and I have to wait tables forever?? Shortly thereafter I made my first sale (a cropped Chicago Bulls t-shirt from the 90s) and since then sales have been steady and the feedback positive. If I had waited until I felt I was a master of curating vintage, I never would have started this shop. It's been a process of trial and error; some of my favorite pieces haven't gotten many views while other items that I was on the fence about sold quickly. At the end of the day I only post clothes that I love and would wear in real life.
How do you support fellow female entrepreneurs today?
Angela: Now that I have a brick and mortar space, I’m in a great position to showcase emerging talent and new businesses. I’ve organized many upcoming events to highlight local brands, artists, and designers. We’re also creating an inspiring, encouraging environment for women to either learn new skills, network, and gather. We just started doing a first Thursday event called Home Work Happy Hour so people who work from home can get out and interact with each other, and the audience is mostly female freelancers and entrepreneurs. It’s also baby-friendly so new mothers working from home can get out and talk to adults!
Best advice you received from another women?
Anna: Even if you work from home, get dressed every day like you're going to work. It helps get the creative juices flowing and keeps me in a positive mindset. I find I don't get as much done when I stay in sweats.
How have other women helped you along your journey?
Angela: My family is made up of incredibly strong, opinionated, and creative women, and they’ve supported me in any way they can throughout my first years- from long days of hands-on work to watching my daughter on short notice so I can get things done. My fellow business owner friends have also been amazing resources because they’ve shared their experiences and knowledge with me, and I’m trying to do the same for women I know who are just starting out.
What is one quote that you look to when times get stressful/tough?
Anna: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" -something my mom shared with me. Fear of failure causes hesitation every time I'm about to take a risk, but, you know, what if...????