In a two-room apartment-turned-online-boutique warehouse above a Benson bar, Megan Hunt and Sarah Lorsung-Tvrdik wrap handbags, shoes, dresses and skirts in bright tissue paper before dropping them in the mail at the post office next door.
The clothes have festive names, often food-themed: Mint Chip Malt Skirt, Sugar Cookie Coat, Internet Dating Dress.
And the clothing itself is festive, too — skirts, dresses, blouses and sweaters in bright colors with unexpected details like a beaded collar or an open back.
In each package, Hunt and Tvrdik enclose a tiny bag of swag — cards and coupons from local artists, small businesses and hair salons, along with buttons emblazoned with bows, bulldogs and other graphics. Also included are instructions for the recipient to post a photo at the photo-sharing application Instagram in exchange for a discount code to apply toward a future purchase.
Hunt, 26, and Tvrdik, 28, want the experience of receiving a package from their new boutique, Hello Holiday, to resemble an actual holiday.
They selected many of the pieces they carry with milestones in mind — dresses to wear to a graduation party or friend's wedding, well-made leather handbags that might celebrate a new job.
They also stock vintage clothing and accessories, fashion-forward plus-sized apparel and office staples such as pencil skirts and button-down blouses in colors and patterns that Hunt and Tvrdik hope make getting dressed for work fun.
Their target demographic, Tvrdik said, is professional women between the ages of 25 and 35 with a bit of disposable income and a willingness to take some fashion risks.
“It's an age range where every woman is really coming into her own,” Tvrdik said.
Hunt and Tvrdik hope their business, which launched Oct. 1, also will help up-and-coming fashion designers.
Tvrdik and Hunt commissioned collections from two emerging fashion designers: Netherlands-based leather designer La Lisette and local designer Jane Round, who has shown numerous collections at Omaha Fashion Week.
Tvrdik and Hunt looked for designers whose designs fit with their aesthetic, who had strong social media followings and whose designs weren't widely available.
The resulting online store, Hunt and Tvrdik hope, is an interesting blend of old and new, staple pieces and party dresses in both straight and extended sizes that feel special — and that helps put Omaha on the map as a fashion town.
“I wanted to be able to stay here and do something that I wanted to do,” Tvrdik said.
Prior to launching Hello Holiday, both women dabbled in fashion.
Hunt has shown several collections at Omaha Fashion Week, and she also designs and sells bridal bouquets under the label Princess Lasertron.
Tvrdik has styled music videos and Omaha Fashion Week shows. She posts photographs of her sometimes mod, sometimes pinup-inspired outfits, as well as makeup tips and hair tutorials that feature her distinctive red locks on her style blog, fashflood.com.
But fashion wasn't a full-time affair for either. Until this summer, Hunt also ran CAMP, a coworking space downtown. Tvrdik worked for Goodwill Industries.
“We've been dancing around this industry forever,” Hunt said.
Earlier this year, though, they both felt the pull of fashion grow stronger.
Hunt knew that CAMP, which she opened in 2010 as a workspace for creative types who didn't have their own office space, was coming to an end.
Tvrdik, meanwhile, had begun work on a business plan for a clothing retail business that mirrored the way she shops.
“I vintage shop in Omaha, but I shop online,” she said.
Then in the spring, Tvrdik, who was in the midst of styling a music video for the band Conduits, stopped by Hunt's workspace to borrow a steamer.
The two had been friends for years — their husbands were roommates during college — but after a late-night conversation, they realized they also saw the same need for a new kind of clothing business. Soon they were business partners.
They held a garage sale at which they unloaded lots of their old clothing and raised nearly $2,000. That became the seed money for their first buying trip, to Texas last summer. They also began stockpiling vintage clothing, jewelry and accessories in Tvrdik's basement.
As their launch date neared, they also got to work on another part of their business that has become essential — social media.
As they stocked up, Hunt, Tvrdik and their friends modeled outfits and posted photographs on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their personal blogs.
Once Hello Holiday was up and running, they began to reward customers who connected with the shop online, offering specials to Facebook friends and Twitter followers, as well as discount codes to shoppers who posted photos of their new purchases online.
Hunt and Tvrdik also re-posted customer photographs on the business's Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, allowing the online boutique's fans to see how other customers were wearing the clothing.
They weren't particularly strategic about their online marketing, Hunt said. But they were aggressive — as a new business they didn't have much in the way of a marketing budget, but through their past fashion endeavors they were both relatively well-connected online. And social media was free.
When Hello Holiday launched, their friends and fans already knew what they wanted and were ready to buy. They shipped 157 orders in their first month of business and have already restocked some of their most popular styles.
Jane Round, the designer from Omaha, said she, too, has followed Hello Holiday online. Particularly rewarding, she said, was seeing good reviews of the pieces she made for Hello Holiday — all of which she sewed herself.
“It's really exciting,” said Round, who is studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It's a heartwarming thing to see someone else appreciate what you put so much work into.”
Round, who hand-sewed more than 30 garments for Hello Holiday, said it was gratifying to realize she was capable of filling an order that large. Hunt and Tvrdik, though, are hoping that eventually they'll have the capital to outsource the production of emerging designer collections.
Omaha Fashion Week producer Brook Hudson has also watched Hello Holiday's launch with interest. Round, Tvrdik and Hunt have been involved with Omaha Fashion Week in some way, and Hudson said watching the launch of Hello Holiday was like watching them graduate. One of Hudson's goals for Omaha Fashion Week was to use the event to grow Omaha's fashion industry.
Hello Holiday is evidence that it's working.
“There's this thing where people feel like they have to go outside of our market to find good clothes,” Hudson said. “I think that people are starting to realize we have some pretty incredible options here in Omaha.”
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