When women shop at Belleza Ropa, inevitably there comes a time that they see themselves in the mirror for the first time, fully garbed in a new outfit and accessories. “The most awesome part is when they’re standing there and they say, ‘I didn’t know I could look like this,’ says Sarah ‘Bear’ Buffington, a sales associate at the store. “It’s a beautiful moment.”
Creating such moments is part of what drives the store, which caters to women of all ages and sizes, particularly professional women who are ‘movers and shakers.’ The staff offers personalized customer service, helping clients find exactly the right outfit for a given event or lifestyle shift.
“It’s a service that provides empowerment,” says Sarah. “It’s not just about selling clothes, it’s about helping women reach their goals so that they can feel empowered and be successful. Presentation is so much of your business cred.”
Clients can make appointments individually or in groups, or simply come in. “It’s personalized shopping,” says owner Jeannine Kempees. Some groups hold shopping parties. “We’ll have private parties that we sponsor in the evenings,” says Sarah. “You have people at the ready to serve you personally.” Kempees also donates shopping parties to help raise money for local groups. “We have hosted the Lincoln Elementary School Auction winners of our shopping party for several years, making over $2000 for the school,” says Jeannine.
The store has attracted a loyal following, not just in Thurston County but in surrounding areas as well. “Our staff are women who totally understand our clients,” says Sarah. “They come back for that personal service, whether it’s the wardrobe building or the parties. They know they can come to us and trust us to help them. Whether it’s casual or business, they know we’re going to understand what they’re going for.” Many bring their friends, and during the summer months Belleza Ropa becomes a popular draw for tourists.
Kempees first learned of the potential market in Olympia while operating a sister store, About Time, in Port Townsend. “I had a lot of customers that I met in Port Townsend that were from Olympia,” she explains. “A large number of people kept saying, ‘We could really use a business like this where we live.’ That was in 2009. In 2010 when my family wanted to relocate, I knew Olympia had a great, open opportunity for a very high quality boutique.”
Having decided on the move, she went on a scouting mission. “I knew I wanted to be downtown. It was really important to me to be in the historical core. I resonate with the old buildings and really love the vibe of the community,” she says. On that visit, she learned that the owners of Capital Footwear were about to retire. “I was able to walk in just a few days after deciding to move to Olympia and call the building manager. My husband at the time and I decided on a Sunday that we were going to move to Olympia. By Wednesday I was on track to open a store here,” shares Kempees.
From the start, the community has responded positively. “We’ve had a steady level of excitement around what we do,” says Kempees. “We’re definitely a growing business.” The business expanded two years ago when their neighbor moved to a larger location. “We increased our shoe sales floor to include over 110 different styles of shoes,” says Kempees. Belleza Ropa focuses on comfort shoe brands, including Dansko, Birkenstocks, Born, Clarks and Pikolinos.
“We are the largest retailer of Birkenstocks in the South Sound,” says Kempees.
A third generation seamstress, Kempees maintains that her mother first showed her the link between clothing and empowerment for women. “My mother actually started her own plus size clothing store back in 1985 when such things were absolutely unknown,” she says. “She made a lot of the clothing for her store because she couldn’t find the things she wanted to sell.”
Sarah’s mother also played a role in her connection to clothes. “My mother was an amazing businesswoman and she was also a big, beautiful, curvy gal,” she explains.
Belleza Ropa offers a range of sizes to accommodate different body types. “We have gone deeper into plus size offerings from the brands that we carry,” says Kempees. “We carry small, medium, large, and extra-large, sizes 2-20.”
Ultimately, the goal is to make a difference for whomever walks in. “That’s something I ask myself every day,” says Sarah. “Did we make a difference in someone’s life today? That’s my intention before I open that door.”
As for that ‘wow’ moment when women catch sight of themselves in the mirror for the first time, sometimes they’ll shy away from their unfamiliar look. “It happens all the time,” says Buffington. “People see something fantastic that they want and say, ‘I love it, but I don’t know where I’d wear it.’ I say, ‘Buy the thing you love and create the place you want to go.’”
Kempees travels to Port Townsend every week or so to work in her other business, About Time Clothing and Shoes. “I love my new home, but keep close ties with my community up north. Both businesses are dear to me and I love seeing the cross-over of customers,” says Kempees.
To learn more about Belleza Ropa, visit www.bellezaropa.com or call 360-352-7672.