I love this interview because it feels to me like the true definition of an “Aha” interview. Christina Spaulding who owns Luna Boutique in San Francisco made a complete career change to do what she is doing now.
In this interview she talks about all of her fears as well as what makes it worth it. I think you will all find this very inspiring!
Here is her story:
Tell me about what you do for work.
I am the owner and buyer of a women’s boutique in the Presidio Heights area of San Francisco called Luna Boutique. I specialize in sophisticated, contemporary and fashion forward apparel, accessories and shoes for women of all ages.
What type of work were you doing prior to what you are doing now?
For 12 years, I practiced high-end residential architecture and retail architecture, store design and space planning. For 6 years, I did residential work in New York City for Robert A.M. Stern and when I moved back to San Francisco, I worked designing Banana Republic stores and then moved onto designing Williams-Sonomas, West Elms and Pottery Barns all over the country and Canada.
What kinds of frustrations did you have with your previous job?
I realized in the residential architecture world there was A LOT of work and time that needed to be dedicated to climb the ladder into opening your own firm or getting into the higher ranks in larger firms. I spent most of my time doing what other people told me to design and then the clients would change it all.
When I studied architecture, that is where I used most of my creativity. Out in the real world, I realized you are there to do what other people tell you because in the end, they are paying your salary.
In corporate retail architecture, the salary was much better than working in a architectural firm, but it ended up being cookie cutter design, the budget is what we were designing for. I came into retail architecture after a time when a lot of money was spent on designing the space of each store. Budgets were cut and we were there to value engineer each project.
There was tons of travel every week, a lot of meetings about meetings to plan meetings and a lot of creative ideas eliminated by CEO and CFO for the financial betterment of the company. I am a creative person by nature and I was frustrated I was in an industry where that couldn’t be developed.
How did you come to discover this was what you were meant to do?
I have always loved fashion, since I was little. My mom subscribed to Elle, Vogue, Bazaar, etc for me and I loved looking at the clothes and the fashion spreads. I wanted to be a clothing designer when I was little but was told that was a terrible, cut-throat industry! So I went the architectural route.
When I lived in NY, my fashion bug took hold and I always wanted to be looking stylish (much to my credit cards dismay!). In New York I did interview at a few firms that specialized in high-end retail store design because I thought that could be a way into the fashion world though my career. When I took the job at Banana I was so excited to be in the retail clothing world. I loved working with the visual merchants on how they lay out a store in terms of clothing and working with designers on what trends we would be opening the store with.
When I lost my job at Williams-Sonoma because of lay-offs I still sent my resume to about 100 firms in SF, thinking I should get back into residential, and interviewed back in NY for J.Crew and Ralph Lauren for store design. No one was hiring at all. I panicked and thought this is the end of my life, career, everything because I could find a job in the industry I had worked in for over a decade.
I was looking for a job, any job, nannying, house keeper, whatever, on Craigslist and came across a friend who had posted a listing for a manager at her small San Francisco Boutique. I called her and asked if I could maybe work there, I would still be looking for a job in architecture but this might be good being a sales person at her store in the meantime.
I started working there and soon found I loved it! I loved working with people, they liked my fashion sense and styling ideas. I loved not sitting behind a computer all day drawing plans. She really gave me my independence at that store which I really appreciated. 6 months into it, we talked about opening a men’s store together in SF. It didn’t plan out but she did encourage me to start something on my own. I thought she was insane. I had no idea what to do. She had gone to business school! I had just gone to architecture school, they teach you nothing about business there!
I decided to maybe take a small first step to even see if it was possible and called a realtor and started looking at spaces. A spot was becoming available in the neighborhood I grew up in and I knew the location- architecturally it was one of my favorite places- high ceilings, Victorian details, a backyard, huge storefront windows, columns, but thought this place is too good to be true, they will not rent this to someone with to store ownership history.
Low and behold, after a few meetings and back and forth, I got the space. Then I had to really get serious and I did the next thing I learned I needed to do each step of the way. I went to a trade show and bought clothing, I opened a bank account, I got a business license, I got a resale license, I bought fixtures, table, hangers, computer, dressing room curtains.
The building of the store was the easy part for me because I knew how to do that. As for the buying, I grew up and have lived in San Francisco and that neighborhood for most of my life, so I know the weird climate here and the fact that we wear sweaters in the summer and need sun dresses in October! Obviously I have made some mistakes along the line, but it is fun learning.
That is how I know this is what I am suppose to do, I am having so much fun in this whole process, from building the store, to working with the clients (I am in the store 6 days a week), to understanding the needs of the women who shop at my store, to going on buying trips, to having a staff who I think likes me and especially to bringing my dog to work with me everyday, Luna!
Luna is my rescue dog who I named to store after because she is one of the most important things in my life. I love going to work everyday and I love the hours. Although I am working sometimes way past closing and way before opening, I love doing it.
What fears did you have to overcome to take the leap?
Every fear imaginable! Failure was the biggest, pride, the fact that if I failed what would people think of me, that is still a huge fear. Losing all of my investment money. Having a 3-year lease I could not pay! Getting sued for whatever reason, people love to sue people! People not liking my style and my buys. Thinking that if I failed, what is next? Not knowing enough. Leaving a career that is fast moving- I was going to lose knowledge of new architectural computer programs, I was going to be behind the times if I had to go back to architecture.
But the biggest failure is the failure to try. I was taught my fears were healthy fears and that I just needed to do the next right things and if it didn’t work, I tried the hardest I could. I knew if I didn’t do it I would wonder my whole life, what if I decided to take that leap and regret it. I would drive around and look at all the retail businesses around and know that these people had the guts to start and open something.
We live in an area full of start-up businesses. Some of them succeed hugely, lots don’t work out and you read all the time about those people moving onto the next idea. My idea for the store was to open a more affordable store in a very affluent neighborhood full of couture and high-end retailers. There was nothing available for this new economy where people are trying to spend a little less in Presidio Heights. I looked for a niche that needed to be filled and I tried it out and so far it has been very well received. If I didn’t do it someone else would so I had to take the dive and risk it!
What do you love most about what you do?
I love working in fashion, I love buying for the next season and seeing new trends and telling my customers what is coming up! I LOVE working with the women who shop at my store. I have tried hard to create a really comfortable, relaxed environment with the store design and the women I have hired to work with me.
We try and have a no pressure zone in the store. I love when people flip through the racks and pull pieces that speak to them and help them from there, if they want advice. We try and get to know our customers, learn about their lifestyles and update their wardrobe in an appropriate way.
We had a lot of regular customers so that makes me feel like we are doing something right. I love how many pieces of the business I have to take care of- it makes the day interesting, from buying to sales to charity projects to managing my employees to bookkeeping to inventory to merchandising and displays!
I love being my own boss because I know if something gets screwed up, it is usually because of something I didn’t take care of or made a mistake doing and I learn, I can’t point fingers anymore! I love the store hours, I don’t need to always wake upi at 6:30am! But most I love bringing Luna to work. She has a lot of fans, especially the neighborhood kids!
If you were to give advice to people thinking about changing careers, what would it be?
Obviously think long and hard about it and know exactly what you want to do. Talk to as many people as possible in that industry, get the pros and cons. Talk to people that were not successful in that business to find out what happened and what they would have done different. Do your homework.
You need to find a niche that you feel that hasn’t been filled or an industry that hasn’t been oversaturated. It is hard, but try not to think about the whole picture, the start to finish process, because it will freak you out about how much work it seems like. When you take it one step at a time, it just happens!
Most importantly thing is think about the quality of life you are living in in your current situation- are you unhappy, bored, disenchanted, overworked, unmotivated, wake up dreading to go to work, is it affecting your personal life? What I realized is that as cliché as it sounds, life is short and work takes up at least 1/3 of your day, you need to be happy and satisfied with what your doing in your career in order for the rest of your life to be happy.
I laugh a lot now, I have tons of energy, I enjoy seeing my friends and I think they enjoy seeing me more because I am not always complaining about work! You need to take action, though, to make that change, and the risk, but it is worth it, no matter what! You have to try to know.