Writer Lilly Neubauer is no stranger to Love Child. We have featured her multiple times on Love Child and always appreciate her fresh and honest perspective on motherhood as seen here and here. This time, Lilly turned the interview tables on her sister Tessie Crow, owner of Austin-based Longhorn Fashions and new mother to Annie. Tessie started her growing retail shop when she was 23 years old because of a need for affordable game-day gear. It started as an e-commerce, eventually moving into a renovated airstream and then a brick and mortar, but not without her share of roadblocks. Lilly asks Tessie how she balanced renovations and roadblocks while pregnant, the harsh realities of maternity leave when working for yourself, and how her style has evolved since becoming a mother (nursing-friendly options!), today on Love Child. Photography by Melanie Applegate
Your new store is gorgeous, but it is hardly your debut. Longhorn Fashions has been around for a while! Catch us up on all of the dreams and iterations of the brand that got you here.
Thank you so much! For as long as I can remember I dreamed of owning a store, but that dream didn’t seem possible straight out of college so I took a position at an online marketing agency and put it on hold for a while. I was helping small businesses drive traffic to their websites when it hit me that I could start my store as a website too. This would allow me to keep my job (and my income!) and start it small. I knew I had to get creative with my approach to the store because we were in a recession and the retail market was struggling. I was a young alumni who was attending every home game for the Longhorns. Tailgating and going to the game was a great opportunity to ease into the real world and still see my friends from college so it became quite the event. I was always searching for something new to wear each game, but was making an entry level salary so I definitely wasn’t in a position to splurge or buy something that I wouldn’t wear again. It hit me that other girls might be having the same problem, so I started LonghornFashions.com in August 2010 as an e-commerce website with a curated collection of burnt orange and white tops, dresses, and accessories that could be worn to both gameday and everyday events. I reached out to local designers to get it started and searched for the “just right” shade of orange at Dallas Market, all while making sure the price point stayed low so that my customer base could afford it.
I used social media to grow the website while continuing my position at the online marketing agency. I would use the money from Longhorn Fashions sales to buy new inventory so that I could grow the selection without taking out a loan. Two years after the launch of the website, I decided to take the next step by turning a vintage Airstream trailer into a boutique on wheels. My husband and I spent the summer of 2012 cleaning, painting, and renovating a gutted trailer. By August it was ready for its debut at the first home game! I parked it at Bevo Boulevard and sold apparel, accessories, and jewelry out of it. I also gave out hundreds of cards to people walking by, which helped boost the website traffic and sales following the game. The trailer really helped me expand my reach and by the next summer I was ready for my first storefront.
I opened my small store-front on 23rd Street just in time for the first game. I didn’t have a lot of money to put into the space, but I did have a lot of passion. I did what I could to transform the old 750 sq ft former hair salon into a store and opened it with gratitude, cupcakes, and mimosas. I spent the next three years at this space and slowly made upgrades to it, with the biggest renovation during summer 2016. 2016 was our best year yet at the store and things were going well when I was told that they were tearing down the building so I needed to move. This was a scary development because retail space in Austin is hard to find. I finally found something that I thought might work. It was in the same area, but much bigger and it needed a ton of work. This new space had no AC, no electricity and no plumbing. It was just a big broken up concrete slab so I would have to work with the city to get permits, an engineer, a architect, and a contractor. I knew it was going to be a huge project for me! There was a lot of fear and anxiety, but I decided to go for it! I spent the spring and summer getting it open before and after store hours and we opened for business on 22nd Street the beginning of July!
So your big moment came for the brick and mortar build out of your dreams, along with some serious challenges – and your first pregnancy! How did you balance all of the new challenges and excitement of both major happenings?
The new brick and mortar hit a lot of roadblocks and my morning sickness was at an all time high during the thick of it, but being pregnant was actually really great timing for me because it kept me focused on the big picture. I always pictured sharing my store with my daughter and telling her about how I got it started, so I knew now was not the time to give up. I was so close to sharing my dream with her and it motivated me to push through when things with the new space got crazy.
When the opening for the new store got delayed at the very last minute (after cookies were made, champagne was purchased, party favors were bought – you name it) I wanted to break down. I was exhausted and so disappointed. Instead I gave myself a few minutes to cry and then moved on. I knew there were so many good times to come and I also knew that it was important to stay calm because I had a little baby inside of me. The fact that she might be affected by my stress really helped me focus on keeping it in check.
What does “maternity leave” actually look like for a owner of a small brick and mortar business? What are the harsh realities and what are you enjoying?
For me, “maternity leave” meant responding to texts and emails while in the hospital and stopping by the store due to some issues that came up 4 days after she was born. I worked hard to make sure the storefront was covered for at least a month, trained new girls, and reviewed procedures with everyone before I left, but some hiccups still happened. I decided to maintain control over the social media as it is the main way we get traffic to the store, so I was back at posting one day after Annie was born. While I didn’t really have a “maternity leave”, I have constantly been reminding myself to stay present with Annie and enjoy this time with her. I only work on the store when she naps and I do whatever works best for her schedule. By the time she was three weeks old, we had been to the store three times together, but it was on her time which meant the second she seemed to be fussy we headed home to go on a walk or do something more baby friendly. Now that she is a little bit older we are taking on three hour shifts together and seeing how it goes day by day. It is fun to share this time with her as shop gals!
I love connecting with customers at the storefront, but after years of being the only full time employee (which translated to a lot of 60 hour weeks up there), I am honestly enjoying having some time at home for now. I still feel connected to the store since I am in constant touch with the girls up there, but it is nice to be home before 7:30 p.m. right now. Baby Annie, Toby (our dog), and I are soaking in all the quality time together during the week and I am happy to be home on most weekend days with my husband, Corey!
When you started Longhorn Fashions you were 23 years old (holy cow – by the way!). Now you’re a 30 year old new mom. How has your style evolved and how is it represented at the store?
As I have gotten older I have more of a need for timeless basics than party dresses, so I have tried to mix in some of these at the store. Our neutral pullovers and chenille sweaters have been a hit this year and are definitely something that I would wear! I am careful to not stray too far from the original mission of keeping everything under $50, but I will mix in the occasional piece that is a little bit higher price point (in the $60-$75 range) if it is high quality and unique.
I am also on the hunt for more button downs for the store which is totally self serving now, haha. I didn’t realize how much of a necessity these are when breastfeeding so I have been looking for more on the linesheets this week. I am really excited about two that are headed to the store now! They are both 100% cotton which is a plus. One has beautiful embroidery on the back and the other is a great light blue and white stripe with a front pocket detail. I know I will be scooping up both of those!
What’s next for you as the Mompreneur – you’re officially in the club! – of Longhorn Fashions?
Right now I am focused on getting as many baby snuggles in as possible and trying to find the must have items for spring. Keeping the store busy during the off season can be a challenge, but I am hoping to find some things that people feel like they can’t live without. I am also working on finding a warehouse to help me make an idea that I want to carry next football season because it will be here before we know it!
Also, I couldn’t help myself and added a small baby section to the store and website. These are some of my favorite things for Annie. The organic onesies are so soft and comfy! I am looking forward to growing this section over the next couple of months so busy and stylish Moms can come shop for two at once and my college base shoppers can bring something unique to showers or as aunties!