Nestled in the tony Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Wash., Smith & Main boutique is a haven for the denim customer who wants an intimate, curated shopping experience.
The shop’s owner, Chanel Smith, opened the business in June of last year, and since then, the store has become an active part of the small but vibrant local retail community.
Smith & Main (which combines the owner’s surname and pays homage to Bellevue’s Main Street, nearby) is known for women’s wear, catering to a core customer between the ages of 40 and 60. Casual is king in the Seattle area and greater Pacific Northwest, and the boutique offers ample options for the woman whose favorite look is a pair of jeans and an easy, flattering top. Smith characterizes the store’s selection as “everyday wear that can be mixed and matched with other items in her wardrobe.”
Denim is definitely a part of that wardrobe, and Smith & Main’s selection caters to a demographic that is trend-conscious yet practical. Skinny jeans are still a staple in the Seattle area, Smith said, and having a hint of stretch for comfort is an absolute must.
The store’s “bread and butter,” according to Smith, comes from brands like Agolde and Parker Smith, which specialize in a combination of contemporary styling and practical fit. A jean should translate easily from a professional to a social setting, she added.
Seattle women are also still loving a clean, dark wash, as opposed to the rigid, vintage-inspired denim that is trending with young consumers in other metropolitan centers. “People dress more for comfort here,” Smith explained, adding that her customer is looking to “incorporate a bit of fashion into things that are easy to wear.”
Still, women are willing to shell out for a great-fitting pair of jeans. “I have a bit of a range. My most expensive denim is McGuire, which goes up to about $250,” she said. “Customers are willing to pay for that, especially if it’s a novelty style that they don’t have in their closet.”
Though the shop’s wares are contemporary, Smith’s approach to business is decidedly old-school. Building relationships with the neighborhood clientele is her primary focus, she said, adding that her online business will blossom “eventually.”
Rivet caught up with Smith to talk about the particular advantages of boutique retail and which denim trends she thinks will stand the test of time.
Rivet: What are some important qualities/traits you look for in the denim brands you carry?
Chanel Smith: They are all pretty much under $200, which I feel is the sweet spot. Denim got so expensive for a while—upwards of $250, close to $300.
Medium to dark washes are still the most popular here. As we move into spring and summer, people are enjoying the lighter wash. But still, once they get into a light wash, often my clientele finds that it’s not as flattering as a darker wash.
Rivet: What are the most notable brands you carry in-store?
CS: I have Agolde, which is my more contemporary, funky brand. They’re the sister to Citizens of Humanity, so a lot of people who like Citizens enjoy Agolde as well. They’re a little bit more fashion-forward. They have that old-school, high-rise, crop-flare look. Your fashion-forward customer goes for Agolde. I have a style called the Sophie crop that I can sell all day long, at $160. It’s a high-rise skinny fit that works well with booties.
I also have Parker Smith, which caters to everyone, but in particular resonates with my older clientele. They have so much stretch in them, and they’re so comfortable. Everything they do is high rise—even their “mid-rise” is a 9.5 inch rise. My older clientele loves the high-rise because it’s super flattering on them.
I have had success with McGuire as well, which I bring in for that trendy customer. They do a lot of undone hems, cropped flares and destruction.
Rivet: What would you like to see more of from denim brands?
CS: I would like for denim brands to bring back a true mid-rise. High-rise is so popular, and people love it. But there are customers who won’t even try it, and I can’t find a true mid-rise jean, which is an 8-8.5 in. rise. A basic skinny with a bit of stretch would be great.
Rivet: Which trends do you think are on the horizon, and which will stand the test of time?
CS: I’ve seen a lot of boot cuts coming back in. I see a full flare coming back, rather than just the cropped flare.
I’ve also been seeing the destruction moving more toward the bottom of the hem, whether it’s undone or just a chewed bottom. I think things are moving toward clean, rather than destructed styles.
I also think super rigid denim trends younger, while skinny jeans are going nowhere. I think they’re here to stay, probably forever.
Rivet: What does the future of your brick-and-mortar business look like?
CS: Traditional retail is always going to be my main focus. Even just opening up last year, the response from women who want to shop small and local at a boutique has been great. They’re saying “I’ve been waiting for something like this.” There’s such a market for people who want to shop in smaller environments and really get that personalized service.
I think that’s crucial, to keep that going. To connect with my customer base and create a place that feels like home to them. I try to do that by expanding upon events, too. We’ve done wine walks with other retailers, to try to involve the other businesses in the area. It’s great to work together and partner on community outreach.
Rivet: Do you plan on growing your online business this year?
CS: Online is another area I’m looking to expand—I feel that you almost have to, with social media, and selling on Instagram, clickable posts and things like that. It’s the next step, and you have to do it. I think I’ll get additional sales from it, but I don’t think that’s the side of the business that’s really going to take off. I think it’s about growing the in-store experience.
My customers that come in here don’t care about how easy it is to shop online, or how many options there are. They care about personalized service. I’ve started to do business just by phone, texting customers when new items come in, and building clientele based on that.
Doing more pop-up shops and services like expanding into closet organizing or personal styling in people’s homes—that’s a way to grow the brick-and-mortar experience. Building a personal relationship is key. It’s about deepening the relationship with the customer.