When Tina Schwaner first began to tinker with the idea of starting a retail business, the hairstylist dipped her toe in the water by selling small items from an armoire in the salon that once employed her.
“I took that little armoire as seriously as I take this whole shop,” Schwaner said of her locale on Fountain Boulevard, a location she’s been in for a year. “It’s funny — how I tried to get people to see it as seriously as I took it.
“It’s been a five-year process and has really taken root in the last year.”
Frayla Boutique, located south of downtown Colorado Springs, began like many other boutiques — selling things Schwaner liked. When she was operating solely from that armoire, she sold jewelry by Giving Keys, a California company that employs transitioning homeless people to help create its products. And while her initial intent wasn’t to be a social impact company, today everything Schwaner sells either has a social enterprise component or is made in America. She was even nominated this year for a PRISM Award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year, which is presented by the Colorado Institute for Social Impact.
‘Fashion with a purpose’
According to Schwaner, Frayla provides “fashion with a purpose. We want to beautifully make an impact on the world.”
The Maryland native grew up in Calhan before moving to Colorado Springs to attend cosmetology school. She opened her first boutique and salon concept on Cheyenne Road three years ago and operated from that spot until 2017, when she purchased her location on Fountain Boulevard.
She has since been transitioning her focus from hair to retail, with the intent of hiring an apprentice to take over her salon clientele, whom she currently sees in the rear of the boutique.
“Right now, I do hair four days a week until 3 and then I run the shop,” she said.
Most of her attention over the last year has been creating a business plan that revolves around giving back.
“Now I’m looking at growth,” she said, “getting people to know about it. I came to the new south end on purpose. I felt it was up and coming and an affordable place to bring a small business.”
Frayla sells products from retailers such as Grace & Lace, which helps build orphanages in India; An Old Soul, which is completely owned and operated by women in the United States; Sak Saum, a clothier that employs Cambodian women and teaches them to sew; and Made with a Mission, a local company that makes candles and gives a portion of the profits to the Springs Rescue Mission.
“We also work with The Hanger, which provides clothing for foster children in Colorado Springs,” Schwaner said. “It’s an arm of CASA and we collect used clothing for them. We hosted an event last year and gave them a portion of our sales. We’re planning that again this year.”
Schwaner said, as consumers go, priorities appear to be shifting.
“There was a time when, I feel, people didn’t care about the social impact aspect, they just wanted something because it’s cute,” she said. “But there’s been a shift and now people come here because of [the social component] and they look for a certain line because of how it gives back.”
Even the way she acquires merchandise is different, Schwaner said.
“I don’t go to market. I went to [a Denver retailer market] once and was so overwhelmed,” she said. “To find something that is socially responsible — you had to go through so many things. There wasn’t a lot available five years ago.
“I take a different approach and research the products I love.”
Schwaner also doesn’t like to deal with merchandise reps, she said.
“I create a personal account and a relationship with the company,” she said. “And I order weekly from them. I do lots of small orders and get new arrivals each week. That helps keep things fluid and I can budget week to week. If it’s a great week, I can order a little extra.”
And fashion-forward shoppers can be socially conscious consumers and save some money, Schwaner said.
“People sometimes assume that social impact is more expensive,” she said. “Not necessarily — we have things in here for $8. And the company that’s producing these products absorbs a lot of the cost. I would say our price points are similar to a regular boutique. We can’t have the big sales, but we try to be mindful of pricing. You can be current and trendy and give back. That’s something, I think, that has changed.”