Emily Smith had been in the nursing field for 19 years. In March of 2014, she began feeling restless in the healthcare industry. After a family trip to the Music Capital of the World, Nashville, Tennessee had Smith making a big decision—changing the tune of her whole life.
“I wasn’t really joyful about it anymore,” Smith said of nursing. “I didn’t want to do any of it. Nothing inspired me.”
While strolling through the historic city of Franklin, outside of Nashville, Smith walked into Philanthropy, a women’s fashion boutique. The business is a cause-driven retailer, donating 10 percent of its sales to charity. Immediately, Smith felt a sensation she had not felt in quite some time.
“I just had this beautiful moment with God that I didn’t fully understand what I was experiencing, but I was so joyful,” she said.
She told her husband she didn’t want to shop around or buy anything, she just wanted to sit there and enjoy the space. Little did Smith know she would soon start her own mission-driven business.
After leaving the store, her husband told her she should ask the boutique if they had franchises. Smith said this was a strange comment, for a variety of reasons.
“I had never even worked in retail,” she said. “I hadn’t told him how I was feeling about my career. We had never had a conversation about me changing careers. And, he is not a fast decision maker. He just doesn’t decide things quickly. It wasn’t even a realistic comment,” Smith recalled.
Two weeks later, she went on a mission trip to Cuba and was forever changed.
Today, she’s the owner and operator of Adored Boutique in the East Hills neighborhood. The women’s clothing and accessory store stands out from other shops merely selling scarves, necklaces and designer jeans. Like its inspiration, Philanthropy, Adored Boutique has plenty of heart and a big mission.
“The trip [to Cuba] was all about loving on women who are oppressed by their government, and they have nothing—yet they are so joyful,” Smith said. “I was just surrounded by this environment and kept remembering that joyful experience I was having, and wanted a life that I could just love on other women in the way that I was in Cuba.”
Through these women, many of whom did not speak the same language as Smith, and certainly, none who had known her personal struggles, Smith was changed.
“By the time I left that trip, I knew He had a purpose with my life, and it was going to involve me changing my career and opening up a boutique,” she said.
Just as the epiphany had come quickly, fear followed almost immediately. “It was scary,” she said. “I wanted it more than I wanted anything in my life.”
Still, she knew nothing about owning a business or buying products for her boutique.
“I was on a journey of trying to understand what I was selling. Through that process, I began to understand about labor trafficking and sex trafficking, and even the correlation to sweatshops,” Smith said. “My heart just broke about that.”
The boutique’s mission became clear: to sell ethically made clothing and accessories, and partner with organizations that are in the fight against human trafficking.
“I needed to carry products that were not part of that consumerism—it had to have more intention or thought in terms of how people were treated,” Smith said.
The whole process, from idea to brick-and-mortar, was a whirlwind for the former nurse and her family. She even started ordering clothing far before a space was secured or a lease was signed.
Initially, Adored Boutique was to be in East Grand Rapids or the Ada area, but after three separate leases fell through, Smith discovered the hidden gem that was Cherry Street and the Uptown neighborhood. She instantly fell for the East Hills area, just around the corner from her house.
“I had never really spent any time here in this community,” Smith said. “You could tell that it was growing and had lots of potential. It was just a cute, quaint, walkable, eat-and-shop kind of place.”
The lease was signed in September, space was acquired in November, and Adored Boutique opened in December 2016.
While traditional boutique owners also deal with the problem of figuring out what styles sell in what areas and what price points work for customers, Adored Boutique has limited options with its like-minded companies.
“More than 99 percent of the apparel industry utilizes sweatshop labor,” Smith said. “It’s a really small portion of companies and products that I have to choose from.”
Adored Boutique sells leather goods and handbags, colorful rain boots, vegan leather shoes, graphic tees, jeans, Giving Keys jewelry and more. Every company Smith orders from has similar values and exists to create opportunities for vulnerable women.
“Their heart of their business totally matched my heart,” she said. “As I thought about placing their stuff in the store, it blew me away to think about the quantitative impact of women around the globe.”
A minimum of 15 percent of sales goes back to community charities. Adored Boutique also offers shopping parties with a purpose, which can be hosted in-store or online.
Though each day is different from the next for this female entrepreneur, Adored Boutique stands firmly in its mission to connect with people.
“My heart of desire is to try and capture the attention of people who are like-minded,” Smith said. “Or who are passionate about dressing ethically and contributing towards the fight against human trafficking.”
Adored Boutique is a relatively small women’s clothing boutique for now, but plans for possible franchises and worldwide impact are only a matter of time.
“My heart is really to just encourage people in West Michigan to make a few different decisions in their life,” Smith said.
Adored Boutique is located at 968 Cherry St SE.
*Photos courtesy of Adored Boutique