Small Business Profile: Kate Bunton and Julia Korol, Owners of Rocky + Luella


How did you start Rocky + Luella?
Julia: Kate and I met when we both worked at Anthropologie, she was a manager, and I was an associate. We were both in DC at the time, which I think was an odd coincidence because we are both from [the Chicago] area. Then I moved back, then Kate moved back separately, and then we just met up over coffee once.
Kate: We were just having coffee, talking about how we were both so miserable with what we were doing, and how the job market was totally shitty.
Julia: I think we both just loved certain aspects of Anthropologie, just not the grind that comes with corporate retail. I enjoyed working with the women that would come in and helping them with outfits, and seeing them excited was really fun.
Kate: I got really into the business aspect of it, surprisingly. I thought that I wanted to work at Anthropology because of visual design, but when I got more into the operations, I really loved it. I feel like that’s why we decided that we would make a good partnership.
Julia: Beyond the fact that we just wanted to have a shop, there was a lack of clothing-based retail here.
Kate: Before we were started, there were so few shops here, and we just wanted to help bolster that.

What’s your background?
Kate: My degree is in art history, and because Julia worked with visuals at Anthropology, we both have visual aesthetic training. That has helped us immensely in putting the shop together. I also worked in retail operations for corporate retail, so that helped just in terms of setting up processes and knowing what goes on behind the scenes. I also have a Masters in business. 
Julia: Right before I left Anthro, they were starting to train me for the lowest tier for what is to become Visual Manager, which is awesome, because if nothing else, Anthropologie is phenomenal at what they do with their visual displays. I have always loved creative things and art-based things and have been interested in design, I just never have considered that as a career. I work at Groupon, so that helps me learn about e-commerce and buying/selling. Groupon isn’t a boutique but it translates in some ways.

What inspires your work?
Kate: For me, just good design. I know Julia is way up on the fashion trends, she looks at clothes and styling all the time. I’m way more into interiors. For me it is about really awesome interiors and trying to find new things that are really exciting or different. 
Julia: I love clothes. I love clothes, and shoes, and accessories. I love all that stuff so much. I think it is just about bringing the things here that I never had the opportunity to try on; all the designers that I would see my favorite bloggers wearing. So yeah, what inspires me is getting these brands that I love and being able to have them here.

What brought you to Chicago?
Kate: Money.
Julia: Well, I didn’t like D.C., and yeah, money is an issue there. D.C. is tough if you aren’t a politician, or a lawyer, or something in that realm. I just think that the opportunities are very limited.
Kate: Julia and I have very different experiences. I loved D.C., I miss it everyday, and I think it is a really creative, buzzy town. But it is so cripplingly expensive. Yeah, opportunity is a little bit trickier in D.C., so when I did decide to leave my job at Anthropologie, the issue was that I didn’t have the time to stay to find a job.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
Kate: That is a really hard question for me, because I am a city girl through and through--the bigger the better for me.  I think maybe Canada? I really, really like Canada. I could see myself in Toronto, or even Vancouver if I wanted to slow down a bit. But I think in the U.S., I wouldn’t choose anywhere other than Chicago, maybe go back to D.C., but I’d rather stay here at this point.
Julia: I have always had my eye on Seattle, but I have never been there. Something about the aura around Seattle seems great. I like the sound of the speed of things there, the climate sounds lovely.

How do you spend your free time/how do you take time for yourself?
Julia: We both have very little of that. We both have full time jobs, so this is our second full time job. I guess, sleep? That’s pretty much it. 
Kate: I make sure my house is clean all the time, so I clean a lot. I try to get in at least an hour of exercise a day. Working out is the only thing that keeps my head clear. 

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
Julia: I think there can be so much division among women in particular. There are already so many obstacles that sometimes women tend to see other women as another obstacle. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all. I think when people come together, both people benefit and both people can grow from that. 
Kate: Since we have gone about this, I feel like the most help we’ve gotten is from women-owned businesses. There is an understanding there. I think that women tend to pit themselves against one another, which is a real shame because when they do work together, it creates this really wonderful network of support, and that is a really beautiful thing.
Julia: Also, women are crazy smart and should work together to come up with something super amazing.

What is your advice for young creatives?
Julia: Don’t be afraid to just dive-in. That’s what we did. It is terrifying to think about opening your own business. It just seems like something other people do, or, like, adults do, and you never see yourself as ready to do that.
Kate: When we were first getting started, it was like, “well, let me finish business school, or let’s wait until this year,” but the more we talked about it, the more we just wanted to do it. There is never going to be a better time, things are always going to be crazy, so just do it. 
Julia: I think the advice is just go for it, and be flexible, and allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them and not feel like it is the end of the world.

How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
Kate: It is about muted pallets and clean lines. That’s all I care about. 
Julia: I like something eye-catching. I like one thing that I am wearing to be something that stands out for whatever reason. Whether that be a color, or a pattern, I even have shoes that have a little embroidered winky eyes on them...I guess my style would be just whatever I find that has that extra bit of fun, but also is classically flattering and something that I think I could wear ten years from now.

How do you stay inspired?
Julia: I think part of that is not getting burnt out. Getting inspired is easy, but it is also really easy to get burnt out.
Kate: Yeah, taking time for myself is important, and organizing my thoughts, clearing my head, and having time to just relax for a minute keeps me from losing that drive.

Morning routine?
Kate: I’m not a morning person, so my morning routine is to sleep as late as I can and then rush out the door.
Julia: [My boyfriend and I] just got a kitten recently, so my morning routine has been having her watch me take a shower, playing with her in the sink, feeding the cats. They take up a lot of time in my morning routine. But what Kate said, sleep until the very last minute.

Favorite indulgence?
Kate: Those pistachio old fashioned donuts from Stan’s are my favorite thing in the entire world.
Julia: Plants. So many plants.

Pizza or taco?
Julia: Pizza.
Kate: Taco.

Coffee or tea?
Julia: Tea.
Kate: Coffee.

Saturday or Sunday?
Kate: I think Sunday.
Julia: I like Sundays a lot, I like the pace of them, but I hate the anxiety that comes with it. So, like, Sunday mornings.

Movie, T.V. or book?
Kate: T.V. I’m a T.V. junkie. I love 30 Rock and Parenthood. 
Julia: T.V. is great. I feel like recently there has been a trend of really bad movies and really good T.V. shows.

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