Andrea McLaughlin has over 25 years of experience in the retail and fashion business. But not one of them has involved a pandemic.
However, despite the retail drought during the Coronavirus shutdown, the Wilton resident’s brain kept whirling with designs, business models, and ideas. She spent her time in shutdown vetting if her January idea to open a new store was viable, and her conclusion was simple: of course.
“[The shutdown] gave me a lot of time to really think my business through and make sure I was doing the right thing, and I took time to really order the right pieces, get them in, [and] really think about the business,” she said. “I had this…free time to really do nothing but stay at home and work on this. So that’s what I did… and it kind of just fell into place.”
Leading with the mantra “fashionable finds at a great price,” McLaughlin plans to open her affordable apparel boutique Champagne Taste at 5 River Road in Wilton Center during the week of June 2, just shy of two weeks after Phase 1 Reopening commenced.
Her store’s name comes from the catchphrase “Champagne taste on a wine budget,” and speaks to McLaughlin’s business model of offering products at 30-60% less than the retail price. Instead of buying her products from showrooms, she selects items from high-end, private label factories in New York and Los Angeles, cutting out the middle man. She describes her collection as “casual, unique and fun to wear,” and also sells art, accessories, and bath products.
“What’s nice about [this system] is [the products are] unique,” McLaughlin added. “You’re not going to find the same thing in other stores because it’s my private collection. And for me, that’s really important.”
Passion for Fashion
Although running a retail location during a pandemic may be new territory for McLaughlin, navigating the industry itself certainly isn’t. She got started quickly after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Apparel Design, channeling her love of art and sewing as a fashion designer for a New York City-based apparel company. Switching gears in 1989 after getting a second degree from Parsons School of Design, she opened her first store, Tahiti Street, a swimwear apparel store in Greenwich. Sixteen years later McLaughlin had grown the business to three locations and an online store, before eventually selling it to a chain retailer in 2013.
Though McLaughlin hasn’t been in full-time fashion work in seven years, the interim has been anything but silent. With a true passion for fashion, McLaughlin maintained relationships with the factories she had worked with before, and stayed in the industry part-time, including as a consignor at Wilton’s Local Soul.
McLaughlin realized her passion was something that wouldn’t fade, so she decided to open her own shop, and while a pandemic was something she never expected, she’s ready to take it on.
“There will be a lot of challenges for retailers for sure, but at some point, I think we are going to return to normal or a new normal [and] people will want to be out again, and they will want to shop,” McLaughlin said.
She’s ready for those customers when they do return. Upon reopening she is going to make the shop “sparkling clean.” She also plans to steam all the merchandise and keep the doors open on nice days to increase ventilation.
Opening in Wilton was also very important to her, and not just for the convenience factor; she wanted to join the host of local retail owners that make the town colorful and special.
“Wilton has a bit of a niche as being a town that has some really great, locally-owned shops,” McLaughlin said. “I think people in town like having that, and they like having the service of a locally-owned shop where people actually live in town and own and work in the shops. I think it’s something special.”
She plans to honor her love and appreciation for Wilton with a “Do Good, Look Good” Community Outreach initiative to give back to the community. Champagne Taste will ask customers if they’d like to round their payment to the nearest dollar as a donation to a Wilton charity or organization selected by the community each month; McLaughlin will match each “roundup.”
Her Wilton brick-and-mortar will also have an online side, something McLaughlin launched in March 2020. She views this feature as an “essential” addition to her shop, especially now when not everyone is comfortable shopping in-person.
Additionally, though business may be slow because of the pandemic, McLaughlin said that she doesn’t mind a slow transition. She added that she thinks being a small shop will be an advantage in this time of reopening, as oppose to larger chains.
“I know myself I’m not really ready to go back to big stores with lots of crowds and lots of people. I will be starting out slow, and maybe wanting to shop again more locally and in little shops where there’s not as many people,” McLaughlin said. “I think maybe other people are thinking that way as well.”
Plus, McLaughlin hopes Champagne Taste will fill a “niche” in the community.
“It’s just cute, unique styles that you can’t find at a lot of other places at a better price, and I think that is appealing to myself and a lot of people that are like me,” she said. “We want to get cute things but we don’t want to break the bank, and I think that is definitely a niche.”