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"Just because a woman lives in the suburbs doesn't mean she should suffer a lack of interesting fashion choices or shop at homogenized mall-based stores," says Crimson Mim owner Christine Campbell. As her 40th birthday approached, the former tech executive felt uninspired and unfulfilled amidst the "every day is casual day" work environment. Tired of the absence of shopping options outside the "usual suspects," Christine decided it was time for "Act II." She opened women's boutique Crimson Mim in Los Altos in 2005, two months shy of her 40th birthday.
As one of the first U.S. retailers to carry now internationally-recognized brands including 3.1 Phillip Lim, Loeffler Randall, ALC, Rachel Comey, Chie Mihara, as well as local favorite Freda Salvador, Crimson Mim's following has seen huge growth in eight years—enough to warrant a second South Bay location in Palo Alto, which opened in 2011. Campbell sat down with Racked SF to chat about the secrets to her success, statement-making accessories and her childhood in Guatemala.
What were you doing before Crimson Mim?
"Before Crimson Mim I worked in high tech for many, many years. I did a variety of jobs, from running software purchasing at a micro computer distributer to working in marketing at an enterprise software company. I also owned a marketing consulting firm with my ex-husband. Most of our clients were in software, but we also worked with clients in consulting, architecture and insurance sales, among many others. Despite the fact that I worked in vastly different capacities and industries prior to opening Crimson Mim, I believe all of that experience was instrumental in helping me to understand how to run a business, be flexible and most important, be willing to learn an entirely new industry and business model."
You moved from Canada to Guatemala at age 10. What was that like?
"It was really cool! I had an amazing experience, unlike that of most of my peers. We moved from a mining town in Northern Ontario in Canada, to a village in a jungle in Guatemala. We didn't have TV (of course this was long before the Internet). Because there weren't things to readily entertain us, we did things like catch butterflies, learn embroidery, sew (I sewed a lot of Barbie doll clothes), learn how to bake, and read like crazy. Plus, we got to travel as compensation for being so isolated for most of the year in the jungle. We saw all of central America, and a lot of Europe. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."
You had your clothes hand-made by local women at that time. What did you learn about textiles? And how has that shaped your style?
"We certainly didn't have any shopping malls. The only time we could get clothes off the rack was when we were in Miami (about twice a year). I learned that I could have ideas about how to dress and bring those ideas to fruition. I was an avid subscriber of Seventeen magazine, and of course I wanted to dress like those girls. Guatemala is known for its hand-loomed textiles and embroidery. I don't know that these fabrics and textures and designs influenced at that time, but certainly now, I am incredibly drawn to texture, color, and hand-feel and I am certain that my time in Guatemala was a catalyst for this."
Why is the store called Crimson Mim?
"I wanted the name of my stores to be personal and meaningful. I also wanted the name to be implicit rather than explicit (i.e. I didn't want the name to refer to clothing or shoes). Crimson (or red) is my favorite color. Mim was my amazing maternal grandmother's name (short for Miriam). The name Crimson Mim is about as personal and meaningful as I could get!"
What are your favorite newest brand you're carrying?
"There are two: Demylee and 10 Crosby by Derek Lam."
Favorite local brand you carry?
"Freda Salvador—love the designs, love the designers. Megan and Cristina make such cool, wearable shoes."
Who is the Crimson Mim woman?
"She loves fashion, and has her own unique style. She cares more about quality and individuality than brands or mass-marketed product. She likes items that are timeless and chic with a twist. She's not afraid to try something new. She's open to ideas and is equally comfortable mixing a vintage piece from her mother with the most cutting edge jacket from 3.1 Phillip Lim and pair of oxfords from AGL."
What are your five must-have basics?
"My black Rachel Comey booties. A pair of NSF boyfriend jeans. A striped tee from Velvet. A cashmere pullover sweater from Demylee. A black leather jacket from Phillip Lim."
Best advice to new boutique owners?
"It is a lot of work. Much, much more than you think it will be. Be prepared. You have to be in-store a lot, especially at the beginning, to give yourself the best chance of success."
Is it tough to get the brands you carry? Given that you are not in the City - proper?
"Absolutely not. We have been extremely fortunate to get every brand we have ever wanted to pick up. I think one of the reasons why is when we opened the first location in Los Altos, we were a bit of a pioneer. There weren't any other contemporary specialty retailers in town. So, a lot of the lines I wanted were open, and as a matter of fact, had practically no distribution on the West Coast. We always look for newer, independent designers, of which many of them are not carried in a lot of stores. And, of course, now we have a great reputation and we have many designers approaching us to carry their lines."
Time for the lightning round! What five things would you bring to a deserted island?
"My phone (of course, there would magically be wifi). My amazing long Inhabit cashmere sweater. Cadbury Fruit & Nut chocolate bar (only the English kind, they're much better than the ones we have here). The heart bracelet my Grandpa Aub gave my Grandma Mim that I wear almost every day. A bottle of Pierre Peters champagne."
Yoga or kickboxing?
Gold or silver?
"Both. Depends on the day"
Nap or coffee?
Brown or black?
Fedora or beanie?
Most impact-making accessory?
"A scarf. Looks chic/cool, can be worn a million different ways and keeps you warm (form and function)."—Debbie Min
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