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Fashionista Trades Mortgage Business for Boutique

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Krista Adams rose quickly in the mortgage industry, becoming vice president at Countrywide Home Loans at age twenty-eight. But the antiques-loving, stylish “old soul” wasn’t fulfilled. So she gave up the mortgage industry and opened a boutique.

Von Bergen Couture opened in May in an Atlanta suburb of gated communities that are home to professional athletes, moguls, and celebrities.

The 1,000-square foot store sells no jeans, no suits, no sportswear, and no shoes. “It’s dresses only,” says Krista, who is wearing a brown wrap dress with embroidered details by Hungarian designer Eva Franco.

Back in the day, the ladies-who-lunch crowd enjoyed picking out a dress at a specialty shop for an upcoming event. “That was a fun thing for them to do, to shop for a dress,” says Krista.

She wants to bring that back with Von Bergen Couture, though her shop will cater to all types of women from high school students in search of the perfect prom dress to executives attending a black-tie function to mothers-of-the-bride. “Not those typical crepe suits,” Krista promises.

She stocked her shop with designer dresses suitable for everything from galas to pageants as well as “date dresses,” in a variety of colors and styles.

Early on, she decided to stock plus sizes, something high-end boutiques often do not do.  “It’s a mistake not to carry those sizes,” she says. “Plus-size women want to look like everybody else.”

Krista financed her dream with proceeds from the sale of a property she owned with her sister. She has always been against carrying credit card debt, but when it was time to build her inventory she took advantage of the zero-percent credit card offers that pored in after she incorporated. She plans to pay the credit cards off before the rates start climbing.

A fashionista for as long as she can remember, Krista grew up with a taste for glamour. In high school, she worked for a bridal shop, observing every step of the process from the steaming of the gowns to the bride leaving with her dress. As she got older, she loved shopping for herself but didn’t think of fashion as a career.

Then, she watched her best friend’s excitement over opening a salon. The idea for a boutique came to her. She talked about her plan with her grandfather, and he encouraged her to do what she wanted to do. Two weeks later, she gave notice at her job.

“My parents freaked out,” she says. But she reminded them that when she got into mortgages at age twenty, she relied solely on commission. She could handle the risk.

She signed up for a retail course and began researching like crazy.

Her boutique gets its Dutch name from her mother, whose maiden name is Von Bergen. She researched several locations, taking into account competition, demographics, and buying trends. The space she leased was formerly a photography studio. She painted the walls and ceiling a rich chocolate and covered antique chairs in light blue and chocolate fabric. She had cabinets and a sales counter custom built.

Krista wanted to stock designers such as Allegra Hicks, Badgley Mischka, Flora Kung, and Michael de Paulo who didn’t have a strong presence in Atlanta. She called New York City showrooms and made appointments. Several buying trips later she had her inventory— more than 400 dresses. She wanted her shop to look elegant rather than cluttered, so she stashed some dresses at home.

Since she opened traffic has been steady, and customers rave about her selection. For women attending galas, Krista uses a registry to make sure someone else won’t show up wearing the same gown.

Her store includes high-end couture dresses selling for $2,000 to $3,000 as well as casual, flirty dresses for under $300.

Now she is focused on getting her boutique’s name out, and she is full of marketing ideas. The shopping center where she is located is home to forty-four other shops including a children’s clothing store, a shoe shop, and a high-fashion casual wear shop. She envisions a networking party, a joint shopping event aimed at military wives, and a collaborative effort to put up holiday decorations.

As she talks, she shows off some of her favorite dresses. “Prints are really in,” she says, holding up a bold halter dress. “This is a confidence dress!”

Krista’s vision is bigger than her current, cozy location. When she heard Donald Trump was building a hotel in Midtown Atlanta, she decided that would be an ideal spot for her flagship store, with others in the city’s affluent suburbs.

Whatever happens, she knows starting her own business was the right move. “I had a great run in the mortgage business,” she says. “I had to follow my heart and didn’t want to regret waiting another five years.


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