Consignment boutique bringing local color to MacArthur Boulevard
By Catherine O’Connor
Tasha Kembrough is making practical use of her considerable knowledge in fashion and merchandising at Sarra Sophia, a new resale boutique at 2112 S. MacArthur Blvd. The location, the former home of a dry cleaner and tailor shop, benefits from traffic heading to and from Hy-Vee, which is directly across the street. With a great selection of women’s and juniors’ clothes, shoes, housewares, art pieces, jewelry, colorful scarves, purses, pillows and a small kids’ and mens’ section, Kembrough has situated herself as a distinctive retail businesswoman.
About 10 years ago, Kembrough graduated with a degree in business and fashion marketing from the Illinois Institute of Art and then worked at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago where she enjoyed the fast-paced world of showroom buyers and wholesalers. There she came into contact with notables in the fashion industry, including Vera Wang, Michael Kors, John Varvatos, Gene Meyer and the Ford Modeling Agency. She also became a personal shopper for Marshall Field’s flagship, which later transitioned to “Macy’s By Appointment.” As Kembrough explained, before the Internet changed the shopping experience for many people, these were services that worked directly with shoppers to learn their preferences and pre-select items to build a distinctive personalized wardrobe based on their choices.
Kembrough later traveled to Carbondale to study fashion and photography at SIU. In 2009-2010, she was selected for Operation Bootstrap, a grant program which helped her launch “Exclusive Exposure,” an upscale resale shop she operated in Carbondale. Always the entrepreneur, she also created a traveling boutique called “The Virtuous Woman.” It catered to groups hosting expos and events, showcasing clothing manufacturing houses such as Alfred Dunner, with appeal to particular audiences.
As the Illinois financial aid programs began to falter two or three years ago, enrollment at SIU declined, leaving Carbondale’s college students eating meals of ramen noodles and spending less on stylish clothing. “That is when I decided to move to Springfield,” she explained. “When you’re an entrepreneur you just can’t sleep.” Kembrough said she joined the MacArthur Boulevard Association out of curiosity a year before she had even selected a location for the store.
According to Kembrough, the boutique was named for her niece, Sarra, along with her youngest daughter, Sophia. Family plays a particularly strong role in her life, and is partly the reason she decided to relocate to the capitol city. She enjoys cultivating a sense of community and inclusiveness in relationships with consignees and her ever-expanding customer base.
“I really want to use the space to help inspire other entrepreneurs with vendor space to sell products to help build their businesses – like a mini-Merchandise Mart, right here in Springfield,” Kembrough said.
Her hard work has been rewarded as the store is moving toward full capacity and she has even had some requests for shipping of a couple elegant gowns to Russia and Alaska. Consigned merchandise is on display for periods of 90 days and refreshed with new offerings regularly.
In the future, Kembrough plans to do outreach to the community dovetailing with her earlier experience as a personal shopper. Another avenue she expects to explore is working with elderly or disabled care facilities, bringing boutique merchandise directly to customers.
“In the past, I worked with the Southern Illinois Traumatic Brain Injury Center to provide job readiness training. Here I have a lady who is deaf that comes in and works a couple days a week,” she said.
Sarra Sophia is on its way to becoming a significant part of the new face of the MacArthur Boulevard neighborhood. “My customers are people from all walks of life. I enjoy seeing new faces every day,” Kembrough says.
Catherine O’Connor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.