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Emma Hostetter, Founder, The Borrowed Boutique

Female physician and public health specialist turned momtrapraneur...

I’m Emma, the owner and creative mind behind The Borrowed Boutique, an online styling and rental company for high end children's clothing. I’m also mommy to a rambunctious five-year old little girl who loves to play dress up and a brand new little boy who likes to wake me up all hours of the night. My path in medicine and public health hasn’t been a detour; instead it has been the driving force that now has me surrounded by tutus, sequins, and designer children’s clothing. Social entrepreneurship is the heart of my business. For every item that we rent we donate funds to help rescue and protect young girls from sex trafficking. As our business has grown so has our potential to provide a sustainable funding solution for non-profit organizations doing amazing work.

More about Emma:

1. What is the mission of The Borrowed Boutique?

We believe that every woman and child deserves the right to a beautiful life; one free from poverty, abuse, and injustice. While The Borrowed Boutique is a for profit business, it is built on the spirit of altruism and giving. Embracing the heart of social entrepreneurship, our goal is to create an amazing experience for our clients, providing them with inspiration and wardrobe at reasonable prices for photo shoots and special occasions. We are then able to create a sustainable source of funding for non-profit organizations such as Esthers Children to bring beauty to the lives of less fortunate women and children by donating a portion of each rental.

2. You gained a lot of followers through social media in a very short amount of time. What do you attribute that to?

Our social media growth has been primarily organic. Content was key. Using images to tell our story helped boost our following in a short amount of time. Creating a closed group on Facebook for our business and chatting with other moms and women formed a sense of community. While the growth was organic, it did require a lot of sweat equity in making connections with like minded potential customers.

3. Why did you decide to build custom technology for The Borrowed Boutique?

At the time that we were starting the business all of the available platforms for rental systems were very basic and didn't meet our needs. Developing a custom platform allowed us to create something specifically tailored to The Borrowed Boutique. It also gave us the leverage to then create technology that we could license in the future. So, while it was an upfront investment, it made sense for us.

4. What what the greatest lesson you learned from building out your platform?

Greatest lesson from building our own platform: Our business is not static. Things change on a daily basis. Because our needs are constantly changing we realized that we need a very dynamic platform that can keep up. Our business is built on creativity and innovation so our platform needs to be ready to adjust as we grow. This can be challenging, but also exciting.

5. What was the biggest challenge in starting up your business?

The biggest challenge in starting this business hasn't been the hard work. I expected to work 24/7 building something from the ground up. That didn't scare me. The biggest challenge initially was getting the tech set into place to keep up with our growing business and complex system. Manually managing the system had become rate limiting for our growth. So, automating things was paramount. Now the biggest challenge is continuing to grow our team, finding the right people with the right expertise as we quickly scale. One day we have enough woman power (and man power) to get everything done, and then the next thing we know, our efforts have paid off and sales have doubled. Now we are in desperate need of more reliable help once again! A wonderful problem to have.

6. You’ve got an incredible eye, how do you choose the dressmakers you represent?

When we make our inventory selections we look for pieces that match with our overall branding. We always consider if the items will photograph well. Will they have a fairly adaptable fit? Are they well constructed and made from quality materials? We love working with women designers and those that also have a mission behind their businesses. Recently we have been reaching out to more emerging women owned, handmade brands. Our business helps to highlight fashion at its best since so many of our items are used by amazing photographers for photo shoots. By partnering with other small businesses we are able to help bring these brands to the forefront, helping them grow as well. To be honest, shopping for our designers is one of my favorite parts of the business. I could spend hours looking at children's fashion look books. I get my inspiration when looking for specific styles from children's story books, blogs, Instagram feeds, and Pinterest.

7. Show us a picture of your favorite dress that you’re renting right now. Why do you love it?

Ah...favorite will all have to go to our Instagram feed @theborrowedboutique and follow there!!! I promise to post my favorite dress image for you and give a shout out to The Startup Ladies the week this interview is posted :)) See...we do get creative on how we grow our social engagement!

8. How do you plan to scale over the next year?

I can't share all of our secrets on how we are planning to scale this year, because we don't want to spoil the surprises. But adding in more couture brands as well as maternity gowns, offering more concierge and value added services, and leveraging our platform to assist other companies in managing their rentals are just a few areas of growth.

9. What advice do you have for other women who are thinking of starting up a business from a passion that may not align with their professional or educational background?

I have always said that if you have a passion, don't let your credentials stop you. Yes, I have a list of degrees and accomplishments that are all medically oriented, but that doesn't mean that I don't have other gifts, talents, or skill sets that I can also cultivate and embrace. I'm a well rounded woman with many interests and abilities.

Medicine doesn't define me. It was a part of my training that helped me hone skill sets that are still valuable and that translate to different settings. People skills, customer service skills, management skills, triaging, training, crisis management, etc. etc. Medicine wasn't a waste of my time. Through medicine and residency in particular I learned that I have the fortitude to push through incredibility difficult situations and come out on the other side. Entrepreneurship requires that fortitude. Medical school and residency training instilled the confidence in me, that if I put my mind to anything, I can accomplish it (with the right team:)

For those women who worry that they may not have the skills to pursue their passion I would say, LEARN! Teach yourself or find someone who can teach you. If you are truly passionate about something, take the time to get good at it. Do your homework first and then jump in. You won't ever know everything, and that's okay. Entrepreneurship is a continual learning curve.

10. How have The Startup Ladies helped you grow over the last few years?

The Startup Ladies, and Kristen in particular, have been amazingly instrumental in connecting me to resources that I wouldn't have been aware of otherwise, from tech to investors. I have been pushed to "pitch," which I never would have done on my own. The mentoring that went into preparing for The Indiana Conference for Women Pitch hosted by The Startup Ladies was incredibly valuable. The Startup Ladies empowers women to pursue their business ideas, but it also provides them with access to amazing mentors and educators. That is priceless.

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