November 2018

Gigi’s Celebrates 10 Years

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Erin Rollins

Strolling into Gigi’s boutique on Calhoun Street in Bluffton, I could have sworn I heard someone calling my name. Turns out, it was a darling camel colored sweater with a faux fur collar coming on to me like a suitor at a speed dating event. (I tossed it behind the counter for later.)

As the store began filling with shoppers, conversation and laughter added a harmonious hum, while the merchandise continued to speak for itself. Soon it was a pair of statement-making red flower earrings and a cozy black hooded sweater making my heart go pitter-patter. But what truly put the experience over the top was the bottom line. I walked out with several beautiful, functional additions to my fall wardrobe without blowing my budget and, as a bonus, left with a new retail family.

Welcome to the sisterhood
Perhaps the headline should read, “Hometown Girls Make Good.” Owned by the Vaux sisters, Anna Pepper Hewett and Emily Burden, who grew up in Bluffton, Gigi’s is no stranger in town. Celebrating 10 years in business this month, it is truly the go-to fashion source for ladies of all ages.

The store was named for the sisters’ paternal grandmother, the late Ruth Vaux (known to them as Gigi), one of Sea Pines Real Estate’s first agents and a well-known fashionista in her day. “Our parents had a big cedar closet where they kept some of her clothes, and we dressed up in her vintage things,” Burden said.

But opening a retail clothing store is much more like a chess tournament or hunting expedition than a game of dress-up. The partnership began when Hewett, fresh out of college, brought her dreams and aspirations back home to Bluffton. Collaborating with her sister, the idea was to fill a community need for more boutique-style shopping. When the store opened, Burden was still living in Colorado, married, expecting her first child, and working remotely.

“It was an experience, but we talked, I don’t know how many times a day, often in the middle of the night,” Hewett said.

Joanie Heyward, known for her preservation efforts and her passion for Bluffton’s history, is a friend of the family and has been shopping at Gigi’s since day one. “It was an exciting time for Bluffton, and it was all due to the entrepreneurial spirit of Anna and Emily,” she said.

Reflecting on their 10-year anniversary, Hewett said, “I think it’s even more meaningful because of where we started.” Gigi’s opened just on time for the recession of 2008, she explained.

“We had already planned, already bought and signed our lease,” Burden said. “It was hard, but we were determined to figure out a way to make it happen—and we did!”

And a lot has happened since: Burden moved back to Bluffton; Hewett got married; and each sister gave birth to four children, making for a challenging set of responsibilities alongside their thriving boutique. According to Hewitt, it’s by the grace of God that they can make it all work, and both sisters agree that family comes first. So how do they do it?

“It goes back to our community,” Hewett said, recalling the early days and the many dedicated ladies who helped them get their feet on the ground, including their other sister, Mary Gwinn Bell, who played an important role in the beginning. Today, they pay homage to seven sales associates, all of whom have worked at Gigi’s two-eight years, and, of course, their loyal customers.

“You can tell everyone is happy there,” said Ginger Mallett, a Bluffton resident who has been shopping at Gigi’s since the beginning. “The sisters get along, and they have awesome employees. Everybody is long-term, sort of like a family, and they look out for each other and their customers.”

Rolling with the changes
Times have changed since Gigi’s opened, and the ability to roll with those changes is key to the store’s success. “In the past 10 years, if you think about ladies’ shopping and how the Internet has evolved, you have to be open to changing with that, because how people buy now is different. So, you have to make yourself special and different in order to survive—being adaptable to where the industry goes,” Burden said.

The sisters are also rolling with the community growth and evolving with the needs of their customers. “You have to really listen to your customers and keep an open mind,” Hewett said. “We have a nice niche here in Bluffton. It’s our hometown. We opened because we loved the town and wanted to offer something that we didn’t have here then.”

“The Promenade was still being built when we opened, and a lot of the stores and restaurants have popped up since. Yet Bluffton—at least Old Town—still maintains that community feel that was here when we grew up. We appreciate that,” Burden added.

Shooting the gap
While it may be hard to believe that a teenager and her mother could shop in the same small boutique, that’s what Hewett and Burden set out to accomplish. They have learned that serving a multi-generational clientele is all about finding the right mix of merchandise at a price to suit every pocketbook, all while keeping step with the fashion world as it relates to customers’ needs.

Tiffany Mikkelson, a local attorney and mother of five, said she finds clothing to suit every aspect of her lifestyle. With her busy schedule, she appreciates the convenient location and friendly customer service, as well. She often has children in tow, and the sales associates are always happy to keep them occupied while she shops. “They know me, and they are able to help me pick up what I need,” she said.

“I’m 77 and I shop there,” Heyward said, praising the sisters and their staff for knowing her style and guiding her to merchandise that suits her. “There is always something for me.”

In addition to the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, Mallett is appreciative of the price range, because she said she gets “bored” with the same clothes and likes to switch up her wardrobe. “It’s affordable,” she said.

The sisters are conscious of their customers’ budgets, catering to those who may be looking for higher-end merchandise but balancing it out by searching for items with similar looks for less.

“I think people like paying less for things to wear for a season instead of investing in something they expect to wear for years to come,” Burden said. For example, they may pay more for the denim but then pick up trendy tops for under $50.”
“We are real people. We are caring through our buying, and our employees are caring. I think that sets us apart,” Hewett added. “We truly think about our customers and look out for them, because our customers are our friends.”

If you are looking for a thoughtfully curated collection of women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, and gifts—and a fun place to shop—stroll in to Gigi’s today and see what calls your name. You’re sure to leave with something pretty to wear and perhaps a few new friends.

Gigi’s is located at 40 Calhoun St., in Bluffton. Store hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday. For more information, visit www.gigisbluffton.com or call (843) 815-4450.


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