Women’s resale store owner rocks her own business (and clothing) style
Tami Dean cringes at the frilly white blouse that her associate and friend Michelle Lyons has just assembled on a headless-upper body replica. She and Lyons are re-dressing mannequins with new merchandise in her resale shop, Little Black Dress, located off of Coburg Road.
“Take that ugly thing off and put this on; cinch it up tight so she looks curvaceous!” she says. Though she comes off as an arduous boss on this first impression, Dean straightens out this misconception right away. She recalls a not-so-appropriate-looking attempt to wedge a pair of thigh-high boots onto a mannequin. “I swear some customers were going to call the police!” she says.
Dean has no shame as a businesswoman. Her whimsical pricing schemes and instinctive “Ooo or Ew Factor” determinant for incoming garments are all good enough for her.
Dean’s personal wardrobe bears no resemblance to the closet of a fearless fashionista, who is always updating her outfit. Today says she willed herself into putting on black slacks and a chocolate brown blazer, an unusual effort for most days.
She’s far too busy trying on new business ventures.
This Washington State native’s professional credentials included a job as a former garbage truck driver and an administrator for an RV service manager before opening the store. Friends and family have always told her she couldn’t dress herself, and Dean admits you’ll most often see her with the bottoms of her jeans all torn up and in flip flops. That with her lack of experience, bad credit and no money made the store seem like a hopeless trend that wouldn’t even reach the runway.
But the realtor of a 900-square foot lot took interest in her plan and gave her the space to launch the boutique with only five items – all black dresses. The inventory was busting out windows in this small area almost immediately. She then hauled it over to a lot that instead had excess space. So she sectioned it off with a wall and did some business double dipping by opening up a gym.
But of course this wasn’t a powerhouse fitness center equipped for the macho workout junkies. It had the Tami Dean flair. “I did this whole mural on the wall of an island, so you could picture your beach body!” she says. “But I would walk past eating cheesecake in front of them and stuff; they didn’t care for that.”
So Dean said goodbye to the gym, which she only used once herself, and leased it out to a bakery. Dean cackles and admits she never realized how hilarious the irony in this was until now. “I guess I figured if I couldn’t get you skinny, I’ll get you fat. Either way I’m going to get your old clothes and you’ll need new ones!”
Despite this foolproof game plan, she was bored of it. Dean moved over to Eugene and has built a loyal clientele of women who appreciate the shrewdness of her fashion opinions. If she doesn’t think you look good in whatever you try on in her store, she’s going to tell you.
Honesty is her best policy, but she isn’t that persistent department store saleswoman.
“We have good feedback and I think it’s because we’re personable, not snobby, and we recognize a lot of people when they come in,” she says. “I’ll just sit back here, eat my food and relax like it’s a girl’s club.”
Driving that laid-back demeanor and tendency for unstructured business is in Lyon’s words “a woman with a good heart,” which Dean did agree with, even after pointing out her stubbornness as her roadblock to giving up.
And that heart must be golden if her third “employee” Christy Ruse – who calls her a bitch – refuses any payment besides an occasional coffee or lunch. Dean gives unconditionally to customers and the community too.
“I had this mother come in crying because she couldn’t buy her daughter a gown for prom, so I gave her one,” Dean says.
This moment inspired a program that Dean and her then-business partner held with KDUK Radio called “Once Upon A Prom,” where girls could be nominated by their peers to get a free gown for the dance.
After two years, she ended the partnership with the radio station and waved the fairy godmother wand on her own. This time they were granting the wish for a dress of any senior girl with a valid student ID card, regardless of their financial stature.
Little Black Dress has also done work with the food bank and staged fashion shows to raise money for breast cancer. Dean calls it their “feel-good advertising,” something that the public will remember longer than any advertisement she could place in the newspaper.
For this one-of-a-kind businesswoman, the fear just isn’t there. She says she knows that’s strange, especially with her methods being the complete opposite of what mainstream business models might dictate.
As she currently waits to relocate once again to a higher-trafficked area of Eugene, she realizes that she does need to set up some sort of system. That way Lyons will have something solid to follow if she wants to buy the place for her own resale store.
“We have a lot of fun and try to do sales, but I don’t really plan it out. I’m like, buckin’ the system!” she says.
Lyons just shakes her head as she hangs a newly priced fur coat on a sales rack. “Now I know what I’m getting myself into!”