As more and more local entrepreneurs make a home in Worcester County, our local area continues to grow and evolve, and we have to say we LOVE what we’re seeing. Whether it’s unique culinary additions, literary endeavors, or fashion boutiques, economic growth is a welcome addition to the region. At ShoreBread, we love finding entrepreneurial spirit within the community, especially when we get to sit down to discuss the latest ventures with small business owners. This week, we met with Nicole Chamberlain, a Worcester County native and the founder of Back East Boutique. The online boutique features Boho-chic women’s fashions, all hand-selected by Chamberlain from her L.A. vendors and delivered directly to your hands through the online store or through her upcoming pop-up shop events. Ready to learn more about Chamberlain and Back East Boutique? Well then, let’s go…
Chamberlain, like many young locals, graduated from high school (Stephen Decatur to be exact) itching to leave and conquer the world. With a love for fashion, Chamberlain knew early on that the big city lights were in her future. “Growing up here, there was very little fashion. I always had a passion for it, but it was hard to really find your groove when there was very little to choose from, “explained Chamberlain. “I knew I wanted to get into fashion. It was either L.A. or New York City and I am really more of an L.A. girl. Of course my parents were 100 percent against it, but I was so headstrong and this was my only focus. I was 19, didn’t know anybody, packed up my car, drove cross country, and I started.”
Chamberlain quickly immersed herself in fashion, undergoing a two-year intensive program at the Fashion Institute of Design Merchandising (FIDM) in L.A., learning the ins and outs of the fashion world and furthering her passion for the industry. After graduating, Chamberlain toyed with the idea of moving back east, but found that the professional connections she had forged during school were too difficult to leave; and so, she embarked on her ten year career in the L.A. fashion scene. “My very first job was my dream job,” said Chamberlain of her position in trend retailing (a job that would come in handy years later when she launched Back East Boutique, bringing fashion trends to her hometown). During her tenure in L.A., Chamberlain also worked for Disney, designing for the girl’s line, as well as in wardrobe styling for television. Despite finding herself deeply entrenched in an industry that she loved, Chamberlain found the long hours exhausting, particularly as she and her husband welcomed a second baby into their family (a baby that also endured health issues for the first six months of his life). “That was the moment that we decided we really needed to move home and be near family,” said Chamberlain. “Some things happen for a bigger purpose…we were able to have that kind of wake-up call and see that coming back home would be the best thing for all of us.”
Once home and settled in Berlin, Chamberlain’s drive was revitalized, giving rise to an idea for an online boutique. “I instantly knew that I needed to get back to work. I’m a very creative person and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial way about me.” Back East Boutique was launched shortly after, with Chamberlain moving full steam ahead to bring the Boho-chic vibe of Los Angeles fashion to the locals in our area. The first step? Finding the perfect selection of clothing, which for Chamberlain meant traveling back to L.A. to talk directly with vendors. “I must have looked at 100 different vendors. The most important thing for my boutique is not just the fashion, but the quality. I don’t want to sell cheap, inexpensive stuff, that’s not what I want to put out there,” she said, noting that while she is not selling expensive, designer clothes, she also doesn’t want her customers wearing materials that fall apart easily, that don’t fit well, or more importantly, that don’t make women feel confident. After narrowing down her choices and selecting a trusted group of quality vendors, Chamberlain was ready to launch the spring line at Back East Boutique.
Next up was taking the clothing and staging it here on the Eastern Shore so that her shoppers could get a true feel for how the clothes would look. Chamberlain is very adamant about not doing the typical photo shoot with a white background; instead, she plans on having all of her photo shoots take place outdoors on Delmarva using local models. Of course relying on the elements can be tricky, as Chamberlain quickly learned when an unexpected March snowstorm left her scrambling to reschedule her Snow Hill shoot. Nonetheless, the show went on and the spring line was shot using local models, a local stylist (best friend and fellow local Courtney McCarraher, who has been teaming up with Chamberlain for much of the creative process), and a local photographer.
With a spring line under her belt (and on the website for purchase), and a summer line on the way, Chamberlain’s next move is getting her clothing into the hands of locals through pop-up shopping experiences. “I’m going to do a lot of pop-ups, hopefully two to three times a month.” If you aren’t familiar with pop-up stores, the concept is simple, fun, and accessible for shoppers. Retailers partner with a location for a few hours and shoppers can come in and enjoy the host business while shopping and learning more about the brand hosting the pop-up. First up for Back East Boutique will be a pop-up at the Maryland Wine Bar in Downtown Berlin this Friday, May 6, from 6:30pm until 9:30pm. The Sip & Shop event will feature a wide range of clothing from the spring collection, all at a special 20% discount rate. “It’s a different experience,” said Chamberlain of the pop-up stores. “It’s getting out there and having a girl’s night, having a glass of wine, it’s a lot of fun!” Chamberlain also hopes it will allow shoppers to see and feel the quality of the clothing that she has selected.
So what does Chamberlain look for when she is shopping for trends to meet the local market? While she admittedly shops with her own style in mind, she is primarily looking for clothing that coincide with the casual, beach vibe of our area. The clothes have a good balance of young fun fashions, but with a few sophisticated pieces for women with a more conservative style. Expect plenty of Boho-chic looks, from dresses to accessories. “I’m always looking for something that shows it’s special,” said Chamberlain, pointing out key-hole cutouts, unique pockets, and bold prints on some of her recent selections. Summer trends are going to include lots of vibrant colors, she said, including corals and turquoise, as well as lots of tye-dye. Off the shoulder is also huge right now, so expect a few unique off-the-shoulder pieces from Back East Boutique this summer. But at the end of the day, Chamberlain just wants her shoppers to feel their best in what they put on. “I think it’s all about how you feel, that’s the most important. I always feel that you should dress in what makes you feel best.”
From the busy L.A. scene to the quiet and comfort of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Nicole couldn’t be happier with where her path has led her. “It couldn’t be more perfect,” she said. “To be back home, I feel like it’s all come together. I think I’ve brought a bit of L.A. to Maryland.” On the horizon are the summer and fall lines, along with plenty of pop ups for customers to enjoy. As far as plans for a storefront location, Chamberlain is certainly not ruling out that possibility! For now, find plenty of fashions online at shopbackeast.com, where you can also sign up for their newsletter for exclusive deals and updates. Another way to stay connected to the latest updates from Back East Boutique is through their Facebook page (Back East Boutique) and Instagram (@backeastboutique). Finally, meet us at the Maryland Wine Bar on Friday evening as we Sip & Shop with Chamberlain! We’ll be there, stocking up on some new items for our spring wardrobe now that the weather is getting back to normal (finally). See you there!